The joke about Peter Parker, throughout the comic book and the movie franchise, is just how uncool he is. He's the nerd in all of us, the reason many readers identified with this character (and truthfully why Tobey Maguire so embodies the role). Spider-Man 3 comes dangerously close to trampling this necessary mythology with the Saturday Night Fever and 'man in black' routine, but thankfully, the soundtrack this time around finally embraces Parker's geekdom (musically) with original songs from The Flaming Lips, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Walkmen, and (most surprisingly) Black Mountain (perhaps it's the 'Black' part that caught their attention).
It's interesting to look at the evolution of the Spider-Man franchise through the lens of its soundtrack. When the first one came out, it was underscored by the kind of post-grunge, fist-thumping, commercial schlock that action movies were filled with at the time. Its single ("Hero") came from Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger, and it's just the sort of song that you know Parker would cringe at for a theme. The song and soundtrack did well enough, but it never quite felt right to me.
Spider-Man 2 had a more introspective feel, with Parker struggling with the responsibilities of his Spider-Man persona. The soundtrack, as a result, seemed to shift to that of the evolved emo genre, with Dashboard Confessional's "Vindicated" leading the charge. If theyr'e going to go emo, I still imagine that Parker would've preferred a Fugazi or (since they NEVER license a song for commercial use) even a Sunny Day Real Estate song or two to the unfortunate choices of Yellowcard and Hoobastank. When Maroon 5 is the best you got, your soundtrack is in trouble, my friend.
Now, with the latest, I'm not saying it's all peaches and cream for a Parker-esque music geek like me. Snow Patrol (who contribute the lead single "Signal Fire") has mostly shrugged off their indie-twee roots and fully embraced commercial radio, while bands like Sounds Under Radar and Simon Dawes might just be Train in indie clothing. But any album that features both Black Mountain and Wolfmother (who occupy completely different hemispheres of Led Zep's world of influence) already has a lot going for it.
The Flaming Lips, meanwhile, contribute their own zaniness, with the song "The Supreme Being teaches Spider-Man how to be in Love." It's a metaphorical boxing match with Muhammad Ali, as Parker battles his devotion to Mary Jane with the responsibilities that comes with being Spider-Man (all wrapped up in a melody that could be Supertramp for the 21st Century). Says frontman Wayne Coyne:
When you think of the Peter Parker character in the Spider-Man comics, he's always struggling. Even though he's Spider-Man, he's always struggling with some girl that he's in love with, and can't tell her. So, there's this really sweet aspect of the Spider-Man thing. And, you know, we're sappy like that. Any opportunity to be slightly sappy and strangely existential at the same time, we do it. (azcentral.com)
Meanwhile, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) gets to sing on the album as well, contributing background vocals to the track "Summer Day" from Coconut Records, the current music vehicle for fellow actor (and Marie Antoinette co-star) Jason Schwartzman. That track, along with The Oohla's blissed out "Small Parts," shows the sweet side of the Spider-Man story, that musically has been missing from the past two soundtracks. It's good that the soundtrack ends with that bit of sugar, as the film has left (at least two) fans bitter. What has me puzzled, though, is what in the world Chubby Checker is doing in the middle of this soundtrack? It's as jarring a turn as Peter Parker's brief transformation into Tony Manero. But that's for another post.