Plants vs. Zombies Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies managed to combine several unrelated things plants, zombies, cartoony graphics, and strategy gameplay into a surprisingly delightful product. The game has enjoyed widespread success since its debut in 2009 and has since been adapted for numerous game platforms and smartphones. Its soundtrack by Japanese American Laura Shigihara was one of the many ingredients for the game's success and, just like the game itself, is a bizarre but satisfying blend of musical elements. It is available to download through Bandcamp at a generous price.
Two things are at the heart of Plants vs. Zombies' musical success: its catchiness and its quirkiness. Both of these qualities come out in the "Crazy Dave", a simple but delightful intro theme. The start of the track sets the scene for the game with a mixture of ghastly and silly sounds having a similar tone to many of Danny Elfman's favourites. At the 0:34 mark, the track shifts into an chorus featuring warm piano lines, retro electronic beats, and even a few funky improvisations. It really takes listeners by surprise with its ingenious blend of timbres and unforgettable melodies. And this ditty is just used in the static title screen...
Among the level themes, one track that particularly stands out is "Watery Graves". Sticking with a combination of semi-improvised piano leads and electro-acoustic backing, Shigihara paints a suitably hazy image for the pool level. Once again, the track stands out for its unconventional but attractive lyricism it builds up to a piano flourish at the 0:28 mark that merges Romantic, jazz, and zombie B-movie influences in a surprisingly effective way. As is true for most of the other level themes, the track develops tremendously during its two minute playtime introducing plenty of new elements, without ever losing its focus. It's one of several dangerous pieces on the soundtrack that will have people whistling for hours after playing the game.
With Shigihara's 'anything goes' approach to scoring, listeners can be assured that a fairly diverse experience awaits them. "Grasswalk" and "Moongrains" embellishes the zombie scenario with their spookier, semi-orchestrated approach. Shigihara seems to have been once again inspired by Elfman's soundscaping with such tracks, yet their melodies sound distinctly gamey and have a Kirkhope-esque sheen to them. "Graze the Roof" is a more humble addition, focusing on much more delicate melodies, while having a retro jazz vibe. "Loonboon" and "Ultimate Battle" are two of the most rhythmically driven, beat-heavy tracks. But they're also incredibly whimsical too, the former incorporating choral chants at places, the latter focusing on nostalgic 8-bit samples.
The soundtrack is dedicated to the original, uncompressed mixes of Plants vs. Zombies' music. Though the in-game versions are enjoyable, the originals tend to be more immersive thanks to their more realistic samples and polished mixing. It's also enjoyable to experience several additional tracks, for example the groovier fast version of "Watery Graves" and the jubilant unreleased track "Zombotany". Nevertheless, Shigihara accommodated fans by also including the in-game versions as a bonus. Tracks that are potentially more enjoyable in this version are "Crazy Dave", since the distracting vinyl noises in the original are absent, and "Choose Your Seeds", which fades out rather than ends abruptly.
As a further bonus, Laura Shigihara includes English and Japanese versions of the pop-flavoured theme song "Zombies on Your Lawn". Not all will like this track and it's certainly not as musically elaborate as the instrumental tracks on the soundtrack. Nevertheless, it's gained plenty of popularity over the years for fairly good reason. The lyrics are as hilarious as they are ridiculous ("I like the tricycle, There's butter on my head, I'm gonna eat your brains"), as is the contrast of Shigihara's angelic vocals with George Fan's demented zombie performances. It's also inevitable that the chorus will get stuck in your brains.
Surprising. Delightful. Unforgettable. These words sum up the Plants vs. Zombies experience. In her breakthrough work, Laura Shigihara did a great job complementing the image of the bizarre game, while asserting her own individuality. With all the tracks being so good, it's almost impossible to choose favourites. Listeners who have missed the trend, and are looking for something new, are well-advised to check out the soundtrack on Bandcamp. Sample it for free and hopefully enjoy!
Overall Score: 9/10