Are you a fan of Jarre? Are you a fan of the Eminent organ? Are you a fan of Vangelis? Are you fan of the Yamaha CS-80? Are you a fan of Commodore-64 SID music?
If you are like me and answered an enthusiastic "YES!" to all of the above, then this is the CD for you! An album that tastefully mixes all of the above into a great package: it's called "Sidologie" by Marcel Donné, a Dutch musician who composed under the nickname "Mad" on the Commodore-64 and was also a member of the famous Maniacs of Noise group for a while. But most importantly, he is also a big fan of the music of Vangelis and Jarre. So, he created an album that incorporates all the music he's ever liked.
I have to admit upfront, I am not impartial towards this album, as I was one of those lucky people who was asked by Marcel to provide feedback for the various pieces while they were still in production. However, I haven't heard the final version of the actual album until it got published, and now if you don't mind, I'll tell you how I feel about it.
The CD sleeve is a relatively simple but elegant design that pays homage to C64 games, SID music, "Equinoxe" and Vangelis' "Direct" in various ways all at the same time. The only thing I'm really missing from it are the track times.
As for the music itself, it starts off with a great intro composed by Marcel especially for this album. It sets the tone right away: taking essential clues from Jarre's "Revolutions" album, Marcel also mixed "Zoolook" and some Vangelis themes into it.
TLike all the other tracks on the album, the "Sidologie Intro" also weaves its way very smoothly into the next track, "Rambo Loader". Here we get to hear the signature Yamaha CS-80 sound for the first time as the lead instrument. Unfortunately, its playing feels a little rushed - I think that slowing down the tempo of this piece would've added a lot more ambience and atmosphere. Still, it's very enjoyable.
"Lightforce" is just that: it's light and forceful at the same time. The pulsing rhythm moves this piece forward perfectly while the other instruments keep it floating, balancing it between the waters below and the clouds above throughout the track. It's really great to listen to!
That can't quite be said of the next track, "Bombo", which is the first of the two tracks on the album that feels strange. Yes, the "Oxygene" backing cannot be more perfect, however, that Egyptian theme feels rather forced onto this backing and the piece just never gels together. You can either be upset that this track makes a mockery of both "Bombo" and "Oxygene", or you can smile at how funny these two sound together, but the bottom line is that this track feels out of place on this album, despite the very obvious "Jarriness" of it.
The other track that feels strangely out of place is "Knucklebusters". However, unlike "Bombo", Marcel's interpretation of this Rob Hubbard rock-epic is so good that I couldn't help but stand up and clap my hands when it ended. I felt like a great concert has just ended. The only reason it feels out of place is because of its style - while most of the other tracks lean towards the ambient, this one is rough, angry, metallic and pounding. Which is how it should be. And here's something that hasn't been attempted many times before: Marcel covers the entire 16 minutes of the in-game tune! Now, Chris Abbott and his Korg Karma synth provides an admirable emulation of an electric guitar for the lead throughout the track and it definitely evokes just the right emotions, but I can't help but wonder how much better this track would be with a human guitar player. Do I sense a future live concert performance here?... This track is definitely one of the highlights of the album for me with its quickening pace, more and more maddening style and that cacophonic ending that provides an uneasy closure, just like Hubbard's original.
There are two tracks on the album that are rather excellent by themselves, but hold a lot more potential then they actually deliver. Interestingly enough, they are right next to each other on the album and even more interestingly, these are the only two tracks that are purely Vangelis-inspired. The first is "Cobra", and the second is "Yie Ar Kung Fu II". They both do a great job of emulating "Bladerunner" and "Chariots of Fire", respectively, but both of these could've made better use of the style that Vangelis has used on some of his famous pieces: the buildup. That's when a piece starts with a simple theme and then more and more instruments join in as the theme is repeated. Especially the composition of "Yie Ar Kung Fu II" feels sort of flat: there's plenty to build up to, but nothing really follows, it's just the same thing again and again, there's no real emotional climax. Now, again, the way these pieces are on the album is really, really good - I'm very fond of the excellent Yamaha CS-80 lead on "Yie Ar Kung Fu II", Marcel played it very well. But they could've been just a bit better...
Another pair of tracks on the album that need to be discussed together is "Wizball High Score" and "Rambo High Score". The first is done in "Band in the Rain" style, while the second one in "Oxygene 6", a.k.a. "beachside lite" style. They are both just awesome, jaw-droppingly near-perfect replicas of those two Jarre classics with the added SID themes.
"Miami Vice (ingame)" is a very uplifting, optimistic composition that keeps evolving, morphing from one arpeggio to another. The Yamaha CS-80 improvisations on the top provide additional human touch in Vangelis style and round out the piece very nicely.
Finally, "Nemesis The Warlock" is a cover that I would find hard to caterogize, yet, its style perfectly exemplifies what this album is all about: nostalgia towards the early Jarre and Vangelis albums, nostalgia towards those melodic SID tunes, and an excellent fusion of all these things combined with the sounds of the signature instruments used by those two great composers.
Despite how it may appear from my review, this album has no shortcomings (with the possible exception of "Bombo"). It's a solid, emotional, well-engineered album. Sure, some of its pieces could've been developed further, but that's me, the unsatisfiable fan talking.
The pieces on this album do not contain subtle underlying themes like many other remixes do: the references to and nods towards Jarre, Vangelis and SID tunes are very obvious and extremely hard to miss. What makes this album really special is that it manages to combine all of these elements in an elegant, tasteful, and balanced way. Marcel came up with something new and different that paradoxically will also sound very familiar and well-known to many of us. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was no small feat to achieve.