4 out of 5
Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)
Label: Data Discs
Yuzo Koshiro’s contribution to video game music and electronic music is undeniable. The notion that his work stuck out even when I was a kid playing his scored games – though of course I wasn’t really aware there was a lone “him” at the time – is testament to that. Data Discs – the current champions of this vinyl videogame soundtrack trend – certainly knows what they’re doing by nabbing several of his Genesis contributions, but Streets of Rage 2 is the one I was most looking forward to. There’s no deep explanation there: It’s just the one my brother and I played the most. We rented / borrowed the first one, but that method never let me really dig into a game; SoR 2 we owned and so I put it through its paces, trying to max out points on levels, conquering all difficulties, aiming for playthroughs without being hit. The game was cool as fuck to me (I played as Max the most, ya dig), and so of course the music was part of that. Clear memories of the vibe of each section of each level set by those tunes.
The joy of revisiting the soundtracks so far removed (time wise) from playing the game is you get to hear it with new ears. Sure, one side still “hears” the memories, but the other hears how comprehensively Koshiro approached these songs. They are dialed up for maximum effect.
But, the surprise is that that effect is something of a dancey one. I always viewed the first two SoR games as pretty dark, and the soundtrack to the first one worked that angle to some degree. But as I reflect more on game 2, and the addition of Skates – the timely cool backwards-hat wearin’ rollerblader – and some of the goofiness of the levels, there’s more silliness there than realized, and the soundtrack definitely represents that. It’s bouncey.
Something also to consider is that there was a lot more game to score. SoR 2 was one of Sega’s 16 meg releases; it was longer and had more going on, and the soundtrack grew as well – Data Discs gives us 2 LPs as opposed to 1 for game one (although side D is extras). So some vibes are revisited level to level, and thus song to song as well. For the major smattering of instant hits spread across the three sides, there are a few loose pieces left over that just aren’t as immediately noteworthy. Which doesn’t discount how stunningly complete these compositions are. Although you get the requisite fade out for the track’s end so it can loop, the range Koshiro managed with his programming is awesome; the various electronic bleeps and bloops manipulated for instantly head-bobbing dance music.
Which, as mentioned, is the overall vibe here. SoR 2 took you through bars and nightclubs and sports arenas and the beach, and you’re moving forward the whole time; thus the music keeps you motivated. Koshiro hardly slows things down, and even amps it up for awesome rave up tracks like Never Return Alive or the funky (and appropriately named) Ready Funk, and occasionally gives us some SoR 1-esque gritty grime with Spin of the Bridge or Expender. Hip hop elements drift in on Too Deep, and there are some brilliantly creepy cuts like Alien Power and Jungle Bass which remind of the odd directions into which the game would foray. The album is never boring.
I can’t get much mileage out of the alternate takes / unused tracks on the D side – there’s not enough to differentiate from the originals or other tracks – but I appreciate that Data Discs gave us the extra material to fully fill out the 2 LPs (I’m looking at you, iam8bit’s D side etching).
While there’s an apparent gap between what I’m hearing now and what I heard then, it’s not a bad one. If anything, being able to tie this stuff to a specific person makes it more impressive, and recognizing how effective this soundtrack is as a house / electro album – and then realize it was dropped in 1992 – raises its profile even more.