LucasArts Original Soundtracks / The Best of
The Best of LucasArts Original Soundtracks
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Away from their endless Star Wars productions, LucasArts have produced a number of excellent original adventure and action games. Each of these games was supported by a unique original score created by a member of the company’s incredibly talented sound team. The Best of LucasArts Original Soundtracks provided a commemoration of their achievements over the years with a one disc compilation. Three of the selections — Outlaws, Grim Fandango, and The Dig — were previously commemorated with their own acclaimed soundtrack releases. This leaves little space for exclusives, but there are still some, namely two original orchestral compositions flanking the album and some selections from the Monkey Island series, Gladius, and RTX: Red Rock. The Monkey Island selections are an especially big draw, given how popular and fondly remembered the series is. While the album doesn’t really come together as a cohesive whole given its diverse selections, it still serves as an impressive reflection of LucasArts’ musical achievements over the years. However, does it constitute a must-have album?
The album opens with the first of two original compositions by Mark Griskey, the “20th Anniversary Fanfare”. The composition elegantly blends both classical and cinematic influences into a suitably grand and fantastical mix. The album subsequent jumps into the main theme of the original score to the wild west shooter Outlaws. A direct homage to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Clint Bajakian presents a passionate and memorable melody is presented first on trumpet and then with a whistle to the backdrop of the brisk strumming of a guitar. With each progression, Bajakian further perfects the sphagetti-western sound. Whether the subtle ascending modulations, the heroic vocal chants, or even some late electric guitar work, it all builds into a fulfilling whole. Later in the compilation, “The Sawmill” captures the adventurous spirit of riding through the plains with its liberated rhythms and rustic timbres. “The Train” and “The Ballad of Dr. Death” meanwhile are much more quirky with their funk and country influences. The latter is nevertheless completely fascinating as a stand-alone achievement with all its twists and turns, even eventually incorporating some silly vocals. While limited to just four themes from the official soundtrack, it’s a high quality and fairly representative selection of what Outlaws has to offer.
However, it’s Peter McConnell’s score to Grim Fandango that makes the most numerous appearances on The Best of LucasArts Original Soundtracks. Much of its original score convincingly homaged the swing era thanks to McConnell’s convincing jazz writing and the emotional big band perfrmances. “Smooth Hector” is especially reflective on this on the LucasArts compilation; it is so similar in mood and technicality to Louis Armstrong’s instrumental works, especially with the singing qualities of the trumpet leads. However, McConnell is keen to experiment with bebop too and memorably homages John Coltrane with the hard yet lyrical saxophone use and abrasive piano use in “Hector Steps Out”. There are also several more worldly pieces from this selection, including “Temple Gate” which beautifully integrates some oriental woodwinds and “The Enlightened Forest” with its use of the Arabian rebab. Moving to the end of the selection, “Manny & Meche” was a beautiful way to resolve the emotional arch of the game with its romantic habanera influences while “Bone Wagon” is also great fun too with its blend of surf rock and skeleton jazz. Overall, it’s a fairly representative and enjoyable selection from a delightful and pioneering score, though doesn’t compensate for owning the full soundtrack.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the soundtrack is the selection of Monkey Island, given the classic series somehow hasn’t been commemorated on a CD otherwise. Michael Land’s “Monkey Island Theme” is bound to bring back memories for anyone who has played the games. Laidback, nostalgic, yet somewhat swashbuckling, it’s a very nice way to represent the tone of the games. Note that the compilation doesn’t feature the original piece, but rather its technologically commanded and musically elaborate arrangement from The Curse of Monkey Island. The other themes on the compilation are taken from the collaborative soundtrack to Escape from Monkey Island. They include the charismatic bossa-nova “Marco de Pollo”, the relaxing aquatic soundscapes of “Underwater Lagoon”, and the haunting electronic soundscapes of “The Mystes of Tyme”. There are also a couple of pieces ideal for representing those gin-drinking pirates, the suitably crude jazz piece “Pegnose Pete’s Hideout” and murky folk dance “Scumm Bar”. It’s really interesting to hear each of the three composers, Bajakian, McConnell, and Land, assert their individuality. Though a brief selection, these pieces go some way to reflecting the quirky charm and atmospheric feel of the Monkey Island soundtracks.
Unfortunately, Michael Land’s stunning soundtrack to The Dig receives little playtime on the LucasArts compilation. The choices, “The Monument” and “Mission to the Asteroid”, demonstrate how Land slowly and subtly developed synth-based soundscapes for the score to achieve a boundless spacey atmosphere. They also preserve the emotional feel of the soundtrack with their deep chord progressions and personal buildups. However, the latter — once a ten minute epic — is reduced to a mere 2:33 playtime here while “The Monument” isn’t as notable as some other entries in the soundtrack. The soundtrack ends with previews of the soundtracks to two then-upcoming LucasArts games, neither of which received soundtrack releases. David Levison’s “Laser Drill” from RTX: Red Rock is a straightforward but effectively mixed electro-acoustic track, juxtaposing boundless strings with techno grooves and industrial influences. Mark Griskey’s “Gladius Sketches” offer the type of orchestra and chorus pomp that one would expect from such an epic game. While lacking in originality, they’re quite professionally done given Griskey’s experience working with cinematic music previously. He ends the album with a short but powerful original action cue written once again for orchestra and chorus.
The Best of LucasArts Original Soundtracks features consistently interesting and accomplished music, though the package as a whole is a bit more questionable. As with most compilation albums, there are undoubtedly limitations in space, leading to controversial inclusions and omissions. The selections from Grim Fandango, The Dig, and Outlaws certainly reflect the unique essences of these scores and are highly enjoyable. However, they simply don’t compare to owning their actual stand-alone releases and perhaps the producer partly used the compilation as a way to promote these albums. The exclusives are enjoyable too and it is especially welcome to see some Monkey Island and Gladius music make their way into an album. Yet these selections are still quite small and inspire regret that full releases were never possible. Whether treated as a diverse sampler or a limiting compilation, the album makes one thing absolutely clear: LucasArts’ composers are some of the most competent and cretive in the industry and always make a big effort to offer unique and fitting scores to their projects.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.