Sonic the Hedgehog Boom
Sonic the Hedgehog Boom
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Sonic the Hedgehog Boom is a compilation album given away with the pre-order of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 at Toys “R” Us. It features nineteen extended versions of Sonic the Hedgehog CD tracks and four Sonic Spinball arrangements. Let’s look at the components…
To avoid any confusion, the music found here is from the American version of Sonic CD, which is different from the Japanese and European soundtracks. Spearheaded by Spencer Nilsen assisted by David Young, the remade soundtrack is full of pop rock elements, featuring various synthesizers, live drums, and guitar performances along with a female trio on vocals. Sonic CD was released a few months later in America compared to other regions because Sega of America wanted to give it a new soundtrack. Naofumi Hataya’s original music was indeed replaced by new material composed by Spencer Nilsen et al. This move generated a certain controversy, where many fans were deceived by this musical switch and called impostor and inferior the new soundtrack. This review will not compare both soundtracks, but it can simply be mentioned that they are both quality works and their appreciation will depend on the listener’s tastes. Hataya’s music is closer in style to classic Sonic music though, yet Nilsen’s take does not feel out of place in the game either. This album is however the only elaborate representation of Sonic CD music as a standalone product; the Japanese soundtrack was never officially released.
“Sonic Boom – Opening Theme” naturally opens the album and is the game’s theme song. It has been compared to TV cartoon theme songs with its upbeat and catchy nature; the comparison is well-founded since it is actually used in the cartoon opening sequence of the game. It gives a taste of things to come with its pop rock basis. The female trio Pastiche is behind the vocals, and while it is more of a background vocal group (featured as such in many other tracks), their voices are strong enough to deliver a good performance here. The ending theme, “Sonic Boom – Closing Theme”, is almost identical, yet less energetic and featuring different guitar solos. Not following the chronology of the game, the tracklist is almost random with the themes not ordered by in-game usage and those from the same zones are not even grouped together. However, the tracks will be reviewed by following the game’s order and grouping. For those unfamiliar with the game, each zone features four time periods (present, good future, bad future, past). The music from the past periods is not included on this album since it was recycled from the Japanese version (the only pieces not featured on the Redbook Audio).
The first zone is Palmtree Panic, with music tropical and mostly festive in nature. “Palmtree Party” acts as the present theme and wears its title well as it definitely sounds like a beach party tune. Caribbean rhythms, a synth trumpet lead, and even a short Latin-inspired guitar solo all create a happy piece. “Palmtree Panic” features both future themes connected as one, which explains why the first half is uplifting and the latter one is a bit darker. After the lush ambient intro, the tropical aspect kicks back in and transforms into a tribal jam later on with strong percussion and a dialect spoken by Pastiche. The pan flute, although synthesized, is a strong point in this track.
“Collision Chaos” is one of the few tracks not composed by Nilsen / Young. Behind it are Sterling with Armando Peraza and Bobby Vega. Not much is known about this group, although Peraza (percussion) and Vega (bass) are jazz musicians that have toured with various artists, notably Santana. This track is very rhythmic and hardly melodic. It is fine as a percussive groove with light guitar and synth background effects, yet not the best the album has to offer. Sterling were also behind “Metallic Madness” and “Robotnik”. The former has an tense mood generated by aggressive guitar riffs and the latter is a strange number featuring a psychedelic atmosphere enhanced by various sound effects (including evil laughter), somewhat akin to Pink Floyd’s “On the Run”.
The Tidal Tempest zone has the most pop sounding themes of all. “Tidal Tempest” features a sound found in late ’80s, early ’90s pop rock grounds such as INXS, plenty of rhythm guitar, punchy beats, smooth synth bass, and high production values. It’s not highly melodic however, yet the Hawaiian-like vocals and crystalline synthesizer makes it more memorable. The good future version continues in the same direction, but adds a melodic synth brass line and one of the lengthiest guitar solo on the album (~30 seconds). On the other hand, the bad future theme leaves the upbeat mood behind and goes for an ambient approach, showcasing a richly textured mix of echoing electric guitars, metallic and ethereal synths, wordless utterances and steady rim clicks on drums. Quite dreamlike.
What could have been a robot theme, “Quartz Quadrant” includes various electronic effects underneath the distorted guitar chords. A third into the piece comes a melodic synth, which is later reprised vocally. Its structure is rather mechanical. The “Quartz Future” medley contains both the good and bad settings, first playing a trouble-free tune with joyful background vocals and acute crystalline synth notes, which evolves into a shadowy, low-key version with distorted guitars and sadder vocals. Both tracks are highly rhythmic, yet the crown however goes to “Wacky Workbench”. The factory setting is perfectly captured in this theme with the mechanical and steam sound effects strengthening the rhythm. The mood is mostly upbeat except for a darker interlude in the middle. “Wacky Workbench” is positive all-around, with lots of vocal and bell usage. “Workbench – Bad Future” is characterized by a smooth bass line and an omnipresent rhythm guitar, accompanied by a short, yet welcome solo halfway through.
More electronic, almost techno in style are the Stardust Speedway themes. The present track starts with reversed synth lines and sports mostly electronic instruments plus drums and bass. While it has a good pace, it is more subtle than the other two themes. “Speedway To Good Future” is much more intense with fast guitar riffs and resonating synth hits. The best of the three would however be the last, for the bad future. With a driving beat, exciting electronic rhythm sequences, and vocals that are both haunting and beautiful at the same time, the atmosphere of this track is absolutely thrilling. Also, the subtle “Stardust” whisper here and there is a nice touch. In the same vein, “Special Stage” is another fast-paced track that also features the now standard pop rock ensemble.
As a conclusion to the album, four arrangements from the Sega Genesis game Sonic Spinball are included. The first three were composed by Howard Drossin while the last comes from Brian Coburn. Quite different from Sonic CD in style, they are however enjoyable and a very interesting addition to the album. “Spinball Theme” has a cheesy ’70s pop style featuring several instruments like a brass section, an organ, a guitar, and more. The melody is very catchy and fun, and a fake “live concert” guitar solo (with audience applauding in the background) can be heard in the middle, which adds to the amusement. “Flight To Volcanic Fortress” starts as a dramatic and fast-paced organ led rock piece similar to “Bike Chase” from Chrono Trigger. It later metamorphoses into an even more dramatic orchestral segment to return more intensely to the Deep Purple-esque rock at the end. It is very solid and brings the original short piece a lot further.
The funky “Toxic Cave” is also highly enjoyable with a loud, groovy bass, wah-wah guitar, trumpets, electric piano, clavinet, and snappy drums. A negative point to all three of these Sonic pinball tracks is that the sound is rather synthetic, but for a 1993 album, the result is good and still satisfying enough today. Coburn’s track, “Lava Powerhouse”, is very moody and considerably dark in nature. It builds upon a bubbly rhythm with various layers and effects. While it is nice to get an arrangement of it, this composition is however not the most entertaining one on the album, especially since it is poor melodically. A cool thing is the inclusion of the original Genesis guitar sound among the more advanced sounds.
Sonic fanboys might not all drool in front of this soundtrack, notably because of the controversial replacement of the original Japanese music in the USA version, yet Sonic the Hedgehog Boom is a very solid album that most should be able to get into. The strong ’80s/’90s pop rock emphasis is well delivered by Spencer Nilsen and his partners, with a quality production that still sounds good today. The compositions are very rhythmical and rely highly on rhythm guitars, live drums, crystalline synthesizers, and background vocals. While many melodies are not very strong, the majority of the pieces are still memorable and enjoyable on their own. Additionally, the fact that the tracks are extended versions of those found on the game disc makes the album essential to experience the soundtrack in its entirety. The four tracks from Sonic Spinball are also noteworthy and a fabulous bonus. Unfortunately, this album was only distributed as a promotional item more than a decade ago and thus, it is hard to find today. It however pops up on eBay from time to time and usually sells between $40-80.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by François Bezeau. Last modified on August 1, 2012.