Namco Music Saloon -From Go Vacation-
Namco Music Saloon -From Go Vacation-
December 21, 2012
Buy at CDJapan
Go Vacation is a sports game with a pretty similar setting and gameplay to titles such as Wii Sports Resort. Namco Bandai Games went all out for the game’s music. They asked newcomer Taku Inoue to write a 42 minute score of background music, which has since been digitally released through Namco Sounds. They additionally brought in Norihiko Hibino to arrange classic Namco tunes into a range of jazz, tropical, and pop performances. Hibino went all-out recording his ambitious new interpretations of favourites from Ridge Racer, Dig Dug, Pac-Man, and more with two vocalists and a band of 19 instrumentalists. Namco Music Saloon -From Go Vacation- features those classic Namco tunes arranged by Norihiko Hibino in both instrumental and vocal performances. How does the end result turn out?
This album is split down the middle when it comes to the types of arrangements on the album. Since it is my least favorite aspect of the album, I’ll start with the vocal arrangements at first. I think that the vocals definitely take away from the ability to enjoy the album due to the cheesy lyrics and shameless stylings. I can’t really fault the vocalists for doing their job; with years of experience behind them, Aubrey Ashburn and Jody Whitesides try their best to make the most out of the songs. Likewise, the music that accompanies the vocals is pretty good and competently recorded. But overall, most of these vocal tracks sound gimmicky and take a decent idea too far.
The album opens with “Crusin’,” an arrangement of New Rally-X‘s unforgettable themes. It features a swing rock vibe and sports a pretty awesome solo. Inspired by Pac-Man, “Blinky and Clyde” also gives a swing rock vibe and the instrumental sections are highlights for those that can cope with the cheesy. I was far less of a fan of “And Then There’s Sunshine” and . “U.F.O” from the Family Ski titles. I’m not a big fan of clashing rap performances and more melodic style vocals. The big band/funk approach of the music is appreciated though. Far better is “Love Maze” from Ridge Racer Type-4. The sultry vocals go well with the smooth jazz sound of this arrangement and the instrumental sections are quite impressive as well. It’s a fitting tribute to the pioneering score.
“Word Games for Two,” an arrangement from obscure puzzler Kotoba no Puzzle: Mojipittan definitely gives me vibes of “Summer Lovin’” from Grease and “La Bamba” with its cheesy rock approach. “Aloha Is Worth 8 Points” from the same game has a tropical vibe that is accentuated by steel drums and other various percussion elements, but the vocal performance is really distracting to me. “Welcome to Kawaii” from the same game features a ton of slap bass and has a Hawaiian soundscape to it. Compared to “Aloha Is Worth 8 Points,” this tune is definitely more successful in terms of a vocal performance, especially since I find the instrumental backing less satisfying than other themes.“Papaya Beach,” an arrangement from the sequel Kotoba no Puzzle: Mojipittan Daijiten, has a bit of a tropical vibe with some beautiful saxophone work. The vocals are less obnoxious here too, serving more as an accompaniment than really being in the forefront of the tune.
The last two vocals are original themes composed for the game. “Vacation,” the theme used in the Japanese version, has a surfer rock vibe for sure and features a melody more shaped for vocal performance. Ashburn’s vocals themselves are pretty enjoyable; however, the superficial lyrics, while fitting for the game, just do nothing for me. “Vacation (from Go Vacation US Version)” deviates from the tropical vibe of the original tune in favour of a rock vibe. Perhaps this was created to cater towards the US audience (stereotypes anybody?), but I find it to be less satisfying than the original.
Fortunately, the instrumental arrangements help to save the album, in my opinion. “Colored Dirts and Grass Skirts,” from Dig Dug, has a Hawaiian style to it that really makes me think of a vacation on an island far away. The strings performance has a bit more of a rustic quality to it, which I think works well with Mitsukuni Tanabe’s acoustic guitar accompaniment. “My Little Darlin” from the same game keeps with the Caribbean vibe, although here there is definitely more of a jazzy aspect to the strings work. “Starry Ocean” from Galaga and “Masalada Break” from Mappy also keep the nice island vibe going. It’s quite impressive to see how Hibino has elaborated on the simple originals to produce fully-fledged arrangements.The focus on the ukulele in these tracks is especially welcome.
“Red Car/Blue Car Shuffle” from New Rally-X keeps with the swing rock vibe of “Crusin,” but is a much more fun and bubbly tune thanks to its focus on brass rather than vocals. A tribute to Ridge Racer, “Race to the Cove” has a fantastic beach vibe that is accentuated by the focus on steel drums, jazzy piano, bass, and frenetic percussion that really manages to capture the essence of the original, albeit in a very different style. “The Town Power Pellets Built” and “Sweet Grass” both come from the Pac-Man series, focusing respectively on jazzy saxophones and country-influenced guitar performances. They’re decent tunes, but the former is among the more repetitive entries here. “Hilltop Breeze” from Toy Pop also has a bit of a country twang to it, although with an island vibe fused in. Lastly, “Hotel Kawaii,” also from Toy Pop, is probably one of my favorite instrumental pieces on the album. It is a beautiful lounge jazz piece with a strong focus on Ayaki Saito’s piano performance that really draws the listener in. This is definitely the style of music that I think Hibino is best at composing, so this arrangement is welcome. I only wish more of the album was like this.
This album is split between vocal performances and instrumental arrangements almost equally and as such, it can be a soundtrack that will be sure to split opinions. On one hand, the tracks are all fresh, bold interpretations of Namco music and are arranged competently, whether it be instrumental or vocal. On the other, I find the cheesy vocal parts to be a huge distraction that really hampers my enjoyment of the album. It’s a good idea to sample the official YouTube video from above. Those who can enjoy the vocals should definitely give this album a shot; however those who can tolerate only Hibino’s instrumental stylings may find the focus here is too skewed on ho-hum vocal lines to be worth a shot.
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Posted on April 8, 2014 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on April 8, 2014.