Namco Video Game Music

Namco Video Game MusicEven though we now live in an age where ringtones outstrip them with actual sampled sounds, I’ve always thought the bite-sized video game music cues of yesteryear were really catchy in their own hypnotic way. Granted, they weren’t exactly great music in cases, and some of them weren’t even particularly complex – but with repeat exposure, they had a way of lodging themsselves in my brain all the same.

Namco Video Game Music is a CD that gives you a chance to hear those sounds away from the games that inspired them. In come cases, that’s brilliant, while in others, it comes across as little more than a sound effects disc for serious retrogaming enthusiasts. It’s hard to take it to task too much, however, for this is a CD pressing of one of the very earliest releases of video game music in the world, having originally appeared on vinyl in Japan around 1986.

There’s a decent balance struck here between popular games whose sounds everybody will recognize, and obscure, less obvious titles. Phozon and Libble Rabble never even made it to North American arcades, but they each boast some outstanding pieces of intricate music. On the other hand, as familiar and popular as Pac-Man is, it really only has a couple of pieces of music; much of its track is taken up by the sound of the game being played. You could hook up any machine running Namco Museum to your stereo and get much the same effect.

Other games have great music that are a little bit buried behind sound effects. When the Pole Position track finally got to the end of its “sound effects” section and started playing the game’s numerous post-game ditties in a row, I found that I remembered each one of them well (and while I’m sure some would say “well, that’s because you’ve been playing it nonstop for 24 years!”, I don’t really go reaching for a Pole Position fix that often – the music is, in fact, that catchy).

The first and final tracks, however, are the real bonus fruit at the end of the round. The track devoted to Xevious kicks off with a wonderfully authentic arcade soundscape, with the sound of that game front and center in the mix. Gradually, though, it segues into something else: the repetitive Xevious background tune becomes the backdrop for an Art Of Noise-esque collage of samples from the game, carefully arranged to provide their own beat. Given the original release date of this album, and the fact that Art Of Noise was only just catching on at the time in its original form, this means Namco Video Game Music was way ahead of its time.

The final track kicks off with what sounds like a Galaga audio chip test, cycling through all of the possible sounds and musical interludes that the game contains, until it settles upon the almost hypnotic post-game tune that accompanies your final score and hit ratio statistics. Again, new instrumentationRating: 3 out of 4 is gradually added to the mix, with not-quite-lounge-style organs expanding on and developing that tune until it’s actually upbeat and relaxing. Given the way that the sparse music from these two games is developed into music that stands on its own, it’s really a shame that the rest of the album wasn’t along the same lines.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. Xevious (6:15)
  2. Bosconian (0:15)
  3. Pac-Man (2:57)
  4. Phozon (2:12)
  5. Mappy (3:36)
  6. Libble Rabble (3:35)
  7. Pole Position (2:43)
  8. New Rally-X (3:11)
  9. Dig Dug (1:30)
  10. Galaga (4:23)

Released by: Scitron Digital
Release date: 2003 (originally released in 1986)
Total running time: 30:37

The Strokes – Room On Fire

The Strokes - Room On FireIt’s official – I must live on another planet, because I missed the music industry hype around the Strokes’ second album, released in 2003. I gather that some of the fans accumuated from their first album in 2001 didn’t dig this one, but as I haven’t heard that one, I really enjoyed Room On Fire. Its eleven songs are compact, economical morsels of catchy-as-hell power pop with almost insanely hummable hooks.

I seldom just fall all over myself fawning over an album, but there simply isn’t a lame song on this disc. “What Ever Happened?” is almost deceptively easygoing as an opening number, but it’s chased down by one of the album’s strongest songs, “Reptilia”, which sees this very small band getting a very big sound. Lead man Julian Casablancas may not have a voice that’s to everyone’s taste, but it grew on me. The guy can sing, but on some songs he sees fit to scream instead – and with repeated listening, I’ve come to the conclusion that his instincts are usually right on the money. “Reptilia”, for example, wouldn’t be quite the same without it.

“Repitilia” is a straight-out-of-the-70s, straight ahead hard rocker, while “Between Love And Hate” and “Automatic Stop” almost show the tiniest hints of reggae influence. “Under Control” takes a few 50s-style riffs and runs them all through heavy distortion. “12:51”, the song whose video was played out as a lost scene from Tron*, almost sounds like the Cars’ first two albums, only the “synth” sounds are actually coming from a guitar. Which brings me to another point – for a five-piece band, and a young one at that, the Strokes are impeccably tight. Actually, at first I typed “impossibly tight.” And I’m not sure that’s wrong either. Instrumentally, they’re a fantastic band.

4 out of 4It wasn’t until after I wrote the bulk of this review that I looked around, saw that there seemed to be some “received wisdom” that this album didn’t live up to the debut, and adjusted things accordingly – meaning I made a mention that some folks see a sophomore slump here, but I certainly don’t. Since I’m evidently listening to the Strokes’ discography backwards, I hope that their first album was as good as Room On Fire, because nothing about this one is lacking to my ears.

Order this CD

  1. What Ever Happened? (2:50)
  2. Reptilia (3:39)
  3. Automatic Stop (3:27)
  4. 12:51 (2:26)
  5. You Talk Way Too Much (3:00)
  6. Between Love And Hate (3:09)
  7. Meet Me In The Bathroom (2:53)
  8. Under Control (3:02)
  9. The End Has No End (3:04)
  10. The Way It Is (2:21)
  11. I Can’t Win (2:35)

Released by: RCA
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 32:26

* In addition to the Tron video, the artwork on the “Reptilia” CD single was the marquee artwork from Atari’s arcade game Centipede. I think I spot a trend…

Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor Audio Adventures

Doctor Who: Music From The Seventh Doctor Audio AdventuresThe last collection to date of soundtracks from a single Doctor’s adventures, Music From The Seventh Doctor Audio Adventures puts together music from three of the 2001-2002 stories starring Sylvester McCoy. The music collected from each of these three adventures is pretty diverse – it may well be the only CD in my collection that has trance music, theremin and someone playing the spoons on the same tracklist – and it’s also a first in that it contains contributions from the seventh Doctor himself. But more on that in a moment.

The first seven tracks consist of selections from Dust Breeding, and they’re the only straight-ahead, soundtrack-ish cues you’ll find on this CD. In the liner notes, composer Andy Hardwick says he was trying to achieve a “breathy quality” to act as a motif for the dust, but as a standalone listening experience, it’s the moody piano work that stands out the most. The “breathy” synths, when they do appear, actually give the proceedings an almost dated sound.

The most surprising, and enjoyable, music included on this CD are the techno tracks from The Rapture, a story which centered around an Ibiza dance club of the same name with a sinister secret. The multi-talented Jim Mortimore, who has also authored and even illustrated Doctor Who novels from the New Adventures range, gets to work Doctor Who into his “day job” as a techno musician with some lively tracks; the various pieces of “source music” here are woven into a continuous suite whose component parts stand just as well on their own. I was really surprised by how good some of the music for The Rapture was. I also have to give mad props to whoever edited together the extended-length trailer for this story – normally I skip the story trailers because, well, I’ve heard the stories in their entirety by now at least once. I’m always up for listening to The Rapture‘s trailer again though – it’s that good.

From there we go into an all-out SF musical parody. I was particularly looking forward to hearing the music from the comedy story Bang-Bang-A-Boom! by itself, just to see if Russell Stone had worked any clever musical nods in there somewhere that weren’t immediately apparent under dialogue. If anything, Bang-Bang-A-Boom! stops just short of being a disappointment; while the story itself lampoons everything from Buck Rogers to Space: 1999, the music is decidedly more modern. Stone seems to be trying to make fun of the more droning passages of the music from Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, but he’s trying too hard, and winds up with music that, for the most part, is far more droning and catatonic than anything that the composers on either of those shows could’ve managed – sort of a case of okay, we get the 3 out of 4joke. Things are livened up considerably with the various entries from the Intergalactic Song Contest, featuring Mr. Sylvester McCoy on the spoons. (This may well be the only time that the Doctor featured in one of Big Finish’s soundtrack collections can be counted as a performer in his own right.)

It’s a bit of an uneven listening experience if one tries to go straight through it in a single sitting, but there are some individual gems in the rough on Music From The Seventh Doctor Audio Adventures.

Order this CD

  1. Trailer: Dust Breeding (1:35)
  2. The Sadness That We See In Him (2:52)
  3. Damien Unhinged / Mr. Seta Unmasked (5:43)
  4. Like A Tiger, It Toyed With Me (1:52)
  5. The Dust Belongs To Me! / No Oil Painting (4:42)
  6. Always Knew I’d Die On Duchamp (4:12)
  7. The Future Has Already Happened (1:09)
  8. Trailer: The Rapture (0:52)
  9. Maggie’s Music (1:47)
  10. Triangle Chill (4:04)
  11. Freestyle (2:50)
  12. Brook Of Eden (4:03)
  13. Rebirth (1:41)
  14. Sorted (2:07)
  15. Jude’s Law (2:56)
  16. Pink Pulloff (1:47)
  17. Crystal Devildance (1:08)
  18. Gloves Off (with Jane Elphinstone) (1:29)
  19. Trailer: Bang-Bang-A-Boom! (1:57)
  20. Welcome To Dark Space 8 (1:22)
  21. The Trouble With Dark Space 8 (1:58)
  22. I’m Just Not Like The Other Boys! (The Pits Of Angvia) (1:20)
  23. Dead Drunk (The Death Of A Scientist) (3:02)
  24. This Is The Denouement (Oh No, Sorry, It Isn’t) (2:30)
  25. That Peace Conference (2:50)
  26. When Gholos Attacks (0:45)
  27. That Space Battle (1:04)
  28. Galactivision (3:33)

Released by: Big Finish Productions
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 68:31