5 out of 5
Label: Data Discs
Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl remaster)
Sometimes it’s just the complete overload of something that makes it work.
If you just gave me one part of the Sonic CD soundtrack – one LP from this four vinyl set – I’d admittedly probably nod my head along for however long, admit that it’s catchy (and depending on the LP, vaguely reminiscent of classic Sonic bop), and then flip back to whatever anime soundtrack I’m devouring that week. But that ain’t what this soundtrack deserves.
Sonic CD’s gameplay catch was time-warping: you’d be able to re-play the same zone across different timelines – the present, the past, a ‘good future,’ and a ‘bad future.’ The music was thus mapped in the same way, with four distinct versions of each zones’ themes playing across the timelines – and I do mean distinct. While definite themes are heard when playing each variant back to back (which is how a previous version of this soundtrack was organized, instead of DD separating one timeline per vinyl), it’s enough to link the songs such that switching back and forth during gameplay can sync up, but the variants are also very fresh takes, with drastically different pacings and tones.
The “Present” has that sort of jazzy vibe that originated in Sonic 1 and 2’s most memorable zones, modernized to CD quality and with a dancey edge that marks it as a 90s production, but layered and dusted with other styles to make it work in a modern day setting as well. The “Good Future” goes toward EZ-listening and ambient, which sounds horrible, maybe, but it’s fascinating when blended with the game’s bop, and the bleep and bloop sound effects that were suggestive of, like, wacky technology. “Past” is more organic and stripped down; everything is muted and somewhat mysterious. And then “Bad Future,” which is, of course, “edgy” Sonic: amped up, touching on Streets of Rage-esque techno. Don’t worry: momentum is still the name of the game, here; this isn’t Shadow the Hedgehog “dark,” it’s just the appropriate flipside to “Good Future”‘s easy-going tone.
Cycling through all of these experiences, the linkings between the songs sink in subconsciously, and you’re on the journey. I could always tell which section I was in, and I think that by separating the timelines, you’re not forcing your brain to make direct comparisons; you can just sink in to the music. I let this thing cycle through for hours, and I really came to appreciate what our composers had accomplished here, letting me experience three different levels: a sense of gameplay, a sense of “story” (via the time travel concept), and wholly considered, dense and layered music that works on its own, likely thanks to the expansive abilities of the CD platform versus previous cartridge limitations.
I don’t have the original game or soundtrack, so I can’t speak to how this sounds comparatively, but Shaun Crook’s Data Discs remaster is crystal clear, as always, and DD’s packaging makes the vinyl set seem like the prize that it is.