3 out of 5
Label: Data Discs
Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)
Wildly inventive? Brash and unique? Cutting edge? Back and forth o’er the Streets of Rage 3 soundtrack did I listen, and yes, all of these terms apply. Much has been written elsewhere about this soundtrack, and its genesis (no pun intended): that Yuzo Koshiro’s score wasn’t necessarily well received at the time, and that his pairing with Motohiro Kawashima to incorporate a straight techno influence – though interestingly blessed by a supportive Sega – was known, by the composer, to be an odd undertaking, but pursued out of creative diligence nonetheless. Koshiro’s liner notes, which bless the Data Discs remaster – which sounds and is curated phenomal / -ly as always – make clear how thankful he is to have been able to chase that particular muse, and to have it heard and be appreciated decades after.
There is much, much to be appreciated here. To be frank: the score is weird as fuck. I haven’t done a track-to-composer sync so much to be able to say if Koshiro’s tracks have a wholly separate vibe from Kawashima’s, but I can say that the things that stood out – the tracks that are so anti-track and even anti-dance (which is the majority of the score’s m.o., for sure) to be able to slot in on any modern, experimental IDM album – such as the backwards alarm of opener ‘Beat Ambience’ – belong to Koshiro, and display a gorgeous madness that we gotta love Sega for giving the o.k. to. And when we do shift (jarringly) to drilling techno thumps, good god the beats are relentless, and violent. It’s not drill and bass or anything, but it’s also not exactly sweaty house music, either; it’s got the relentlessness of industrial but told with more traditional snyth sounds. Totes bizarre.
But here’s my thing, and here’s the three star rating: I cannot figure this as a soundtrack, and it doesn’t listen well as an album, which the other SOR scores did. While there’s certainly a shared pace (of frenzy) to the majority of the tracks, they don’t play well together. The D side is perhaps the most forgiving in that sense, but that might be because we’re tossed the lark of the ending theme, which reincorporates classic SOR melodies. Elsewhere, uniqueness, risk-takingness aside, the album does not bring to mind a side-scrolling brawler (even a herky-jerky one like Rage 3), and it’s a tough end-to-end listen in terms of synchronicity. Taken bit by bit, you can’t help but be jarred by the WTFness of it: of its complexity for its time (1994); for how ballsy weird this was for a game soundtrack; and for how clearly impassioned each composition is. Forgive my listening shortcoming, though, that as a whole, it doesn’t sit as well with me as SOR 1 or 2.