The Spectrum Works by Allister Brimble
What makes a game that extra bit special? Why, the theme music of course! That's not to say that a game needs an amazing theme tune to make it great, there are many that stand up on their own, but when the music is there and it's that good, there's nothing better. Did you ever load a game up just to listen to the music? Yep, me too. That's what I mean when I talk about how music can give a game that extra something, the same thing music does to a movie, to send shivers down your spine or just makes you drop your jaw.
What Allister Brimble has done here is taken that music that we love from our games and put together a soundtrack that takes you back to those golden memories of gaming. Or, if you're like me and still play the Speccy classics, it's a soundtrack to your current gaming memories. Though, this is not just a collection of the original tunes put together, each track has been completely reworked from head to toe by Alister himself. Not an easy task considering some of the classic game composers featured here. The likes of Jonathan Dunn, Rob Hubbard and Tim Follin are not easily matched.
A quick look at the track listing and you see some familiar favorites, including the epic Robocop. Amongst others, stand out tracks are Saboteur 2, Agent X and Chronos, though my eye is immediately drawn to Robocop. Before listening to the album I told myself, ‘I must listen to it in track order! I must listen to it in track order!’ I was determined not to give in to my addiction and put Robocop on straight away and to just let it flow as intended. Must resist....must resist.....
Ok, so I listened to Robocop first.
But what a masterpiece! Anyone who is familiar with the Robocop tune I'm sure would be excited with anticipation about how this tune could be re-worked and 'improved', for lack of a better word. But, I won't dwell on Robocop just yet (I'll do that later), I should just get on with the album as a whole.
Total Robocop mentions so far: 4
The track listing looks like this;
1. The Spectrum Works Prelude
2. Glider Rider
3. Sabotuer II
5. Agent X
7. Beyond The Ice Palace
14.The Spectrum Works Finale (Prodigy)
Press play on the tape (ahem!) and you're greeted by the all so familiar sound of the Speccy loading. Aah - heavenly. And if I'm not mistaken, it seems to the first thirty seconds or so of 'Manic Miner'. Yes yes, I know, but when you've loaded a game that many times, surely you just remember the loading tones for it? Not just me, I'm sure. After you've told yourself 'Yes, that's definitely Manic Miner', that's when Alister gets to work. That AY chip gets going and you're thrown into your own musical Speccy world. And you won't want to leave.
Come on now, sing along! Everyone knows the Manic Miner loading tones, surely?!
Then comes the fast paced Glider Rider. It's up-tempo beats fused with the original Speccy tune works a treat and serves as a reminder about how great the Speccy was as a music machine. This is not a game I was familiar with when growing up so the tune is very fresh to me indeed, but all I can say is - I wanna play Glider Rider!
Sabotuer II is one I do remember indeed. This time it's something I'd say the Pet Shop Boys would be proud of. It transports you straight back to the 80's. Pulsating drums, hazy guitars and the quirkiness you get with the Speccy sound. Though coming in at just over three minutes, it does seem to end rather quickly just as it gets started but this is the only negative thing about it. If you want more, I guess you can just rewind and listen to it again.
Quick! Hide in the cupboard! They'll never find you.
My Magic Knight obsession started with Finders Keepers then moved onto Spellbound and stayed there for a very long time, mainly as these were the only two of the series that I had growing up, and also because I couldn't complete either of them. It's only after investigating later on I discovered there were more! Which brings me smoothly onto Stormbringer. Not a game I played originally so not a tune I was all too familiar with. Listening to Alister's re-working of it and it sounds like it would fit in very well with a modern film theme tune. It's very Harry Potter-esque or very much a film of that ilk. Kind of spooky but mystical, like being lost in a giant castle and searching for a way out.
You're quickly moved onto a change of pace when Agent X pops it's head up next. A heavy guitar riff fills the air along with some keyboard work and then another chunky riff kicks in. Pure 80's rock with some excellent guitar work though always keeping the Speccy-ness present in one form or another.
Well, here we have it. I've been waiting this long to talk about it. Again. But, it's Robocop, so I'm allowed to wallow in this one, surely? It's proper hair-standing-on-end stuff. Straight away your memories of hearing this tune for the first time when you loaded it up for its' first airing all those years ago. Of all the tunes on the album, this one seems to keep most of the original Spectrum music included, well you can't really replace it surely? With the help of some additional drums, some beautiful overlays and extra keys, this is the highlight of the album for me. A longer build-up than the original version just leads to the anticipation of that familiar tune, which only adds to the greatness of this track. Just how Jonathan Dunn came up with this is beyond me. Something this special for a computer game, just shows what talent these composers had and indeed still have, and how much effort went into writing these works of art. I'll stop now before I start shedding tears (is someone cutting onions in here, or what?). Sniff. Let's move on, shall we?
After you've finished wiping your eyes, or that could just be me, you have he rest of the album to listen to.
That menu screen can only mean one thing - THAT tune! And maybe a few tears.
Turn the tape over to side two and Beyond The Ice Palace awaits you. Pure 80's synthesizers a go-go here, and really takes you back to the first years of the Speccy. With hints of Blancmange and other similar artists...ummm....Visage?...yeah, they'll do, it really does sound like something you'd be cutting some rug to in the early 80's. IfI wasn't two or three years old at the time, I'm sure there'd be some major rug cutting going on in my bedroom.
As the spools whirr on, Savage is the next to greet you along the way. Again, another game I never got around to playing (where have I been?!) so I never got to experience this tune before. It does have a modern feel to it, though I wouldn't class myself as someone who listens to modern music, but you know, I have the radio on now and again. Don't let this put you off as it's still full of 80's keyboards and I guess if you've played the game previously, you know what you're getting in terms of tune - awesome-ness!
Is it a bee flying backwards? No, it's our hero Zub, of course!
Ooh, Zub! Another I ashamed to say I never played first time around - sorry! Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time trying to crack Spellbound - it was never going to happen. A very chirpy little tune but with an added intrigue and mystique about it. Very sci-fi with it's Theremin coming into play at just the right places really adds to the atmosphere. One of the best tunes on the album, I have to say!
After all that 80's keyboard, Hydrofool brings the guitar back (rock!). The guitar is complemented well with the keyboard and original Speecy theme, kind of like the end theme of an 80's TV series though with added Speccy-ness, which is always a good thing.
Chornos is next on the playlist, and not to criticize too much, it didn't do a lot for me I'm sad to say. Well produced and arranged of course, though lacking that catchy tune or riff. Maybe if it was a game that you grew up with, you'll be more fond of it but it's just one that didn't work for me.
If you're up for a bit of dance, then Fairlight is for you. Again, it's another that could have been released relatively recently in most parts, though retains its' 80's and Speccy roots. Another stand out track here that could have easily been released back in the 80's and would have done well in the charts.
Well I'm no doctor, but that guy does not look healthy. Even if he didn't have bullets in his back.
The intro to Platoon instantly takes you back to that loading screen of the alarmingly purple man getting shot in the back. Elements of the tune here are transformed from the Speccy melodies into pan pipes which works really well and you could see being used in a war film. I don't know what it is about war films and pan pipes. They just seem to go well together. Give it a listen and let me know if you feel the same!
So, here we have it. The Finale - literally. The Spectrum Works (Finale) finishes off the album with a merry little Speccy ditty, which I can only say ends too soon. Full of Speccy sound effects and some well worked dance, it's a perfect send off for the album. It ends very abruptly after pumping you up ready for what could well be something you may expect from an early Prodigy recording, and then you're hit with a merry little Speccy ditty and then - stop. It is only 41 seconds long I guess so there's only so much you can fit in but it does manage to mix in enough during that time. A great feat.
Well, that's that. My first ever album review, which seemed daunting at first but as it was Speccy themed, I knew it wouldn't let me down. The Speccy has always been there to hold my hand through the tough times, so why would it let me down now? Anyone who was a fan of these games should definitely check this out, or if you're just a Speccy fan, this is also something you should get your ears around. A few tunes do stand out from the others, Robocop, Zub, Glider Rider, though altogether great collection. A nice mix of genres and excellently pulled off. A great nostalgia trip that bound to bring back such happy memories and make you feel tingly. Hat's off to you, Allister!
...And I only mentioned Robocop six times.
Available as a digital download from Allister's own site HERE for £7.95