Gran Turismo was a revolutionary game which took the PlayStation by storm in 1998. Since then it has become a successful six game franchise and, despite competition from similar racing series (Burnout, Need for Speed, etc.), has consistently provided unique and realistic gameplay. More importantly though, the Gran Turismo series has been the stage for some outstanding video game music that reaches out to what could be considered as an unappreciated niche: the racing game fanatic.
The series exhibits an appropriate blend of original game music, renowned classical music, live performances, and iconic popular music to create a good balance of musical variety. However, the albums released seem to be of an 'either/or' variety, in that there is no album released which demonstrates the true diversity of the music in the series, but rather are split into collections of solely pop-, original-, or classical music. A good example is this soundtrack itself; the Gran Turismo Original Game Soundtrack features original music yet it does not feature tracks from Feeder or Cubanate which clearly feature within the game. Licensing issues? Most likely. Detriment to the soundtrack? Not so much, though it would have made a nice addition for some. Back on track though (no pun intended), let us focus on the Gran Turismo Game Soundtrack.
The soundtrack is split into two clearly different sections, which I will explore in turn. The first twelve tracks on the album are the creations of Masahiro Andoh and arranger Tadashi Namba, who form part of the renowned T-Square band that are prominent even outside of the game music world. You may recognise Masahiro Andoh as the composer behind the Arc the Lad series and, in the chance that you have also heard the music from those games, his contributions here are occasionally similar. What he has created here is another collection of progressive rock tracks filled with powerful melodies and captivating developments. Surprisingly, eight tracks of the first twelve also feature on Andoh's solo album ANDY'S, released two years before this soundtrack, perhaps showing how proud Andoh was of these themes.
The main theme "Moon Over the Castle" is a classic example of how the music fits the game. Though not originally created for the purpose of Gran Turismo, it has become the main anthem, featuring in each of the games so far and receiving ten rearrangements through the course of the series. "Moon Over the Castle" starts off in orchestral form with a slow paced string section introducing the main melody. The melody is spot on, as is the shift into the full-blown and manic rock segment which directs the rest of the track and successfully creates the image of being put in the driving seat of one of the game's many powerful cars. Within this segment we hear some emphatic guitar solos with a forceful underlying drum rhythm to craft what is certainly the most powerful and passionate track on the album. The theme is well thought out, most noticeable as it recapitulates on the opening orchestral segment towards the end to highlight the original string melody. It is easy to see why this theme has become so important in the Gran Turismo series since it has everything which is desired from a main theme (i.e. it has a memorable melody, it has authority, it has direction, and it has the ability to stand alone).
Masahiro Andoh has a good number of other memorable and powerful themes on the soundtrack, too. "Kiss You Good-Bye," "Nobody," and "Green Monster" are all strong rock tracks with amazing guitar solo lines. The most enthralling part about the tracks is how they feature wide ranges of instruments without taking any power away from their melodies. "Green Monster" features both a rock organ and piano which underlie the piece, creating a consistent and powerful background for which the main guitar line can move in and around. Musically, these tracks are outstanding, intricate, and enjoyable, and absolutely add to the power already exemplified in "Moon Over the Castle."
You may be pleased to hear that Andoh's contributions aren't all completely in your face and that there is certainly some stylistic diversity. Not every piece is composed as if he were a manic car driver, speeding around corners, smashing into barriers... firing green shells (that's this game, right?). Rather, his other tracks take on a more relaxed atmosphere, as if you were the passenger being chauffeured around the track. Dangerously close to the genre which I affectionately call 'porn-groove', a good example of tracks with a calm sound are "Like the Wind" and "More Than Loving" (unfortunate names in such circumstances), two gorgeous themes with reverberant solo lines from saxophonist Steve Tavaglione. These smooth saxophone-infused tracks add a soulful touch to the first part of the album.
All in all, Andoh's tracks are a success and are a great addition to the album. Of course, there are some bad vocal themes, such as "Second Chance" and "Like the Wind (Vocal Version)," but there are worse ones in the game music world, trust me. Mostly though, the opening twelve tracks provide a strong start to the album, which is then taken over by Isamu Ohira's original content, produced solely for the game. Though his themes rarely touch upon the calibur of Andoh's contributions, and are widely considered as bonus themes since they only feature on the menu screens in the game, Ohira's tracks are still a good addition to the soundtrack which certainly helps to enhance the game play.
Ohira's contributions are mostly of the laid back, jazzy variety, such examples being "Turning Point," "Mr. 4WD" and "Take Your Dream On." "Take Your Dream On" sees a return of the saxophone-led style which was so quaintly introduced in "Like the Wind." In this instance Kazuhiro Takeda takes the stage on the woodwind instrument, producing a very similar sound to Steve Tavaglione, though not to the same high musical level. The fault is not of the saxophonist though, but more of the poor accompaniment which the track offers. "Beat the Corner," however, does redeem this. It has great saxophone interjections, a pumping rhythm, and a jazzy flavour. It also reveals the musicality and direction which Ohira impresses us with in the later soundtracks in the series.
Ohira's best tracks on the album, by far, are the last two themes. First, "Final Lap" opens with a fast paced drum rhythm and engine sound effects, the track is directed by a strong electric guitar line and outbursts of brass. The saxophone returns later on as well to create an amazing soundscape, highlighted perhaps by the sheer tempo of the track. This piece is frantic, just like a final lap should be and, moreover, it is enjoyable out of context too. It leads pretty well into the last track on the album too; "The Drift of the Air" is a very upbeat track, similar to Andoh's "A Man of the World." It features some great piano rock and electric guitar riffs to further add to the soundtrack's unique jazz/rock feel.
In terms of melodic variety this soundtrack is a success. Most tracks feature interesting solos and great instrumentals while managing to be individualised and refined too. In all, the album is refreshing and provides a good starting point for the rest of the albums in the series. I was initially disappointed with Ohira's additions to the album after hearing the quality of Andoh's tracks, though they still suffice as additional tracks and work well in the game. The good thing for the series is that Masahiro Andoh, who I feel contributed the best themes to this soundtrack, also appears in Gran Turismo 2 with a selection of new themes. What you may also be pleased to hear is that his themes are rearranged on the Gran Turismo Rock Arrange album, which I certainly suggest you check out! Until then, drive safe.