Good things tend to come in threes, and this is certainly no exception with Sonic-themed music releases of 2019 so far; the phenomenal Team Sonic Racing soundtrack saw general release with the launch of the game in May, a new Crush 40 compilation is due in July, and sandwiched between these is Jun Senoue’s third instalment of “The Works” collection.
While the previous instalments in this series have featured material by Senoue that has seldom reached the West (such as tracks from the Japan-only football simulator Sakatsuku and the rarer Crush 40 tracks), The Works III puts a heavy emphasis on Senoue’s more recent Sonic-centric pieces from the Sonic Adventure Music Experience, both in the studio and from live sessions.
Soundtrack collectors who haven’t been able to track down the scarce “visitor gift” 5-track EPs given away in small quantities to attendees at the first two Sonic Adventure Music Experience shows in Japan will be happy to hear that four of those re-recordings have made there way onto the compilation (although will probably remain hopeful for a full SAME release in the future!).
The most notable change with these 2016 re-recordings is that the more electronic-orientated percussion on each song has been replaced by recorded drums, courtesy of the Experience’s drummer, Act. Each track has seen an extension in duration to their predecessors (as many, like Mr. Unsmiley, barely made it over a minute) and have been fleshed out to create full-length pieces in their own right. Each song sounds fresh and revitalised and will undoubtedly give those familiar with the SA series a real kick. Personally, two of these tracks stand out; Keys the Ruin now feels tonally lighter and includes a superb bass solo intermission from Takeshi Taneda, while the phenomenal reworking the Chaos Version 6 boss theme attacks with a spine-tingling ferociousness, with wailing, diving guitar licks now polished and prominent.
Four additional Sonic Adventure Music Experience tracks are included on the album, recorded live at MAGFest in 2018 and include fan favourites Windy & Ripply and Run through the Speed Highway, all of which have recorded well and have been mixed to an extremely high standard (If you listen carefully, you can also hear Senoue address the crowd – his first vocal appearance in the series!)
Other live recordings from the Tokyo Game Show last year feature, showcasing all three course tracks of the Planet Wisp zone from Team Sonic Racing’s soundtrack with Senoue-san performing solo. The live element supplies a slight permutation on the studio recordings from last month’s release, but the real power is in how these pieces segue from one to the next, testifying to effort in keeping the compositions thematically similar.
If you’re still hankering for more Sonic Mania, composer Tee Lopes joins forces with Senoue on the album to reimagine three pieces from Sonic Mania Adventures, with three special remixes of tracks that originally only saw brief outings in the animated shorts. Lopes and Senoue gel extremely well, with acoustic and electric guitars complimenting Lopes’ compositions. While many might be fatigued by another metal rendition of the Big Arms theme (and with stiff competition from 2011’s version from Sonic Generations) it proves one of the better constructed to date. Of the three pieces, the take on Knuckles’s theme steals the show, and has some great Angel Island leitmotifs and voices that very subtly point back to the original; the guitars seem to dual with the piano, organs, and brass, making for a bombastic composition that speaks of the character’s knack for conflict.
The Chain Band tracks deliver a pleasant change in pace and theme with guitars taking a back seat to a violin and synth, but the track that will take most people by surprise is most certainly the Puyo Puyo Champions theme, brilliant from start to end of its entire 6 minutes, and unbridled in its heaviness and pace; the only let down is that the rest of the Puyo Puyo Champions soundtrack doesn’t sound like this!
The compilation ends with a final live recording from the Game Symphony Japan 17th Concert 2016, at which Senoue-san performed a selection of Sonic Adventure songs (along with Seaside Hill) accompanied by an orchestra. Some tracks suit this setting more than others, with the brass section feeling much more at home in the ska-punk-inspired Escape from the City, but the performance is fun, and you’ll have a hard job not smiling at an ensemble shouting “Yeah yeah yeah yeah!” during Live & Learn.
The Works III is yet another demonstration of Senoue’s continued versatility, 20 years on from taking the mantle of sound director for Sonic Adventure, and is a fitting way to celebrate the endurance of that material. An absolute must for SA fans!