Howard Drossin, Brian Coburn & Barry Blum – Sonic Spinball (Data Discs edition)

3 out of 5

Label: Data Discs

Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)

While Data Discs has undoubtedly hit up the classic Sega games – Streets of Rage, Altered Beast, Shinobi – it was curious to see if / when they’d do a Sonic game in the official numbering (Sonic Mania, as a modern game, having gotten a different catalogue value). Something about Mr. Blue Blur being the then-mascot of Sega seemed like a dare of sorts – would the imprint maintain their bona fides by going after the all-star? Or was it that the music wasn’t exactly worth it; to the label’s tastes?

Whatever the delay – we’re at release #25 of the mainline DDs, about six years into the imprint – it seems fitting that the Sonic title they go after is an outlier: Sonic Spinball, the cool / weird offshoot that we Sonic fans probably bought and played, and couldn’t figure out if it counted as a real game or not, or just like a Dr. Mario something or other where it’s pretty much another game with a brand slapped on it.

I played it; I liked it; it’s not something I have strong affection for. It’s definitely more than just a palette-swapped pinball game – it does feel like a legit title – but it’s also a bit wonky, and feels like the in-between “full” Sonic games that it was.

And so goes the soundtrack, to an extent, which is really just hampered by there not being much here for a release, even at 45 RPMs. There are only a few non-interstitial tracks (e.g. titles, completion music, game over) from which to choose, and the looping on these feels more noteable than on many Data Disc albums, which is more a consequence of the material versus the label’s handling of it. While composers Howard Drossin, Brian Coburn and Barry Blum arrive at some really wicked sounds – an industrial bounce very worthy of listening to – it doesn’t quite get to the level of layering or catchiness of some of the other releases DD has chosen, and perhaps as a result of this and as mentioned, wears somewhat thin even after a couple cycles.

Thankfully, DD is also not in the business of adding runtime bloat, so they apply the looping judiciously, giving us enough to nod our heads to (and I really can’t underline how damn cool the harsh, funking bass sound on this is, and how well it maps to a “darker” sound that fits the game’s color palette) and then cutting to the concluding section of a song once it’s run its course. These are then well alternated with the shorter bits, and in retrospect, it is cool that even the Sega logo music was touched to better fit the game’s vibe.

Creatively, Sonic Spinball aligns: there are vague Sonic themes floating around, but given an edgy kick that knocks on the rock stylings of the then-forthcoming Comix Zone – well capturing the 90s tonal zeitgeist. But while this mash-up is fun, and a valuable spin, it doesn’t quite achieve a wholly memorable set of tunes – an LP to put on once in a while, bob your head, then back on the shelf and listen to Streets of Rage again.

The DD sound quality, for what it’s worth, felt just slightly off on this one for some reason. Nothing horrible, just a little less crisp than usual, though it also kinda fits the album’s vibe.