I am very, very, very late to the game here, but I have just discovered that… I enjoy Rent. I enjoy it lots. The little ticker of shame on iTunes informs me I have listened to “Another Day” seven times since the sun rose yesterday. These were supposed to be terrible songs. But they’re catchy! I think I just spent 11 years being wrong.
Let’s blame Steve Sailer and teenage girls. First, Sailer wrote a really bareknuckled, bitter reaming of Christopher Columbus’ adaptation of the musical and I took his word.
“Rent’s” mediocrity is thorough. The lyrics are lame and the melodies forgettable. As a songwriter, Larson tried too hard without working hard enough. Even the fictional brilliance of the characters is underwhelming. The last great song the doomed guitarist spends a year composing turns out to be as generic as the rest, while the avant-garde auteur’s cinematic breakthrough is home movies of his friends partying.
The latter two statements are true: Roger’s “Your Eyes” is one of the weaker songs in the musical, Mark’s film is crap. But most of the other songs are melodically strong, beautifully arranged (the weepy tremolo in “One Song Glory,” the diva-isms of “Take Me or Leave”), and… yes, the lyrics aren’t typically good, but there are flashes of wit like the breakdown in “La Vie Boheme.” And there’s a Laurie Anderson pastiche! It’s less clear in the finished version, which features Idina Menzel howling across three octaves, but check out the demo version Jonathan Larson messed around with. That’s obviously an Anderson piss-take. (Here’s “Language is a Virus” if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)
As for the teenage girls… they like to lip-sync songs from the musical (go and YouTube them, I dare you), and it’s a good rule that anything young, not-yet-disappointed theatre girls like is garbage. Stopped clock, once a day, etc.
I’m not sure about the pacing of the show, though. Act I takes places over, what five days? And Act II takes place over a year, most of this time being passed with the “What You Own” song.