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Gradius Tribute :: Review by Chris

Gradius Tribute Album Title: Gradius Tribute
Record Label: Happinet Corporation
Catalog No.: SCDC-00530
Release Date: December 20, 2006
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Till 2007, the Gradius series' hefty discography comprised of album releases all with either functional importance or creative merit. Series arranged albums have been of mixed quality and some of the earliest soundtrack releases have been made redundant by the Gradius Arcade Soundtrack. However, the series had never been guilty of being massively exploited by greedy record companies. That was until the Gradius Tribute, where money clearly came above purpose. Intended to be a multi-arranger effort like similar albums for Dark Chronicle or Street Fighter II, money wasn't used on big names. The prolific Takayuki Aihara and Motoaki Furukawa each contribute two tracks, but the other names are either little-known or completely unknown. Deceptive, but lack of big names didn't stop the Perfect Selection Gradius album from being great. A far bigger problem is with the track listings themselves. Only nine arrangements are featured, all based on material from the first three series Arcade games and three of them medleys. Obvious disappointments aside, what is the musical quality like itself? It mostly gravitates between the 'tolerable' and 'enjoyable' categories. But does the disappoint linger?

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Morning Music ~Largo Mix~

The album opens with a conservative arrangement of Gradius' "Morning Music". Arrangements maestro Takayuki Aihara successfully brings out the Baroque style and sedate feel of Miki Higashino's original by carefully treating it for chamber orchestra with harpsichord continuo. Unfortunately, the largo tempo chosen means the piece soon drags, exacerbated by lack of harmonic variety within its demanding 4:04 playtime. The production values are also quite low; while the woodwinds pleasantly radiate, the harpsichord adds a synthetic rather than authentic feel to the piece and is unconvincingly placed at lower volume than the rest of the instruments. Not bad, but nothing to relieve my disappointment. (6/10)

2) Gradius M5-20 Mix

This is one of Kimitaka Matsumae's controversial old-school medleys similar to his offerings for Extra - Official Compilation and Famicom 20th Anniversary Arrange Soundtracks. It mixes a whole bunch of themes, fanfares, and sound effects together in a way that somewhat resembles the original sound medleys you might find on the Original Sound of Gradius CD. However, everything is twisted and warped in an eccentric way to give a really trippy sound. This is one of his better mixes and the Gradius track selection is good, but that doesn't really want me to endure six minutes of music that makes me feel like I'm going into a coma. As much as I appreciate the humour and creativity, this piece is quite ugly and I'd really prefer Matsumae to produce his own remix albums rather than cluttering more such albums with these jaw droppers. Really inaccessible. (6/10)

3) Challenger 1985

This is another arrangement of Gradius' first stage theme by Shinichi Sakamoto of the Wonder Boy series. It's instantly comparable with Final Fantasy X's "Spiran Scenery"; Sakamoto takes a simple original melody and subtly arranges it for a presumably well-synthesized acoustic guitar duet. While the arrangement is different and refreshing, it does not fulfil its potential due to lack of development. After 1:21 minutes of excellence, it simply ends. When Sakamoto has been absent from the industry for so many years, I'm surprised and disappointed that he couldn't have found the time to complete this. The Happinet Corporation will release anything these days... (6/10)

4) Final Attack

Motoaki Furukawa's first arrangement on the album is little different from his numerous Gradius arrangements on other CDs — Under the Blue Sky, Gradius Arcade Soundtrack, Speed & Wind, etc. Written in a jazz fusion style, it features Furukawa's trademark electric guitar interpreting Gradius' final stage theme. The soundscape is consistent throughout, with the accompaniment being purely functional if quite buoyant, while the slow tempo emphasises the piece's dreariness. The occasional elaboration on the melody and brief solo passage does little to relieve the tedium created by the repetition of the same fragments in the sheer majority of the piece. Entirely uninspiring and a prime example of Furukawa on auto-pilot. (4/10)

5) Burning Heat

Furukawa creates the transition between the Gradius and Gradius II Gofer no Yabou section of the soundtrack with an arrangement of its first stage theme "Burning Heat". This arrangement is different to his rendition in Under the Blue Sky, but adopts a similar style. The slow introduction to the track gives a sense of the ethereal feeling given by Gradius' music sometimes. At 1:03, the pace quickens and Furukawa engages in a relatively elaborate jazz guitar solo against mundane accompaniment. By 1:37, any originality is lost as the piece fully exposes the main melody on electric guitar in almost exactly the same way as "Final Attack". Despite a fairly promising start and an extended jazz solo prior to the recapitulation, "Burning Heat" is a tiresome arrangement. Its position after "Final Attack" simply emphasises how tame, hackneyed, dated, and boring most of Furukawa's modern work is. (5/10)

6) Synthetic Life (Lpdrv flashback remix)

If you don't like techno, you won't like this. If you like techno, you still won't like this. It is very difficult to hear elements of Gradius II Gofer no Yabou's 2nd stage theme here despite a few abstract similarities and its potential to be arranged well in an electronic style. The mix instead focuses on generic techno beats punctuated by unaesthetic industrial sound effects. The beats and sound effects don't change with each bar, though every 30 seconds or so some novel element is added, albeit without introducing any sort of melody or adding any sort of shape to the piece as a whole. The weakness of the individual elements is exacerbated by the fact this mix goes on for an entire eight minutes. It tires within the first two even on the first listen. To sum up, abstract, repetitive, and uninspired. Or, more concisely, awful. (2/10)

7) Gradius II Final Stage Medley

Ryo Sakai's medley of the Gradius II Gofer no Yabou stage themes starts the final third of the disc. And after the disappointing first third and the downright awful second third, the album finally presents a few remixes worth revisiting at least. After a tantalising slow spacey introduction, the medley jumps into a brisk and lyrical hard rock remix of "A Shooting Star" around the 1:00 minute mark. Following an epic interlude, a persuasive new rhythm and soon the melody of "Into Hostile Ship" blasts out giving new life to the theme. Following intense but not too jarring interlinked renditions of "Shoot and Shoot" and "The Final Remix", the piece returns to an epic sound similar to that of the introduction before the six minute mark. This leads to a beautiful mix of "Farewell" that would have concluded the medley in style were it not for the peculiar appearance of the ranking music after an abrupt transition. This remix has its derivative moments and an unnecessary conclusion, but it's also very enjoyable and sustains its nine minute playtime well. (8/10)

8) Aqua Illusion

Unlike "Synthetic Life", I can really appreciate Takayuki Aihara's remix of Gradius III's bubble stage theme "Aqua lllusion" on an intellectual level. It emphasises the fluidity and atmospheric qualities of the original while slowing down the tempo and providing a more mellow soundscape. Though there is a lot of repetition, there is also some amazing buildups and a lot of dynamism throughout the track. Unfortunately, a 6:30 playtime is just too long and the theme tires after a while; with this theme and the two before it, I'm convinced that Happiness Corporation insisted on unnecessarily extending tracks to disguise the album's emptiness at least on an outward level. A competent remix but so long it becomes quite boring. (7/10)

9) Gradius III Medley

Chaos Seed and Energy Breaker's Yukio Nakajima offers a rather good concluding medley of Gradius III. He adopts a guitar-led jazz fusion format, but unlike Furukawa's tracks a decent amount of energy is created by the offerings of a fast tempo, interesting harmonic figures, and quite a bit of thematic variety. The medley entertains with its lively guitar lines and dramatic turns. From the opening with the catchy two chord riff of "Try to Star" to a dramatic body featuring "Cosmo Plant" to a triumphant conclusion, it's all enjoyable. At 4:10, it is also of refreshing length for a medley, though perhaps I was just pleased to finish with this CD. (7/10)


This album is a massive disappointment. From the dragging introduction to the bittersweet Sakamoto track, unwelcome Matsumae appearance, and lifeless jazz fusion tracks all the way to the Lpdrv crapfest remix, the album bores and irritates me right the way through to the last third. The imperfect but enjoyable Gradius II Gofer no Yabou and Gradius III medleys redeem it slightly but, when medleys usually aren't my thing, I think this says something about how bad the rest of the album is. It's a pity that an album with such great potential suffered from very low production values. Save your money and buy another of the series' albums instead.

Overall Score: 3/10