Review Summary: a synthesis of different genres results in a notably disjointed album that surprisingly hits more than it misses.
From its humbling 16-bit era to its more sophisticated three-dimensional dynamic, Sonic sure has come a long way. The beloved speedster and Co. have become iconic within the realm of popular video games, celebrated today as one of the most successful and respected game series of all time, despite a few mishaps here and there (Sonic Heroes, anyone?) The arrival of our blue hedgehog hero on the Dreamcast marked a notable departure, as developers sought to take a more theatrical angle - a side that was only vaguely explored throughout the series both aesthetically and musically. Everything about Sonic had evolved - from its gameplay mechanic and artistic direction to the music (how many people knew that Michael Jackson worked on the soundtracks to the first three games?) The most notable and ambitious soundtrack in the series is arguably the Sonic Adventure 2 OST
, put together by the myriad mind of the composer of the first Sonic OST, Jun Senoue. Much like in the first game, Jun has once again given each playable character in the game a corresponding instrumental motif serving as their central theme. The characters’ blatant distinctions have allowed room for a lot of exploration, but also begs the question: ‘’do the motifs work in tandem?” In the context of a video game the music works, but as with a lot of soundtracks, the listening experience outside of the game is ultimately weighted by a lack of cohesion.
These distinctive motifs were performed by particular artists that Jun decided to enlist -- some of them being seasoned contributors to the series (Tony Harnell of TNT), others completely new (Paul Shortino of Quiet Riot). This can be partly attributed to both its success and downfall (lack of cohesion) as these artists contribute completely different ideas. To put into perspective: the soundtrack encompasses many genres, from the hard rocking theme “Live & Learn” to the restless electronics of “For True Story” to the suave lounge sound of “The Base” and candid classical pieces such as “The Last Scene”, even jazz and hip-hip are implemented in songs like “Deeper” and “Dive Into The Mellow”. It’s difficult to criticize something for being eclectic, and if taking a more optimistic tone, one could make the argument that it’s good to have such a widespread album, as there’s something here for everyone and people are bound to take something of value away from the experience. But then there’s another argument to be made. Despite how much a person will take away from this, it’s unlikely that they’ll enjoy all of it, especially those of us older than 10 who find the estranged hip-hop songs’ lyrical content hilariously juvenile, such as these lyrics found in “A Ghost’s Pumpkin Soup”:
“I ain't gonna let it get to me, I'm just gonna creep,
Down in Pumpkin Hill I gots to find my lost piece.
I know that it's here, I can sense it in my feet,
The great Emerald's power allows me to feel.”
Most of the blame for why the Sonic Adventure 2 OST
doesn’t hold together as well as it should can be placed on the lyrical content, because even though true to the game’s premise, the lyrics seem irrelevant without the game and certain songs would have worked better as instrumentals. However, although the vast majority of songs including lyrics are to some degree comical, they’re not all worthy of omission. The album’s crown jewel, “Supporting Me” is an ironclad masterpiece whose thinly veiled vocals help give it an air of mystique. There’s a dark aura about it that evolves into something more sinister during the chorus, where indistinguishable vocals coalesce into white noise as a contorted organ surfaces, driving the song through and segueing into a short recurring string section. Despite the fact that it’s processed-sounding, dominated by electronics and an oft-used drum kit, the song feels undeniably human. It’s one of a handful of songs that completely frees itself of that ‘soundtrack’ staple and feels forward-thinking.
It seems as though the album would have been wholly enjoyable had it been more conscious of its electronica elements, but a lot of other tracks are worthy of note. “Rhythmic Passage” is a short but biting song that recalls older Sonic games, “Shut Up Faker!” is a thrilling bass-heavy cosmic-rock song, “Black Noises” has one of the best buildups on the album that devolves into a gorgeous classical piano closer, and the “Trespasser” transforms into a spacey rock gem. The Sonic Adventure 2 OST
also has quite a few songs that have a distinct earthly feel to them, like the cooing bird in “Rhythm And Balance”’s introduction, or the middle-eastern feel of “Down In The Base”. Some of the greatest songs in the series - or in general for that matter - are on here, but as a whole it’s insurmountable, there’s just too much to digest at once that’s burdened by being too inconsistent on its own.