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Sonic R :: Review by Chris

Sonic R Album Title: Sonic R
Record Label: Marvelous Entertainment
Catalog No.: MJCA-00012
Release Date: January 21, 1998
Purchase: Buy at eBay


Sonic R was an early racing game of the Sonic series, released for the Saturn back in 1997. Sega Europe veteran Richard Jacques was hired to compose the score and took a relatively unusual approach. He felt it was appropriate to modernise the game with an all-vocal score while maintaining his characteristic electronic beats. The result was quite pioneering for its time, yet was often criticised in game reviews. Unlike most vocal scores, this one is well-composed and well-performed, though the lyrics really let it down. Let's look closer at the soundtrack release...


"Can You Feel the Sunshine?" reflects what to expect from most of the soundtrack. It's a trancey vocal piece with a dynamic pace and 'feel good' vibe. The vocal line has an elegant gliding shape and is sung by a soothing female vocalist. The backing is composed of very smooth and light electronic beats, which are expertly synthesized for their time, though a slight jazz mood is generated by the piano chords. There is an interlude featuring more wild piano work and rumba beats that, while not a standard for the soundtrack, certainly adds some much-needed variety. Most of the other tracks follow the same approach with a strong focus on female vocals and instrumentals featuring a hybrid of pop and trance. Little differentiates the tracks stylistically, although there are subtle contrasts of mood. For example, "Back In Time" is more nostalgic, "Work It Out" is instantly motivating, and "Diamond in the Sky" is a much more sensual.

While compositionally sound, the problem with the vocal tracks are definitely the lyrics. Unlike a lot of vocal game music out there, they're written in real English and pronounced with an emphatic vocalist, but the actual content of the lyrics tends to be ridiculous. Sure, "Living in the City" is used in the Radical City track, so some sort of contextual references to racing and the city are relevant. However, each repeat of "Living in the city. You know you have to survive... Living in the city. You've got to keep that dream alive" just becomes that much more cringe-worthy. The topic just seems random while the sense of lyricism is very corny. Yet when a piece attempts to be profound, it also sounds unconvincing. "Back in Time", for instance, features the lyrics "Sometimes I ask myself what am I doing here. I think of all the reasons, but it's still not clear". I think these lyrics will prove very ironic for those unhappy with the game or soundtracks. The piece goes on to ask "What am I doing now coming back for more? Is it me or have I been here before?" My answer? I frankly wouldn't be here were it not for owing listeners a thorough review.

"Super Sonic Racing" is the one track that is so anthemic that is impossible not to listen to the lyrics. In the other tracks, the lyrics can be somewhat ignored by going into semi-ignorant mode and the result is quite enjoyable. After a provocative introduction, the track launches straight into the chorus with "Everybody's super sonic racing. Try to keep your feet right on the ground. When you're super sonic racing, there's no time to look around." These lyrics repeat a lot in four minutes and are even more unbearable on the race track. The final vocal track "Number One" helps to neutralise things with a welcome gospel influence and is genuinely well done. At the end of the soundtrack, there are a couple of short orchestral fanfares and a chillout options theme. There are a couple of bonuses remixes too. "Work It Out" suffices as a raw electronic remix and the vocals are tolerable even during the seven minute playtime. That said, just skip the club mix of "Super Sonic Racing" completely as it's more cheesy and infuriating than even the original.


Sonic R is a hard one to sum up. On the one hand, I really respect Richard Jacques' effort to make a modern vocal soundtrack for the game. The vocals, backing, and mixing are all well done with the results both effective and enjoyable in and out of the game. That said, no matter how solid the compositions are, lyrics that make me want to swallow a bullet aren't a good thing. It will really limit the enjoyment of the soundtrack for those who tend to focus on lyrics or are easily bothered by their content. It seems Richard Jacques has learned from the mixed reception to this soundtrack and gone on to create great vocal themes since. For me, though, Sonic R is so close yet no cigar.

Overall Score: 6/10