ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron
ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron
August 20, 1996
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Endeared by their first encounter with ToeJam and Earl, many gamers witnessed Sega’s duo of ‘cool’ rapping aliens land back on the Mega Drive for the high-powered sequel ‘Panic on Funkotron’. Its soundtrack was once again an integral part of the game, portraying the characters perfectly with their laid-back hip-hop and funk influences, while adding to the enjoyment and quirk factor of the game. The soundtrack was so popular that it was adapted into an arranged album. As with the other albums in the Sega Tunes series, the game’s composer John Baker personally arranged the music and this ensures the interpretations are faithful to his original vision for the music.
The album opens with the iconic theme song for the ToeJam & Earl series. Anyone who has played the game or even listened to some fan-arranged albums will be familiar with the catchy hook of this theme. It nicely depicts the personality of and relationship between the two characters with its laid-back funk bassline and upbeat saxophone melody. While the arrangement is straightforward, the original is enhanced by the use of an actual funk ensemble. In addition, saxophonist Zac Johnson and guitarist Howard Schoneberger really get the chance to shine with their successive extended solos, the latter being particularly well-stylised and in accord with the funk sound. The result will be enjoyable for anyone looking for catchy melodies or light-hearted funk.
Baker elaborates on the funk style much more in the appropriately titled “Funky Alien”. It is more individualistic and elaborate composition overall thanks to everything from the unusual bass line, cheeky lead instruments, and more interesting solos. Even the drum work is surprisingly progressive for a silly-sounding composition. “Funk Funk Funk E” also makes very good use of the instrumental set-up with plenty of variety, eccentric leads, and a sense of seamless progression. Particularly enjoyable features are the use of big band trumpets, albeit synthesized ones, and even some hammond organ work. Enhancing the diversity of the album a little further, “Ode to Sharla” and “Lewanda’s Sound” exude a more romantic sound with their use of soprano saxophone leads and, in the latter, even some piano support.
There are a few arrangements made from less melodic material in the first place. “Rocket Rap” is a good example given it it mainly built on a few grooves with influences of both funk and hip-hop. The resultant arrangement is almost totally carried by its saxophone and guitar solos, so lacks something of a core. Futhermore the saxophone solos feel a little too lightly supported by the bass and drum kit, giving a slightly unbalanced feel to the composition. However, the instrumentalists offer such elaborate and charismatic improvisation that it remains entertaining. The same applies to much of “Mellow Groove”, but fortunately there is a greater sense of direction and lots of contrasting sections, meaning the overall arrangement feels quite well-rounded.
Overall, Sega Tunes ñ ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron is a worthy musical commemoration of the ToeJam & Earl franchise. The arrangements retain the catchy, goofy, yet semi-cool melodies and bass hooks of the originals. However, they also elaborate on them through the use of authentic funk ensembles, experimental arrangements, and interesting solos. The main limitation of the album is its length of just 27 minutes, though what is offered is still a fulfilling listen. Fans of light-hearted funk music or the music of the original games will still find this a solid, albeit hard-to-find, purchase.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on January 16, 2016.