Album Review: “The Greatest Video Game Music” by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Admit it– every time you hear someone walking by whistling the Tetris  theme song, you smile to yourself.  Or if you hear a friend of yours pluck out a few notes of the Super Mario theme on the piano, you are most likely beside yourself with childlike excitement.  If either of these two things has happened to you, then I highly recommend that you download this album.  
 
The sheer variety of titles offers something for all tastes.  If  you are a nostalgic or casual gamer, you will enjoy themes from favorites such as Tetris and Super Mario.  If you tend to be a more hardcore player, the album has plenty of music from the major titles as well, from Metal Gear to Modern Warfare.  One advantage of buying this album as supposed to other video game music albums is that the London Phil has definitely added some “high art” to these arrangements.  Even the simpler songs are transformed into densely orchestrated and highly imaginative pieces of music.  The majority of the tracks stand up to any high-budget movie soundtrack in terms of musical quality. I’ve had the opportunity to perform in two different “Video Games Live” shows, and the charts tended to simply recreate the original soundtrack.  
 
With this album, you get fully orchestrated tracks that transform the atmospheric quality of most video game music to something that stands up perfectly well on its own.  I opted for the digital copy of this album, so I do not have information on the arrangers and additional performers.  Generally, the voice treatments I found to be a bit thin, which could be just a question of not hiring enough singers for the choral parts.  Also, the pianist  played more like a keyboardist than someone on par with the London Phil. However, I was particularly impressed with the quality of the sampling and how well it fit in with the acoustic instruments in tracks like “Uncharted–Drake’s Fortune: Nate’s Theme” and “Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty Theme.” If anything, I would have liked fewer selections with longer individual tracks.  The album at times felt like a video games music sampler, just giving you teasers of what is out there.  Regardless, a few tracks stood out to me as absolutely brilliant:  “Tetris Theme (Korobeiniki)” (often done before, but never like this), “Legend of Zelda: Suite,” and the standout track of the whole album, “Angry Birds: Main Theme.”  This arrangement was so well done I thought I wasn’t listening to video game music but something out of a Mahler symphony with the unique doubling of instruments and lively character.  The “Mass Effect: Suicide Mission” selection also stood out as having terrific atmosphere, although I could have done without the “ooh ooh” effect from the choir near the end.  “Splinter Cell: Conviction” also had great intensity, with the upper strings adding to the electronics. Throwaways for me were “Final Fantasy VIII: Liberi Fatali,” “Theme from Battlefield 2,” and “Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.”  “Fatali” failed to offer anything new or interesting to distinguish it from the dozens of other FF symphonic arrangements out there.  The Battlefield 2 theme just felt like a standard march that said nothing unique.  I love the music from Oblivion, so I had high hopes for this selection, but the initial trumpet entrance left me hoping for a bit more triumph, and overall I was let down since I think they could have done so much more with that music.  I have also heard much better “Halo” arrangements. This one sounded like something off  a crappy “Riverdance” album.  Lastly, the album could have done with a couple less tracks of modern military style music a la Hans Zimmer.
 
My overall assessment is that the album is a must for anyone wanting to hear their favorite video game tracks dressed up and taken to the concert hall.  Although I would have preferred longer selections of most songs and some heavier hitters as additional performers,  with a few truly entertaining twists on older favorites and some other surprisingly well-orchestrated arrangements, this album delivers a quality 45 minutes of music.  And if the whopping $7.99 download is simply too much for you, make sure you at least spend the $0.99 on “Angry Birds.”  I think it just might become my next ringtone.
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