August 7, 1986
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Most people would think very little of a vinyl set that holds two tracks, but when one considers that Alpha was one of Uematsu’s first music releases, everything becomes a lot more precious and valuable. Alpha came out in 1986, and with this coming from the fourth game that he composed for, it is easy to see what an impact his music had on the video game music world. The sound quality is a lot better than expected for such an old album, and although there are a few problems with wavering pitches throughout each track, it becomes an enjoyable experience. The game was released on four platforms, which was more than any of the other games that were released by Square at the same time, such as Blassty. Uematsu’s music was therefore exposed to a number of game players, who greeted it so well that this arranged album was released soon afterwards. So, let me tell you a bit more about the tracks.
The first theme featured is “Prologue ~Theme from Alpha~,” a track that starts off in an industrial setting. Valve-like whistles and carriage-like creaks open the track in a mystical way, and at the 0:17 mark some dark instruments come in to reveal a narrator, who soon comes in after some dark timpani beats. The narrator talks of a search in 2101 AD of a new frontier on planet Alpha. The original voyagers of the interstellar starship all pass away before they reach Alpha, so their children are left behind after a few centuries, and without any knowledge of where they are supposed to be going, they lose hope and are without dreams. The music to the narration is dark and electronic, so Uematsu does really well in creating the perfect atmosphere here. From here onwards, the track takes upon a much more hope filled atmosphere, initiated by the presence of a girl whose hair blows in the wind.
A flute plays a quaint melody to a running xylophone arpeggio in the background, and as soon as a bass guitar riff is added at the 1:46 mark, we hear the introduction of a number of other parts, and hence a great developed section is born. The 2:34 mark sees the birth of the main section, which consists of two interweaving parts that play a very similar melody with the addition of decorations here and there. Uematsu even adds a drum beat to emphasise the track’s powerful effect, and the great thing is that it doesn’t seem out of place at all since the ambient instruments now become a lot more powerful. The end of the track is subtle and quaint, so it leaves an everlasting effect on the listener. On the whole, Uematsu shows that he was ahead of his time in this track, creating something that easily rivals one of his more sophisticated creations for the 16-bit era’s Final Fantasy soundtracks and it really sets the listener up nicely for the next, and final, theme.
Considering the success of “Prologue ~Theme from Alpha~,” I found “CHRIS” to be a bit disappointing. The track starts off with a flute that plays a sorrowful melody. Along the way, Uematsu adds some echo effects to magnify the effect that the flute has, so along with a basic accompaniment, the whole theme flows nicely. Nonetheless, there are two downfalls of the track. First of all, it hardly develops; this is a disappointing aspect of the track since the melody has a lot of potential. The second major flaw is how the track abruptly ends. “Prologue ~Theme from Alpha~” ended on a high after a fade out, but “CHRIS” just finishes half way through a phrase. I think whatever way you look at it, “CHRIS” couldn’t possibly compare to the advanced “Prologue ~Theme from Alpha~,” so this just reveals the contrasting nature of Uematsu’s musical mind: sometimes a genius, and sometimes a melody fanatic. This track is simple in nearly every aspect; with a conjunctive harmony and a lack of emotional change, this is a successful track in that it is peaceful and relaxing, but otherwise feels downright mediocre.
On the whole, this album is more of a sentimental rarity than an arranged masterpiece. Nobuo Uematsu is amongst video game music’s most prolific composers, so to hear such an early from him is certainly a blessing. “Prologue ~Theme from Alpha~” is the better track of the two. It has an awesome development, a diverse set of instruments, and a storyline set to it too. Each track lacks in variation of mood, but “Prologue ~Theme from Alpha~” has the upper hand here, while the relatively bare “CHRIS” could have been so much more. As first works go, Uematsu does well here. The first track is extremely advanced for its time, and although it is incomparable to the likes of today’s scores, he really pushes the recording facilities to the maximum. Despite the length of this album, I enjoyed it. If you see it going on eBay, then get it if it really interests you and you can afford a considerable amount of money. It’s a really great album to have, and it is almost certainly a collector’s gem, too.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Dave Valentine. Last modified on January 18, 2016.