Spawn The Album turns 20

The other day on Twitter, an acquaintance of mine from high school—the older brother of a close friend—re-tweeted something from One Perfect Shot: an animated .gif from the 1997 movie Spawn.

The .gif is a hot mess of mid-90s CGI, showing the character of Spawn crashing through a gigantic glass ceiling, gently but sternly dropping down to the floor with the help of his ridiculous cape, and attacking baddie Martin Sheen.
My friend’s brother, John, simply commented that the soundtrack “RULED.”

And he’s right—it did. Coming along at what must have been a rather impressionable time for me, I find myself thinking about the soundtrack to Spawn—aptly titled Spawn The Album—all the time.

Listening to Spawn The Album now, however, is like opening a time capsule of what it was like to be a teenage boy in 1997. It may as well come along with a pair of JNCO jeans, a chain wallet, Airwalk skate shoes, and a bottle of Mountain Dew. Due to its nature, it hasn’t aged very well at all; but, due to its nature, it will make you almost instantly nostalgic for a different time in your life.

Is Spawn the movie as bad as you remember? Oh most certainly. It came along at a time when comic book movies were not as bankable or widely accepted as they are today. It also arrived the same summer as Batman and Robin.

Spawn, as a character, debuted five years earlier—the breakout title from the fledgling Image Comics, the imprint launched after a number of high profile artists and writers from walked out of Marvel and DC Comics, seeking creative freedom and control over their creations. Over 25 years later, Spawn still runs—closing in on nearly 300 issues since its inception.

I saw the movie Spawn twice—once, in the theatre on opening weekend with my father who was, at one point, an avid reader of the series; I later rented the “director’s cut” of the film once it was released on video at the end of 1997. From what I can recall, it is pretty bad, and I’m guessing that time has not been very kind to it from a technical standpoint.

As a film, it’s a pretty straightforward origin story, truncating a lot of the details and growing mythology around the character and the series: CIA operative gets killed in a double cross by his own boss; goes to hell for his sins but makes a deal with the devil so he can come back to Earth to see his wife and child again; winds up becoming a “Hell Spawn,” and tries to right the wrongs he helped facilitate.

The soundtrack, released via Sony’s “hard rock” imprint Immortal, was the brainchild of Happy Walters, who also oversaw the very likeminded soundtrack to Judgment Night, released in 1993—an effort that paired hard rock and grunge acts with rap artists. Here, popular hard rock acts of the era are paired with electronic outfits and producers, resulting in some memorable, if not head scratching, combinations.

20 years down the line, Spawn The Album has aged about as well as that unopened can of Surge you were holding onto—it’s not great, and more than likely, it probably never was. But, because I was a teenage boy in 1997, and just starting to develop, like, musical taste, I didn’t know any better.

It’s not great, but it is at least still kind of fun to listen to.

Two years before “Take A Picture,” and two years removed from “Hey Man, Nice Shot,” Spawn The Album frontloads itself with larger marquee names, opening with Filter’s “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do,” a reinterpretation of “Trip Like I Do,” by the electronic duo, The Crystal Method—who would later go on to make that sweet television money by composing the “Bones” theme.

The song was released as the first single from the soundtrack, and of all the contributions on the album, it’s probably one of the most accessible. Musically, it sounds pretty dated—late 90s electronic music, just with some dude yelling over the top of it. The song is structured in two pretty distinct parts, shifting tone and tempo midway through, and even at 20 years old, it still has quite a bit of energy behind it.

Fresh off his controversial and auspicious breakthrough Antichrist Superstar, Marilyn Manson’s “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” is credited to both Manson and the short-lived trip-hop outfit Sneaker Pimps, who were riding some mainstream success at the time thanks to the infectious, laid back single, “6 Underground.”

The history of the song is one of contention—Manson claiming the song was already finished before he and his band were paired with the Sneaker Pimps, and that he really only wanted their vocalist at the time, Kelli Alli, to provide backing vocals, and that there was not much else for the rest of the Pimps, producers and musicians Chris Corner and Liam Howe, to provide.

With that in mind, “Long Hard Road” is the least electronically influenced song on the album, sticking instead to Manson’s agro thrashing sound of time.

Coming off of Life is Peachy and before the massive success of the following year’s Follow The Leader, nu-metal auteurs KoRn arrive early on as well, with the minor electronic/programmed flourishes of The Dust Brothers, on the trudging “Kick The P.A.”

As a side note to that, I remember reading the Rolling Stone review of Spawn The Album, and whoever reviewed it made a joke at KoRn’s expense—Jonathan Davis moans the lyric, “Take away my P.A., in the song, and I can recall growing angry and defensive over the reviewer’s comment that someone really needed to follow through on doing that.

But yeah, 20 years later, I can see why someone would make that joke, since this song is fucking terrible and embarrassing—like most KoRn songs are.

The rest of the soundtrack is a bit of a mixed bag—“Satan,” featuring metal riffs from Kirk Hammett and beats, beeps, and boops from Orbital (enjoying some minor success from “The Box” at the time) was always one to make me snicker as a 14 year old boy attending a Catholic high school; the frenetic programming of Josh Wink paired with the industrial angst of Stabbing Westward on “Torn Apart” hasn’t aged particularly well—sometimes it even seems like the refrain of the song can’t keep up with Wink’s drum and synth sequencing. But, at the time, I was a huge Stabbing Westward fan, so hearing this song again—one I hadn’t thought about in a long time—is a straight nostalgia trip for me.

One late in the game, deep cut that I actually still enjoy, despite its dated sounding aesthetic is “Familiar,” featuring a very young Incubus and additional production by DJ Greyboy. At the time, Incubus were signed to Immortal records, and were a year removed from their hard funk leaning S.C.I.E.N.C.E, and were nearly three years away from their breakthrough Make Yourself.

For some reason, this is one of the songs that left a lasting impression on me—when I was speaking with my friend’s older brother on Twitter w/r/t Spawn The Album, I wasn’t being facetious when I said that I think about it all the time. I really do—I think about how the CD had a huge sticker listing off some of the artists featured on it, adhered to the jewel case; I think about how I lent my original CD copy to a friend and it was never returned, and how I believe I went on to replace it with a used copy a number of years later (that is since long gone.)

I think about how I purchased it the day before its release date. This was something I was incredibly proud of at the time. I happened to be in the K-Mart in my hometown, on a Monday afternoon, and in the entertainment department, some employee had left the large cardboard box of new releases out on the floor. I opened it up, saw Spawn on the top, and without blinking, grabbed it and headed to the check out.

I think about how Marilyn Manson glibly joked that he was the reason the Sneaker Pimps practically broke up—or at least dismissed Kelli Ali as their vocalist, and how when he released “Long Hard Road” as a single, he was solely credited as the artist in the video.

I think about the esoteric acts like Soul Coughing, and how their appearance in the collection’s final track always seemed out of place, given that they are nowhere close to a “hard rock” band.  The same could be said for the import version’s bonus track—“This is Not A Dream,” by Apollo 440 and Morphine—an oddball indie rock band featuring a drummer, a two string bass, and baritone sax. The song itself is actually really interesting, blending a creepy, otherworldly element with the band’s penchant for a strange, depressed groove.

Lastly, I think about the title of the song that somehow was able to combine the brutality of Slayer with the youthful energy and exuberance of Atari Teenage Riot—“No Remorse (I Wanna Die.)” For four minutes, this song is like an audial assault, and it’s this song that my friend’s brother, John, described as being mind blowing.

I think that as a 14 year old, this one was way too much for me; and 20 years later, I still may not be ready for it.

Despite the very fact that I could, I haven’t trudged down into my basement to rummage through my boxes of comics to find old issues of Spawn (though I did briefly consider it); I’m not suddenly moved to try and find a copy of the movie, because I’m pretty confident I couldn’t sit through it a third time; and, more importantly, listening to this soundtrack again isn’t going to suddenly make me a agro-rock metalhead. I’m not going to start unironically listening to KoRn or Filter again.

The music housed on Spawn The Album is not the kind of music that grows with you. It’s not who you are today, but it’s a gentle reminder that this, at one time, for better or for worse, was a part of you. And like most nostalgic things, it’s best to just acknowledge that, and then keep moving forward.

No surprise, Spawn The Album is no longer in print. You can find a plethora of used CDs online, as well as limited edition vinyl pressings issued in recent years.  It is also available in the iTunes store.