Sonic Music 20th Anniversary Edition / History of
History of Sonic Music 20th Anniversary Edition
December 7, 2011
Buy at CDJapan
Sega really went out of their way to please the entire fan base of Sonic the Hedgehog to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. As well as Sonic Generations being a hit, Sega re-released several games in the series for modern systems (such as Sonic CD) and released new re-mastered soundtracks for several of those games. One of the albums released was History of Sonic Music 20th Anniversary Edition — a two disc album featuring some of the best known tunes from the entire history of the franchise, including spinoffs, from the original Sonic the Hedgehog right up to Sonic Colours. Fans of the classic Sonic games may be disappointed as the album places more of a focus on the more modern Sonic games, but many of the modern tracks have some great moments too.
After the 20th anniversary jingle starts the album off, the experience begins with Masato Nakamura’s unforgettable “Green Hill Zone” theme tune. First level tunes in Sonic games are always suitably uptempo and cheerful, and “Green Hill Zone” was the one that started this trend. Having arranged this tune for a ten-piece brass ensemble, I can appreciate how detailed and intricate the individual lines are and how it all fits together to form a complete whole. The same goes for “Emerald Hill Zone”, another classic, which also inspires the same feel. Both tracks do a great job of creating an image of greenery in the mind. The same can be said for “Angel Island”, which may well have been inspired by Michael Jackson. “Splash Hill” meanwhile is a fantastic modern tribute to the classic Mega Drive soundtracks, just like Sonic the Hedgehog 4 as a whole. It’s time we see a full soundtrack release for this title!
Crush 40 have played a big part in Sonic games over recent years, and several of their songs are featured on the album. The first of these comes in the from of “Open Your Heart” from Sonic Adventure, the song which started the hard rock trend in modern Sonic soundtracks. This song, and several of the others too, features some decent instrumental riffs and the inspiring hard rock vocals of Johnny Gioeli. However, the overall composition of these songs can end up feeling a little let down by some musical decisions that hinder the songs more than help them. Take the chorus of “Open Your Heart”, for example: the section beforehand feels like it’s going to lead to a catchy and really memorable chorus, but the melody and chord sequence don’t give that feeling, and end up feeling slightly out of place. My favourite of Crush 40’s songs is “Sonic Heroes” as it’s the most memorable, with “Knight of the Wind” coming in at second. Despite not having any wow factor, these songs are still enjoyable listens. Other rock song offerings come from Ted Poley and Tony Harnell, “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Escape from the City”. These songs are similar to Crush 40’s efforts, but they sound cleaner, especially in the drums, giving them more of a drive.
Some of the other modern theme songs share a similar vibe, though I personally like them better than Crush 40’s efforts. From Sonic Unleashed, we first get “Endless Possibility” sung by Jaret Reddick of ‘Bowling for Soup’ fame. This is a great song with a cool beat, and Reddick’s voice suits the song well, even if it is weird hearing him not singing a comedy song typical of Bowling for Soup’s output. Jean Paul Makhlouf of Cash Cash fame also contributed his vocals to “Reach for the Stars” from Sonic Colors. A fast-paced delight, the synth and rock band combination fits together well and it has a catchy instrumental riff. Some people may find the lyrics a bit nonsensical and the autotune distracting, but for me the good stuff outweighs the criticism. “His World”, with contributions from Ali Tabatabaee and Matty Lewis from the band Zebrahead, is an interesting rock/rap song with a decent riff played by orchestral strings. Personally, I prefer the faster pace of the Zebrahead version, but this version is the most famous version, combining Jun Senoue’s rock band/strings backing with Ali and Matty’s rap voices and lyrics, and works well.
One thing that’s become pretty infamous among some of Sonic’s music is the lyrics of some of the songs. I think cheesy lyrics can work, as they have done in many of the modern titles. However, the rest of the music has to be well done too, and sadly that’s not the case for the infamous “Super Sonic Racing” from Sonic R. It’s repetitive and generic, not to mention extremely irritating in-game. The Cash Cash mix from Sonic Generations is much better than this original, but sadly not featured here. “My Destiny”, while the lyrics are cheesy, is a nice change of pace and completely different from every other song on the album. It’s not the most memorable song out there, but the pop-orchestral accompaniment is nice and the singer Donna De Lory has a good voice, even if she is more suited to being a backing singer than a solo singer.
The other vocal tracks in the album have more of an electronic feel to them, though a number are bland and forgettable. Sonic CD‘s “Sonic… You Can Do Anything” and Sonic Free Riders‘ “Free” blend processed vocals with rock and electronic beats, though they tend to feel quite uncomfortable at times. “A New Venture” from Sonic Rush Adventure has a better beat but lame vocals, while Sonic Rivals 2‘s “Race To Win” is too brief to be a worthwhile exclusive. The other Sonic Riders tracks, “Sonic Speed Riders” and especially “Un-Gravitify” are more successful in this department, with vocoded vocals and even some orchestral elements to their mixes. The strong focus on vocal tracks will be a great thing for mainstream listeners, though a lot of old-school gamers will wish that more tracks from the older games were in its place. “Chemical Plant Zone”, “Casino Night Zone”, “Ice Cap Zone” and many other tunes that people remember fondly would’ve been very welcome on this album instead.
Despite this, the rest of the album does feature a range of non-vocal music, spanning spinoff titles to the big console games. Focusing first on the spinoff titles, I really enjoy some of the tracks from the older titles. Sonic 3D Blast‘s “Green Grove” shares the upbeat feel of the classic Sonic titles and brings back fond memories of the game (I liked Sonic 3D, despite what some people may say). Some of the other tunes from games such as Sonic Spinball and Knuckles’ Chaotix have a similar sound and some pretty cool riffs — I particularly like the bass riff in “Midnight Greenhouse”. But isn’t it time that these titles finally received their own soundtrack releases? Listeners are also teated to previously unreleased from the Sonic Advance trilogy. With their strong melodies and old-school synth, these certainly preserve the image of the classic platformers.
Moving to the modern titles, “Seaside Hill” from Sonic Heroes is a nice cutting-edge take on the greenery theme explored in earlier tracks on the album. “Kingdom Valley” from Sonic 06 is a very well done track that combines orchestral and choir sounds with an upbeat drum moving it forward. It goes through several different phases from uncertainty to dark to bright and cheery. Other level tunes that I particularly like are “Starlight Carnival”, which combines old synth like sounds with a rock beat, and “Planet Wisp”, which blends electronics with orchestral strings and piano really well. The only orchestral track on the album comes in the form of “The World Adventure” from Sonic Unleashed. It’s a memorable fanfare-like tune with grand orchestration and a convincing performance from the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. One thing that I remember fondly about this tune is that, when you failed a level, the music that would play is this theme deliberately played badly Portsmouth Sinfonia style, which was a great laugh.
Overall, this is a solid album that gives a good overview of the music from the Sonic games right from their inception to 2010. There’s a lot of variety here, from catchy pop tunes on classic sound chips to modern rock songs performed by bands. While the focus is on the main games, it’s remarkable to see spinoff titles such as Sonic Rush, Sonic Advance, Sonic Rivals, and Sonic Riders all make appearances along the way, yielding a number of exclusives in the process. However, the main focus seems to be more on the modern than the classic, which will definitely disappoint a lot of people. I too would’ve preferred there to be some more of the catchy classics from the games that I grew up with, and if that’s you too then the Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & Soundtrack is highly recommended. As it is, the album is a decent collection of tunes and everyone who gets this album will probably find that there’s some tunes they really like and others they don’t. So if you’re interested in hearing how the Sonic games have evolved musically over the years, this album comes cautiously recommended.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Joe Hammond. Last modified on January 16, 2016.