2008’s hard rock/metal movie opera Repo! The Genetic Opera has spent the past two years being pushed as a “cult classic”, a term that’s supposed to mean “so bad it’s good”, but gets confused with “You just don’t get it, man, it’s so awesome“. Will Repo! stand the test of time? I don’t know, but let’s take a look at the music of this thing.
The verdict on the Repo! soundtrack is similar to that of the movie: an interesting concept marred by clumsy execution. To be fair, the soundtrack does start on the high note of “At the Opera Tonight”, which utilizes a nu-metal drum beat (which you’ll be hearing a lot of), a spooky atmosphere, and most importantly, knows damn well it’s a song. The same can’t be said of “Crucifixus”, two minutes of operatic mewling by Sarah Brightman (who plays Blind Mag, and is almost too talented to be here).
As we make our way into the album proper, two things become pretty clear: 1. Repo! is not very good, and 2. Pinning down the exact reason(s) why is a taxing process. On songs like “Infected”, it’s lackluster vocal performances matched with poor melodies and overbearing music. Meanwhile, “Things You See in a Graveyard” is doomed from Paul Sorvino (Rotti Largo)’s chewing on the scenery, and “Legal Assassin”, despite bright spots, is simply too schizophrenic and overwrought to take off. “21st Century Cure” takes the occasional problems of other songs (noncommittal melodies, rhyming just enough to piss me off when it doesn’t, and shallow mehtul rawking) and puts them all in one three and a half minute package.
Standout “Zydrate Anatomy” comes in a whopping nine songs after the last genuinely good song as a kind of midpoint highlight just in time to keep me from going Repo Man on this thing. The music hits a groove, Terrance Zdunich (Graverobber)’s sing-speak finally hits on target, and the song actually has a hook. However, the call and response trick gets so worn that even the chorus sounds ready to give it the finger by it’s third repetition (“some mighty fine print”).
The “Good/bad” disparity becomes more pronounced on the soundtrack’s second half. Anthony Head (Nathan Wallace)’s embrace of evil in “Night Surgeon” succeeds thanks to the layered vocals on the chorus, and the bite of the instrumentation. Meanwhile, Brightman embarrasses the entire cast on the gorgeously operatic “Chromaggia”. And hell, “I Didn’t Know I’d Love You So Much” is tolerable when I’m not waiting for the movie to finally end.
But there are still problems with the backhalf of Repo!, namely, they’re weak takes on popular artists. I’d hoped “Seventeen” would be less stupid without the godawful visual to go with it, but as a song, it’s still a very poor version of Green Day’s “St. Jimmy”. “Gold” is three minutes of cheesey nothingness, “We Started This Op’ra Shit” sounds like a terrible Marilyn Manson cover, and “Genetic Emancipation” is a hamfisted take on Evanescence.
There’s also a few miscellaneous problems throughout the entire soundtrack. As with every opera/musical, there’s awful character songs (“Mark It Up” is by far the worst offender), and scattered unnecessary numbers. The army of musicians drafted for Repo! have three modes: goth metal loud, goth metal soft, and Tim Burton-fied Italian Opera, which makes the soundtrack feel redundant and played out around a dozen songs in. One of the biggest dealbreakers, though, is how uneven this cast is vocally. There’s Head and Sorvino, who are fine in ensemble songs, but can’t carry a song on their own, but the biggest vocal gap is between Brightman (who has had a 30 year singing career) and Alexa Vega (Shiloh Wallace), who just isn’t good. The fact that the two of them have a duet (“Chase the Morning”) does not help matters.
This leaves Repo! in a bad spot. Out of 22 songs, only five or six are more than tolerable. Going back to the whole “cult classic” thing, a frequent point of comparison for Repo! is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has endured for 35 years now. A lot of TRHPS’s appeal is in how it knows it’s bad, but still has fun with it. The same can’t be said for this dour collection, a high two and a half stars.
tl;dr: Big on theatrics, but small on quality, 2.5/5