inFamous 2 -The Red Soundtrack-
inFamous 2 -The Red Soundtrack-
Sony Computer Entertainment
June 7, 2011
Buy Used Copy
Playing god has always been one of gamers’ favourite pastimes and the original inFamous gave them a exciting opportunity to live out these fantasies. The adventures of bike courier-cum-son of Zeus Cole MacGrath saw the thunderbolt-throwing protagonist battle Reaper gangs and make Empire City his own, climbing up drainpipes, surfing power lines and sprinting across the city’s rooftops with adrenaline-pumping abandon. Enforcing the liberating sense of roaming Empire City was an electronic score spearheaded by knob twiddler extraordinaire Amon Tobin.
For inFamous 2, the game’s narrative moved to a new location, New Marais, based on the real-life New Orleans. This also prompted a natural change in the developers’ approach to inFamous 2‘s score. Consciously moving towards more organic sounds, the game’s soundtrack would take its cue from the rich musical tradition of New Orleans. As a result, only the game’s music manager Jonathan Mayer and composer Jim Dooley would return from inFamous. They were joined by two newcomers: Bryan “Brain” Mantia, a prolific session drummer with an impressive list of credits (including Tom Waits, Guns N’ Roses and Primus), and New Orleans band Galactic, coming from a background of blending funk, hip-hop, jazz and R&B on their own records. The involvement of such a colourful team of composers promised an eclectic score, and developer Suckerpunch’s instruction to the artists to keep on improvising and experimenting only increased the intriguing nature of this project.
Ultimately, over the course of a year, four hours of music were created for inFamous 2. Promoted by an online making-of featurette of the soundtrack, the music for inFamous 2 hit stores first in May 2011 in the shape of inFamous 2 – The Blue Soundtrack, available as a regular digital download. A companion album, inFamous 2 – The Red Soundtrack, was released only days later as part of the game’s “Hero Edition”. This review refers to the Red Soundtrack.
It takes a little while for inFamous 2 – The Red Soundtrack to find its footing and shake off the feeling that it’s a collection of odds and ends that didn’t make onto the Blue Soundtrack. The first handful of tracks share similar qualities with the cues on the commercial release, but they feel a bit like diamonds in the rough that would benefit from a bit of polishing and tightening. “The Flood” is one particularly jarring case whose enthralling first two thirds are followed by sparse string material that doesn’t have anything to do with what preceded it. Suffering from the same issue in a less intrusive way are opening track “Abducted” and following pieces “Junction” and “Tasso”. They’re all more than satisfactory compositions, bt action tones of “Abducted” don’t flow quite as elegantly as similar moments on the Blue Soundtrack, while “Junction” and “Tasso” start to meander a bit during their running time. After this slightly wobbly start, however, inFamous 2 – The Red Soundtrack hits it stride and emerges as much more than just the B-side to the Blue Soundtrack.
Instead, the Red Soundtrack turns out to be the best kind of companion album: cut from the same cloth as its counterpart, but still featuring a distinctive personality of its own. Most of the virtues that characterised the earlier inFamous2 soundtrack album benefit this score as well. There’s still a genre-bending, if now altered, mix of musical styles that’s pulled off effortlessly; an abundance of creative instrumentations and playing techniques; a gritty, uneasy undercurrent to the music that grabs the listener attention from start to finish; a supreme sense of atmosphere that permeates every shady corner of this soundtrack; and a perfectly engineered, vivid album recording that perfectly realises the composers’ ambitions. The opening track “Abducted” right away builds a stylistic bridge to the Blue Soundtrack’s combat cues through its mix of action-focused components and melodic elements that combine rock and orchestral sounds. On the other end of the spectrum, that score’s more ambient moments and creative manipulation of sounds are recalled on “Gris Gris”. Lonely saxophone motifs sound as if they emanate from a distant vintage radio, traversing a forsaken landscape sparsely populated by brittle guitar notes and the stark, dry beats of a bass drum. The underlying, mutated funk rhythms once more showcase the composers’ proficiency in twisting a musical genre’s conventions to fit their idiosyncratic vision.
But fortunately, the Red Soundtrack doesn’t just revisit its predecessor’s traits. The string quintet’s powerful sounds make their mark on this score as well, but in less surprising fashion than before. While the Blue Soundtrack utilised the string ensemble to perform harmonically adventurous melodies and lines reminiscent of the harsher works of Bartok and Stravinsky, here the quintet is deployed in a more traditional fashion to provide chopping rhythms that drive the music forward. It’s true that through this stylistic reconfiguration, this soundtrack loses a bit of its predecessor’s unique appeal and tension. But on the other hand, this change in direction successfully helps to create the Red Soundtrack’s stripped-down, less cerebral character. And there’s no denying that this more familiar string material is composed well enough to do a great job on tracks like “Tasso”, “Shotguns and Gasoline” and “And I Thought I Was A Pyro”, helped as always by the excellent, immediate album recording. On later tracks such as “Gorgeous Corpse” and “Gas Lamp Gas Tank”, the propulsive string movements are embellished by skittish violin tremoli that complicate the relatively straightforward progression of the music and highlights the sense of conflict that intensifies towards the end of the album.
On several tracks, the increased rhythmic focus and down-to-earth appeal of the music is underscored by a greater role for rock drum kit, which often replaces the wide array of percussion instruments found on the Blue Soundtrack. Again, some might lament the loss of instrumental colours, but at the same time, the music on the Red Soundtrack feels grittier and less sprawling than on the first album. In its more rock-oriented stylings, this score will even be more accessible for some listeners than the Blue Soundtrack’s daring mixture of genres. And not only do the the strings and drum kit interact flawlessly on “No Surrender” and “Monster Ranch”, but the album recording gives particularly the bass drum an arid sound that works wonders in this more rootsy sonic environment. Witness how the rock percussion of “No Surrender”, together with steely strings and a hypnotic electric bass figure, sucks you into a slow-burning haze that only gets stronger during the track’s running time — an effect that’s replicated to equally impressive effect on “Cypress Madness”. On “Special Delivery” and “1916”, the music sometimes resembles a percussion jam, and you bet that both drummers involved in the Red Soundtrack make of the most of this opportunity. When injected into a more subdued track like “Burned Down”, the drum sounds impart it with a harder edge than similar compositions on the Blue Soundtrack. And once the time comes around for the album’s finale, the stomping drum rhythms and increasingly anxious string motifs on “Closing Time” join forces to spiral into a climax that’s both determined and chaotic throughout its combination of resolute rhythms and spastic violin lines twirling around them.
This successful amalgamation of different rhythmic forces — rock drums and strings — is emblematic for the fact that the Red Soundtrack’s narrowed-down orchestrations are by no means a sign of a less creative soundtrack. The composers may work with a smaller palette on this album, but they wring the maximum amount of variation out of it while maintaining the score’s swampy, grimy atmosphere. Again focusing on the strings, one example of this display of compositional creativity is “The Flood”, where the string quintet is given twisted swing rhythms and riffs to play that would usually be performed in more consonant harmonies on brass instruments. And then there’s album highlight “Ascension Parish”, a nightmarish parade of freaks marching through the dark streets of New Marais. The ritualistic, celebratory rhythms are given a wonderfully dirty and warped character, courtesy of pot-bellied harmonies and an album recording that captures the string quintet’s double bass and cello so closely that they sound like brass instruments! Combine this with a whining, recurring violin motif and equally psychotic saxophone material and you’ve got a masterstroke of evocative, ingenious musical expression.
It’s true that the Red Soundtrack sports less dense textures and starker sounds than its predecessor, but its ambient compositions remain just as strong as on the first album. “Junction”, with its post rock-inspired opening for a growling guitar riff and shards of saxophone sounds, doesn’t articulate that underlying on-the-edge-of-your-seat tension that was so palpable on the Blue Soundtrack quite as well. But this minor shortcoming is forgotten when the ominous atmospheric background musings of “The Swamp”” are balanced by a sad, yet tense violin figure that gives the composition a surprising emotional resonance. Balancing mood-building tones and emotionality works equally well on “Flood Town Plague”, which tells of suffering through painful harmonica notes that sound as if they had to be forced out of the instrument. And this emotional build-up pays off tremendously when it later allows the biting string lines that lurch and gnaw at each other to function as a shocking escalation of pent-up pain.
While the Red Soundtrack focuses on smaller instrumental ensembles, the two orchestral tracks featured on the album are strong enough to warrant particular mention. They’re markedly more dramatic and faster than their cousins on the Blue Soundtrack, with racing string material that’s a slightly jarring change of pace from the more deliberate speed of the surrounding cues. But that’s easily compensated by their immense sense of urgency that surpasses everything else on both inFamous 2 albums. Actually, in its sense of determination and the sheer scale of its orchestral assault, “The Final Piece” is a better closing tracks than the Blue Soundtrack’s “The Decision”. And “Plant Monster” successfully spices up its orchestral sounds with injections of immensely dissonant french horn material that is first heard in an explosion of brass clusters at the track’s beginning and is strongly reminiscent of Elliot Goldenthal’s Alien 3.
inFamous 2 – The Red Soundtrack, despite its status as ‘only’ a bonus album, not just easily stands as an album in its own right, but it’s strong enough to be counted among the better Western game scores of 2011 so far. The soundtrack reshapes its predecessor’s unique textures and mix of styles by streamlining the string quintet material to a degree and putting a greater focus on the score’s rock elements. The result is a soundtrack that’s dirtier and leaner, but just as intense as the first album. The Red Soundtrack may sometimes lack the mesmerising energy and tension between the various different styles that defined the Blue Soundtrack. But there’s no question that the composers’ creativity generates just as original results when applying itself to a more narrowly defined instrumental palette. The Blue Soundtrack was the musical equivalent of running through the strange, but weirdly familiar city of New Marais and soaking in all the new, exhilarating sights and sounds. The Red Soundtrack, on the other hand, is a slow stroll down the city’s dingy laneways at night, with the reflections of New Marais’ bars’ and clubs’ lights mixing with the shadows that lurk just around the corner. Very highly recommended.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on August 1, 2012.