RWBY: Volume 1 Soundtrack!

When I reviewed RWBY last year, I neglected to mention it’s sound track. Or so the dozen emails I received as a result have informed me. The truth is, I didn’t feel comfortable discussing the music without listening of the lyrics… I mean, the instrumental portion was great, as far as my untrained musical ears tell me. But I didn’t feel right about commenting without actually sitting down and listening to the songs, lyrics and all.

So, in November, I finally downloaded the soundtrack, after much procrastinating, and gave it a listen. And as the absolutely zero of you who follow me on twitter can tell, I had a blast ripping it to pieces while I listened.

Now that I finally have a break in my schedule, I’m going to give this soundtrack the attention it deserves… With a full review, going song by song through all of the songs that actually have lyrics! Of course, I won’t be commenting on the instrumental portion, because… That’s a little out of my league. It all sounds awesome to me.

1: Red Like Roses (Red Trailer)
And we’re already off to a great start! We’ve got four lines of lyrics, each one shorter than the last. And what imaginative lyrics they are. The first simile we’re treated me to is “Red like Roses,” which… Wow. I never would have thought of comparing the color red to a rose. Mind… blown. The full first line goes “Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest.” I’m going to have to reach really far up into my ass to find some semblance of what this lyric means… It’s clearly referencing Ruby, the red one… But who’s the other party? The one resting? I mean, based on the imagery, it’s someone who’s lost, but still resides in her memory… Is her mom dead? I hope so, because if not, this lyric is pretty pretentious.
“White is cold and always yearning burdened by a royal test…” In other words, Weiss is basically Elsa. Except she totally isn’t. The royal test thing kind of rings true, because she carries the pride of her family, but… Cold and always yearning? That’s putting her flaws a little nicely, don’t you think?
“Black the beast descends from shadows.” Okay, yes, Blake is a half animal, and a ninja to boot… Is that all you’ve got?
“Yellow beauty burns gold.” The first three said actual things about the characters they correspond to, kind of… But this one was just phoned in. Yellow, so… Gold! She’s the blonde and most American looking girl of the bunch, and she’s got the most cleavage, so… Beauty!
The first time I heard this, I realized they were using the color coded nature of the show as a lazy device for saying simple things about the characters in needlessly complicated ways. I realized just how dumb this was, compared to how smart they were trying to sound, and I laughed my ass off.

2: Mirror, Mirror (White trailer)
Oh boy. Well, this song consists of Weiss whining about how lonely she is and how… Um… Scared of herself she is? I don’t know if that really describes her character or not… I guess the lonely part is possible, but at no point does she ever seem to be scared of herself. Hell, she actually holds herself in pretty high regard. In any case, as the use of the ‘mirror mirror’ cliche proves, the operative words for this CD seem to be ‘lazy’ and ‘stupid.’ I mean, I get the connection to the Snow White story, at least on a shallow level… But I don’t remember the original ever being lonely. Maybe she feels that way because she had to abandon her seven dwarves to attend warrior school?
Yeah… This song just reinvigorates my annoyance at the fact that the fairy tale heroine motif doesn’t go any deeper than the characters’ names, as literally nothing else about them aside from their theme songs are connected to it. And even THAT’s too good a description for this song… It’s supposed to be about Snow White, and it’s from the perspective of a girl who’s singing to the magic mirror. I know there are a lot of versions of this story, but I have NOT seen the one where Snow White even meets the magic mirror. I mean, maybe in the Shrek Franchise… I never saw the fourth one, and my memory of the third one is just a drunken blur.
It ties in better with the idea of her being based on Elsa, as the original Snow Queen DID own a magic mirror, though.

3: From Shadows(Black trailer)
The Blake trailer… What joys does it hold for us? Well, it starts off with some electronic voice noticing an intruder… Kind of a situation that ninjas would like to avoid, right? That’s what the shadows are for. Anyway, this song goes into the backstory of Blake, but since it’s written in a super literal way… And since it doesn’t rhyme… I can only assume it was copied word for word out of her character description. It’s weird to hear a song like mirror mirror, which attempted depth with all the finesse of Taylor Swift circa 2009, and then jump into a song that tells a character’s back story without any attempt whatsoever to artistically interpret it. It’s going from one extreme to the other, and as a result, this one just sounds boring. There’s nothing to comment on. The only thing that makes this a song, instead of a voice over exposition, is the fact that somebody’s singing.

4: I Burn (Yellow Trailer)
So, in my twitter ravings, I ripped this song pretty hard for just being a rehash of the previous songs, and one future song. I even joked that that was a good thing, because there was already a song about Gold, and if you were to pull forced metaphors out of your ass to write a song about the color of yellow, it would basically be a song about piss. “Yellow… Floating in piss… Stinging the wounds in my soul… Close your mouth or it seeps in…” But then I realized why they did it.  Because Yang has the least personality out of all the other girls. She’s basically only there to be Ruby’s sister, and not in a wise way, but in a buddy-buddy “I’ll hug you and constantly say how proud of you I am” kind of way. Which doesn’t lend itself to a very deep interpretation, even by the middle school standards we’re working with.
I can’t decide whether or not I’m glad that they didn’t go this route, as this is probably my least favorite song on the album. There are other remixes on it… And two other songs with this same title… But this is by far the laziest song to actually be assigned to one of the main characters, and it just shows how little interest the creators had in letting Yang be anything more than eye candy.

5: Gold
You know all the problems the other songs have? This song has all new problems. It’s a very unique member of the soundtrack, as it’s the only one(of two) that seems to suck as an island rather than as part of the whole. You don’t have to get very far into the lyrics to realize that it’s a cut-and-paste frankenstein job of every upbeat inspirational song you’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure it has to do with what I cited as Yang’s most important role earlier… The buddy-buddy aspect of her relationship with Ruby… But it goes to such extremes that it honestly just comes off as unsettlingly possessive, to the point that the singer sounds almost too close to the person she’s singing about. It’s just purple prose and inflated promises that sound empty in their complete adherence to metaphor.  And then, despite the singer’s insistence that she’ll protect the subject from the dark, she herself takes a really dark turn, taking it into King Midas territory. She says that with a touch of her hand she’ll turn your life to gold, but… The reference is kind of obvious, and the Midas touch is a curse that kills people.
If we ignore the fact that the song is called Gold, and that it’s a Yang song, then it turns out to be more of a group dynamic song than a creepy protector song… And that makes it better. But it doesn’t keep the song from being highly derivative, and it once again leaves Yang without a song to call her own. And even if you do accept the group dynamic, it doesn’t solve the song’s biggest problem… It uses a lot of words in order to say very, very little. As long as it is, and as many pretty lines it may have, it can all be summed up in a couple of sentences. Yeah, the four of them have a bond of trust and companionship that makes them stronger and more capable when they’re together… Just how many ways can you say this before you get tired of saying the exact same thing over and over again?

6: I Burn
Here’s another derivative song… A song seemingly mixed and matched with other popular song lyrics. The very first blurb seems to match the opening lyrics from a Willy Wonka song with the most well known Transformers tag line. After that, it basically just goes into “Nobody gonna break-a my stride” territory. On top of that, the writer apparently believes that the temperature of the sun is somehow affected by the seasons of the Earth… I wonder if he also believes the moon is made out of cheese?
The song goes on for not nearly as long as it feels, spouting one “I’m awesome” phrase after another. The funniest part comes at about 1:10, where the singer says “Kick my ass… I’m world class… I’m Super Saiyan now!” That doesn’t just make me laugh because it sounds so stupid, but because when Yang’s power was revealed in season 2… That she gets stronger with each hit she takes… I immediately accused them of ripping off DBZ. Yeah, so, with this lyric pretty much confirming it, Goldilocks is a Saiyan. That’s why she has an Asian name, but still looks white… Like Goku from Evolution!  Seriously, though, if you’re writing a song and you make a non-comedic reference to DBZ, stop writing and do something else.
I have to meet the idiot who’s writing these lyrics… Seriously. “Like a fever I will take you down?” So, you’re going to beat them by making them sick? Because it’s working on me. I’ve heard better metaphors in Katy Perry’s Dark Horse.
The message of this song appears to be “You’ll get your ass kicked if you mess with me…” And while that does describe Yang, it kind of also describes her friends, too. But then we bring in a rap verse, and the rampant fire metaphors start to sound much more literal, as it suddenly turns into a song about a psychopath pyromaniac. This is the only part of the song that would be better if Yang actually DID have pyrokinetic powers… Or maybe it’s a song about Cinder?

7: I May Fall
“There’s a day that our hearts will be broken… When a shadow will cast out the light. But it will not be this day… This day, we fight!”
Yeah, listening to this song, I can’t help but imagine that speech that Aragorn made from The Lord of the Rings. I keep thinking about how inspirational it was, and how much less inspirational it would be if he’d spent over eighty percent of it just hammering in the fact that he and his soldiers might fall someday. Because that’s what this song basically does.
The message of the song is that the singer may one day fail, lose, die, and/or cry like a little bitch, but it won’t be by the subject’s hands. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea on paper, but it puts so much focus on the long term fate of the singer that it actually turns out kind of bleak… All of a sudden, it goes from “I’ll win this battle” to “I’ll probably lose the war, though!” And I can‘t really beleve that’s what they were going for.
Yeah, it’s blatantly stated that ‘creatures of darkness will triumph…’ Kind of makes victory seem pointless, doesn’t it? And not only will they die, but every dream dies as well… Meaning what they’re fighting for will not be won by their sacrifice. I’ve gotta be honest, if I heard this ralley cry before a battle, I’d go home and go to bed.

8: Red Like Roses 2
So… I really want to like this song. The writing is actually pretty good, despite the grade-school level of metaphorical coherence. It’s a song about Ruby and her dead mom… Which I just realized was a thing… And hey, the singer is singing with her actual mother! All together, this is probably my favorite song on the soundtrack, but considering it’s ilk, it also has a myriad of problems.
First of all, it doesn’t fit. At all. Maybe Ruby has a dead mother, but out of what I’ve seen… Season 1, four episodes of Season 2, the trailers… It’s never brought up in the show, and it never seems to affect Ruby’s character all that much. She never seems sad about anything, and while I get that that could be a front to hide her true feelings, that’s only speculation until it’s proven. I’m going to finish season 2 for my review next week, so I’ll see if anything tangible is revealed, but for now, this song just feels jarringly out of place.
Which could also be on account of it being a sad song about longing and mourning… Yet still sounds intense and fast-paced like any of the other WWE Entrance themes on this soundtrack, and just to drive the point in further, it’s played during an action scene in the first episode. Yep, while Ruby’s feeling all depressed and devastated over her dead mother, she’s kicking henchman ass with a smile on her face. This is one kind of song that shouldn’t feel so, um, ‘stoked.’ I want to like this song… But I just wish it had been played and utilized as a sad song, because that’s clearly how it was written to be. Maybe violins? Maybe piano? Maybe played in a different scene, with Ruby talking wistfully with her sister under the stars, or something? Come on, guys, this could have been so much better.

9: I Burn Remix
What can I say about this? It’s a song I already spoke about,but it’s a dance remix… With a guest appearance by that blue chick from The Fifth Element. Either her or a humpback whale, I’m not sure. I guess I’d still give it the advantage over the first one, as it’s better paced, and doesn’t have that confusing pyromaniac angle in it. Otherwise, no comment.

10: From Shadows
It’s pretty much the same song as the trailer by the same name, but it goes into a lot more detail, so I guess that’s a plus. Other than that, same complaints as before.

11: Wings
We’re at the final song on the soundtrack, and finally, we get the slow paced piano single that Red Like Roses 2 should have been. It’s from the ending credits of season 1, which is probably for the best, as there’s literally no other place in the series it could fit. No, seriously, this is supposed to be some sort of slow, beautiful ‘don’t get depressed’ song, like they’re trying to achieve poignancy, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use that after a show that was one third action, and then two thirds a CGI after school special about tolerance. It doesn’t fit. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say the only reason they put this in the credits is because they thought a song like this was SUPPOSED to be a credits song.
It’s not a bad song, necessarily… I’d call it good by early Avril Lavigne standards… But it does not belong here.
Let’s compare it to I May Fall, shall we? That song stated that one day our hearts will break, but that’s okay, because the person standing in front of us won’t kill us. now this song is trying to soothe us into NOT letting our hearts break. Well, which is it, RWBY?
It’s not the worst song on the album, but it’s the only one that I’d just call straight up boring, even if most of that boredom is by no fault of it’s own. A different story with a much heavier lean towards tragic romance would have made good use out of it.

And as for the whole album in general? It’s bad, but not as much so as the show itself. Parts of it sound like it was written by Jeff Williams as he flipped through his daughter’s middle school poetry book, with purple passages galore to back up this theory, and the rest of it sounds like he had some idea of the sound he was going for, but he didn’t know enough about that sound to make anything new out of it, instead settling for taking lyrics out of the songs he was inspired by and stitching them all back together as coherently as possible. It’s dumb, cheesy and devoid of intelligence, but what do you expect for a show like RWBY?
At the same time, I feel as though I’d be insulting Jeff Williams if I said that this was the best he could do. Even at his skill level, mediocre as it may be, there are lots of little directional changes he could have made to improve upon this work… But since he was interpreting a bunch of characters who are about as deep and complex as a thimble, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

B for effort, D for overall product.

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