No, I didn't write this simply to remind you what the Commodore 64 printed out when it loaded a game from tape. This is the full title of the CD album I am holding in my hand: "LOADING READY RUN" from the Danish band PRESS PLAY ON TAPE (PPOT), which was released today (December 29, 2001) at "The Party 2001" with a live concert of the band.
Imagine six guys (Martin Koch and Jesper Holm Olsen on guitars, Uffe Friis Lichtenberg on bass, Søren Trautner Madsen on drums and Theo Engell-Nielsen and André Tischer Poulsen on keyboards) who got together in the studio for some fun time to play C64 game tunes in typical rock style. Yes, these are the same folks whose live performances have already dazzled many of us in the SID remix scene. And their album rocks big time, too!
If you've heard their live performances already, you'll find many of the tracks familiar, but expect a much cleaner sound, zero playing mistakes and many small improvements. Oh, and you'll also find a few tracks on the album that were never released to the public before in any shape or form. If you haven't heard PPOT, yet - here's your golden opportunity! Either way, it's worth getting the album and I'd highly recommend it to anybody.
First, I'd like to mention the CD booklet included with the CD: it's short, to the point, but put together very tastefully. For every track there are two screenshots from the original games and a short personal description for each of them. Pretty much everything in the booklet will remind you of the good old C64 in one way or another. A great tribute to a great era.
I won't go into detail about each track, but let me write a few words about some of them.
The album starts out with the previously unreleased Rambo loader (appropriately enough), complete with Morse-code which actually spells out something different here than what Martin Galway spelt out with it in the game - I'll let you figure out what, it's not that hard. (No misspellings, either!) Another Easter Egg is found in Ghosts'n Goblins: try playing the whispering voice in reverse. There may be more Easter Eggs on the album - whoever from the band thought of them was a genious!
PPOT's Monty on the Run is another remix I don't think I've heard before, which is regrettable because it's bloody awesome! During the relatively quiet bridge section I can imagine the lead guitar player swiping the sweat from his forehead - he plays the maddeningly fast melody line to perfection.
The serene, elegant Wizardry (which reminds me of Metallica's ballads) provides the quiet before the storm of Commando. I am still a bit mad at PPOT that they play much of Commando's melody line with a whining synth instead of a wicked guitar (except for some later parts that sound fantastic with the guitar), but otherwise it's just like how I always imagined it.
The 8th track is Thing on a Spring, which is one of my favorite tracks from the album. If somebody told me that it'd sound good with a rock band, I would've laughed. But it does! Also, this track was improved a lot from the previous live versions. For example, the simplified melody line is gone - it's Rob's original composition in all its glory! The added vocoded speech is a nice touch.
Lots of praise to PPOT for their Auf Wiedersehen Monty cover, which sounds very faithful to the original while at the same time managing to bring out that unique rock-band sound. Absolutely superb! Their previously unreleased Paperboy is a funky '70s style tune on this album with a guitar and a nice electronic organ talking to each other on the melody line. It is followed by an upbeat Krakout that also sounds very danceable.
The next to last track is Thrust. Remember that widely spread C64 demo in which Martin and Rob played the keyboards for this track? Well, now we have the appropriate sound for that demo. This tune fits PPOT's setup perfectly. Also, great use of effects on the lead guitar!
The album ends with Master of Magic, which I find perplexing. Although it sounds pretty good by itself, it doesn't work as the last track for me. It just doesn't round out the album nicely, especially since the Rambo loader opened it all. Søren told me he selected this track as the last one because it ends with a slow fadeout... Either way, it's a very atypical cover that works great, nevertheless.
There are 14 tracks on the album providing a total of 54 minutes of pure nostalgia for SID fans like me. The guitar players are very impressive, the drummer is fantastic and the keyboard players provide great support for them. I have the utmost respect for everybody who plays without the aid of computers, and PPOT does it darn good. I haven't reviewed every track of theirs here, but believe me - all the other tracks have been mastered to perfection, too. Suffice to say, whatever were my complaints about PPOT's live performances, they're mostly gone from this album.
What makes PPOT's album really great is the human touch. You won't find overcomputerized sequences on it, it's not sterile - it's just six enthusiastic guys playing their hearts out and having fun. And isn't that what it was all supposed to be about?