CD Review: REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA
Composer: Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich
Label: Lions Gate
Suggested Retail Price: $11.99
While film’s zanier “rock operas” have ranged from the antics of Transylvanian reprobates in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW to THE APPLE’s wannabe glitter singers, it’s doubtful any of them are as bizarrely transgressive as REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA’s. In this mash-up of every musical from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to SWEENEY TODD and THREE PENNY OPERA (with elements of CRY BABY probably thrown in there as well), a gonzo cast of TV, Broadway, slasher film stars and pop culture trainwrecks sing about their drug-addicted DNA in between ripping out body parts and engaging in generally nasty behavior. But then again, in a multiplex where Tim Burton can paint with oceans of blood to the strains of Stephen Sondheim, the weirdness of REPO! almost seems kind of normal.
While the songs of REPO! might not be as highfalutin’ as SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, there’s no denying the upstart energy of them. For as a soundtrack and film, this GENETIC OPERA is far more interesting to look at and listen to than anything in SWEENEY TODD. To be sure, REPO!’s soundtrack is best experienced as part of the movie, but that doesn’t mean its album isn’t worth picking up for those temporarily denied its visual impact because of the film’s unjust dumping on a few screens this weekend. For when you listen to REPO! apart from the futuristic Goth eye candy, you’ll have an entertaining time trying to figure out just where composer / lyricists Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich are going with this anything-goes insanity.
But damn if more than half of REPO!’s style-splatter is pretty cool, especially since actors like SPY KIDS’ now-saucy Alex Vega and BUFFY’s Anthony Stewart Head can actually sing (even Paris Hilton doesn’t offend). And that’s not counting trained opera singers like Sarah Brightman, Paul Sorvino, or the black metal chops of Skinny Puppy’s Ogre. Though the album would play better had the songs been kept in film order, REPO’s lyrics are definitely easier to comprehend here- whether they’re are recited, screamed, operatically sung or delivered in power-pop-punk fashion, often all at the same time. But whatever the helter-skelter direction, you’ll get something of the film’s surprisingly affecting story of a rebellious teen and her conflicted dad, who just happens to moonlight as a crazed organ repossessor.
Even if Smith and Zdunich might not have the chops to construct a memorable tune on the order of ROCKY HORROR’s “Time Warp,” or even PHANTOM’s “Music of the Night,” there’s still a gonzo cleverness that unites REPO!’s best material. As the participants converge on the stage opera that makes up the film’s final third act (and strangely, its least effective part), “Crucifixus” sounds off like WEST SIDE STORY’s “Tonight” as the Jets and Sharks strut to the big rumble. Clever plays on words like “That’s what is expected when you are infected” make “Infected” akin” to a finger-snapper, while “Thankless Job” has a peppy David Bowie beat while telling of the horrors of the drug Zydrate. And while she might not be doing an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Sarah Brightman gives impressive resonance to “Thankless Job,” a Baroque, Massive Attack-ish rhythm helped to make this REPO!’s most striking scene. “Seventeen” has a rockabilly chorus that wouldn’t be out of place in STREETS OF FIRE, while “Let the Monster” rise indulges in the harpsichord class of Italian opera. Vega and Head have a powerful rock rebellion duet in “I Didn’t Know I’d Love You So Much,” and emotional reconciliation in “Genetic Emancipation” that’s about as close to a Top 40 romantic ballad as you’ll get here.
REPO! is also awash in clunkers like “Things You See In A Graveyard” as voices converge to confusing Gregorian effect. The throaty brass styles of Bertolt Brecht and Tom Waits are put to head-spinning effect in “Can’t Get It Up If the Girl’s Breathing” and “Chase the Morning,” while the thrash punk of “Gold” won’t cause X to lose sleep. But even in a number of REPO!’s songs are jumbled, there’s still something interesting about them. If a tune starts off terribly, chances are you’ll get a catchy rhythm to save it, or the whole thing will work in a so-bad-it’s-good way. Yet whether the tunes are terrific or terrible, the musical backing of REPO! is done with consistent professionalism, displaying solid licks from the rock guitars, electro-rock vibes and musical theater orchestrations.
In the end, few cult-ready movies or rock operas are about pleasing perfection. It’s their rough edge that gives them juice. And in REPO!’s case, that edge cuts with the insane fun of its Repo Man’s scalpel. Sure people like Webber, Sondheim and Bowie might dwell in a nicer, more comfortable place to listen to. But it’s the upstarts thrashing about in the lower depths who deliver stuff that’s even more interesting and evocative. On that raw end, there’s plenty of that good, nasty stuff to be found in the album of REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, though it’s an experience best enjoyed after your senses have been confounded by the film it accompanies. So be sure to see REPO! on the big screen in the theatrical lifespan its’ been given, and then for sure at midnights thereafter.
Rock with the REPO Man here.