I’m sure some out there are already screaming, “Why Pac-Man Fever?!?” But in case you hadn’t guessed from the nearly-daily dose of updates to Phosphor Dot Fossils, I grew up with classic video games, and so it’s no surprise that I was a Buckner & Garcia fan when they released the original Pac-Man Fever, back when I was something like ten years old. And naturally, when the “Do The Donkey Kong” duo resurfaced this spring and announced a CD reissue of the album, I was more than happy to put myself on the list for a copy. And though this CD has caused a minor firestorm of controversy in that dedicated subset of video gamers who were also around to hear the original LP, I’m mostly happy with it…with only one major exception.
Granted, Pac-Man Fever isn’t art rock, so I can’t very well go and analyze this album with the same set of criteria that I’d use for Peter Gabriel, a John Williams soundtrack, or Ben Folds Five. Pac-Man Fever is a shameless cash-in on the same level as Ren & Stimpy’s You Eediot, and its chief stock in trade where I am concerned is nostalgia.
Why the aforementioned controversy? This CD doesn’t contain the original recordings. To some purists, this is heresy, and I do see – to a certain extent – where they’re coming from. But CBS Records, the label which issued the original Pac-Man Fever LP, refused to part with the 1982 master recordings, so Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia had to start from scratch. But to their credit, this is about as close as I’ve ever heard a from-the-ground-up re-recording get to an original recording. After all, we’re talking about the same guys – it’s not as if someone else popped out of nowhere and did their own version of the entire album (though some of the more ardent purists have argued that that’s exactly what it sounds like). I’ll put it this way – this about as close to the original Pac-Man Fever as Roy Orbison’s 1987 re-recordings of his greatest hits were to their source material. We’ll see how the purists do with Prince’s upcoming rehash of his entire Warner Bros. catalog. For my money, Buckner & Garcia did okay.
Some songs, notably “Mouse Trap”, “Goin’ Berzerk” and “Hyperspace”, have been updated quite a bit, while others – namely “Pac-Man Fever” itself and “Froggy’s Lament” – are very, very, very close to the originals. The biggest disappointment is more of a quality control issue than a musical one: it sounds like the tape of “Do The Donkey Kong” was damaged prior to mastering the disc, since its speed is unsteady and it has a certain amount of staticky noise on the CD. Granted, compared to the original 1982 sessions, the new Pac-Man Fever CD is probably just a few steps removed from a home recording, but considering how many hundreds or even thousands of now grown-up (and thus much more discriminating) fans were lined up for the new Pac-Man Fever, I’m astonished that a recording that was quite so obviously damaged was allowed to make the cut.
My favorite songs remain, to this day, “Pac-Man Fever”, “Froggy’s Lament”, and most especially “Mouse Trap” (which, ironically, is perhaps my least favorite of all the games which inspired the eight songs on the album). I’m also partial to the Donkey Kong tune, but this reissue’s version of it is all but unlistenable. Other than that one problematic track, I’m happy to welcome this aural chunk of my childhood back from vinyl obscurity
- Pac-Man Fever (3:56)
- Froggy’s Lament (3:27)
- Ode To A Centipede (5:37)
- Do The Donkey Kong (4:32)
- Hyperspace (4:15)
- The Defender (4:09)
- Mouse Trap (4:08)
- Goin’ Berzerk (4:23)
Released by: Radio Music Network
Release date: 1982 (re-recorded and reissued in 1999)
Total running time: 31:30