ModNation Racers Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris
Described as Sony's answer to Mario Kart, ModNation Racers boasts polished kart racing gameplay and user-generated content. United Front Games desired a light contemporary soundtrack to match the image of the game. To achieve this, they hired two emerging composers in the industry, Tales from Space's Peter Chapman and Crash Tag Team Racing's Marc Baril. The soundtrack was released through iTunes shortly after the game.
Melissa Reese's "ModNation Theme" just about suffices as the theme song for the game. For one, it matches the image of the series quite well the pop-flavoured beats and vocals capture youthful exuberance, while the rhythm guitar riffs are something of a racing staple. It's also fairly catchy, thanks to the infectious nature of the vocal melody and the prominent guitar passages. But that's about all there is good to say about it. The song almost happens to have some of the most uninspired lyrics ever featured in a video game ("Modnation, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah"), suffers a weak arrangement dominated by dated beats and trashy riffs, and comes across generic rather than inspired. While written as the official anthem of the series, the theme hasn't inspired much attention since its release and it's easy to see why.
The rest of the soundtrack takes a contemporary, funk-influenced sound. Peter Chapman's "Ain't No Stoppin' It" provides a vibrant introduction to the soundtrack with its groovy piano licks and bright trumpet leads. This influence is maintained through equally jubilant tracks such as "Victory Lap" and "Cruise Control". Marc Baril's "ModNation Theme" and "Last Lap" blend together funky guitar licks with light hip-hop beats to part-cool, part-goofy effect. There are also some fine electronic additions that take a leaf out of Ridge Racer's book, most notably the drum 'n' bass track "Brake It Down" and the high-tempo, distortion-heavy "Make the Bass Go Doom". It all adds up to a diverse, motivating accompaniment to the gameplay.
While most of the tracks take promising directions, they're generally too flawed in composition and implementation to fully satisfy otherwise. One of the most striking examples is Baril's "Racin' & Rollin". To capture the emotions of driving, the track undergoes a striking shift from a breezy, pop-flavoured body into a tense, technofied climax. It works fine in context, but the whole composition is quite uninspiring on its own. The main section is a muddy mix of samples, without any rhythmic kicks or melodic hooks to draw listeners in. The climax at 1:02 is completely dominated by a siren-like samples that has been lifted from a decade-old library in fact, this exact same sound was integrated far more successfully in Devil May Cry ten years prior.
Numerous other tracks tend to suffer from weak implementation, whether the jarring trumpet leads of "Cruise Control", the lame scatching/bubbling effects on "Here to Have Fun", or the entirely dated mix on "ModSpot Theme". Vocal parts also continue to make their way into the soundtrack, whether the children's chants on "Here to Have Fun", electronic distortions on "Put Your Headphones On", or the rap lines on "Win the Race". The ideas behind such pieces is inspired, since the voices could add a much more personal and vibrant dimension to the racing experience. Yet their implementation is inadequate, since Chapman relies on dated, stunted libraries rather than fresh performances. The latter especially is an awful mixture of hardcore beats and rap samples, both of which are as clichéd as they come.
Shoddy samples need not break a soundtrack after all, the Mario Kart series has done fine despite its palette over the years though memorable melodies and novel stylings are really needed. Unfortunately, only a few of ModNation Racers' tracks emerge as being particularly compositionally inspired. Baril's "Victory Lap" and "On the Run" emerge as fairly memorable homages to old-school racing soundtracks, whereas most others only have superficial grooves or repetitive hooks to work with. Many more tracks stand out for their rich stylings, but only a few notably Chapman's "Brake It Down" and "Catchy My Drift" come across as fully realised experiments. Most of the others suffer weak mixing and inadequate development.
The soundtrack to ModNation Racers is full of ideas, but it's also amassed with problems. It's clear where Peter Chapman and Marc Baril wanted to take the music, but most of the soundtrack suffers from sloppy arrangement, dated implementation, and a lack of memorable features. It just about succeeds as a light-hearted, dynamic accompaniment to the game, but it does not satisfy in album form. Check out the more refined soundtrack to ModNation Racers: Road Trip instead.
Overall Score: 4/10