No More Heroes Soundtracks Dark Side isn't a conventional arranged album. Grasshopper Manufacture hired numerous modern Japanese artists to create an album full of creativity, diversity, and attitude. In doing so, they combined the talents of true innovators like chip tune remixer 6955, fusion jazz band The Outer Rim, a variety of vocal artists, and the game's original composers Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda. The idiosyncratic score for No More Heroes was primarily used to inspire musical ideas and a rebellious attitude from the arrangers, not providing a stock of melodies. Although a number of the game's tunes were used, the album was not about simply enhancing melodies, but rather placing them within completely bizarre scenarios. The result is easily one of the most daring arranged albums ever produced...
The main theme is used with varying prominence in six of the nine arrangements. Incredibly quirky and catchy, the theme should be engraved into the minds of anyone who has played the game or soundtrack for more than ten minutes. Its treatment here is even more diverse than in the soundtrack. The opener "It's kill or be killed mix" blends sultry female vocals and strong funk grooves from the acid jazz group Yoshioka Taku Squad. It's impressive how Yoshiaku Taku makes the theme so musically impressive with her vocal improvisations despite the overriding fun vibes and deliberately nonsensical lyrics. The unexpected but inoffensive appearance of an American male rapper adds a further perspective to the remix. Sharing the same melody, the "N.M.H. 6955 mix" couldn't be a greater stylistic contrast with its exclusive use of chip tunes. Much of the arrangement focuses on developing a rhythmically compelling bass line, which attains a strong determined sound despite its humble technology. The fleeting appearances of the main melody in shrill cutesy fashion round off the eccentric mix nicely.
The rebellious spirit of No More Heroes is most explicitly captured in "NO MORE RIOT" by metal band The Riot. The No More Heroes main theme is used in conjunction with heavily distorted guitar work to provide rhythmical riffs to support the vocals. The hard vocal stylings by Kazutoshi Iida reminds me of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Japanese language aside. Probably the centrepiece arrangement of the main theme is by free jazz band The Outer Rim. Starting off ambiently with an abstract saxophone-infused soundscape, the piece suddenly comes to life with the entrance of a fantastic bass line from Jeff Curry against hard drum work. After a well-punctuated rendition of the main theme, there is an explosion of clamour at 2:10 with Norihiko Hibino's impressive soprano saxophone solo. A beautiful interlude follows and most of the rest of the arrangement further explores the various different elements already introduce. The imagination and virtuosity of each of the high-profile instrumentalists of The Outer Rim is evident throughout this performance. Incidentally, the band decidded to open their recently released self-titled debut album with this arrangement.
Two of the biggest highlights are the arrangements by No More Heroes composers Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda. On "PURE-WHITE GIANT TINY GLASTONBURY", Fukuda arranges his chip tune compositions "Chipster Dash" and "Let's Fight a Boss", with the main theme only used sparingly for once. This arrangement focuses on building up futuristic electronica up to 2:17 where an especially cutesy synth melody appears. However, the definite highlight are the kawaii vocals that feature in two sections. In a rarity for Japanese artists, the vocals don't actually become obnoxious, in part due to their sparing but prominent use; they're actually unbelievably addictive. The penultimate track on the album, Takada's "ANY MORE (RX-Ver.S.P.L.)", is a fluid medley of three themes. In the peculiar opening, the dynamic electronic beats and lush ambient sounds of "K-ENT" appear in conjunction with otherworldly futuristic vocorder samples. Elements of the intense second theme "Rocket Surgeon" are soon introduced and become interspersed throughout the medley. By 2:55, the arrangement has developed into a delightful electronic recapitulation of the No More Heroes main theme coloured by thick beats and a long-lasting synth glissando.
The three arrangements that don't use the No More Heroes main theme at all are of mixed quality. bloco 23's "Hustlin' 'n' Tusslin' [batucafro mix]" emphasises the Latin flavour of the original with solid performances from percussion, whistle, and piano. However, it also develops much more slowly, cycling through sections dedicated to layering percussion polyrhythms, repeating male rap samples, or developing catchy piano riffs. The crisp sheen is gone but the rhythmical impetus remains. Another remix that lacks some of the flair of the original is "We Are Finally Cowboys [golden brown mix]". Techno unit Hondalady do a good job subtly incorporating features of the intense original into a hard dance remix. However, much of the focus is on repeating generic loops so the fascinating dynamic development of the original is lost. To finish, Neutrino "The virgin child makes her wish without feeling anything [ver.ν]" transforms the dated cabaret style of the original. This time youthful female J-Rock vocals are overpowered by thick guitar riffs inspired by the American punk rock movement. It's short, superficial, but pretty sweet.
I really appreciate the audacity of Masafumi Takada to produce such a creative and unconventional album rather than a mere fan service. The album isn't continuous with the main soundtrack aside from its obsessive focus on the main theme and rebellious attitude. Instead it focuses on incorporating a very wide range of modern styles, including chip tune, acid jazz, heavy metal, ambience, techno, funk, hip-hop, free jazz, punk, and samba. As a result, practically anything can happen during a minute's listening time — whether the repetition of a hard beat, the entrance of cutesy vocals, the development of an exuberant saxophone solo, or something completely different — even though you're most likely to a rendition of the main theme for the millionth time. With the contributions of great artists like Masafumi Takada, Jun Fukuda, and Norihiko Hibino, we're safely assured that creativity in game music isn't dead. Be warned, though, that many of these tracks were later carried over to the sequel's soundtrack release.