Vinyl Review – The Music Of Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V was one of the biggest and best games of 2013. Its re-release on the PS4 and Xbox One also made it one the marquee titles of 2014, and it’s upcoming PC release might make it a standout release of 2015 as well. It’s a rare feat for the same game to be a newsmaker three years in a row, but GTAV certainly deserves it. Despite its heavily problematic elements, which includes a wicked misogyny streak and more than a few disgusting digs at minorities, the game is an absolute blast to play. This is in large part due to its amazing immersive world, which in itself is largely due to the stellar in-game soundtrack.
All GTA games have featured amazing soundtracks, and while the music selections in GTAV might not be the best (Vice City for life), it certainly is the largest most eclectic. With 15 radio stations serving up over 240 tracks (even more on the recent re-release), it has something for almost everyone, from experimental hip-hop and electronic music, to classic rock and mainstream pop. And that’s not even mentioning a killer original score that features contributions from Rockstar’s composer Woody Jackson alongside hip-hop producers Alchemist & Oh No and legendary electronic music pioneers and soundtrack artists extraordinaire Tangerine Dream.
Of course, combined that’s something like a billion hours of music (give or take) so the newly released limited edition Music Of Grand Theft Auto V could no way be a comprehensive affair featuring it all. Instead, it’s a compilation of sorts, combining the best of the original music, previously released tunes and the original score into a three volume box set available in both 3 CD and 6 LP varieties.
Volume One of the set is the “original music” and it features an eclectic selection of tunes from artists such as Yeasayer, Flying Lotus, HEALTH, Wavves and A$AP Rocky, to name a few. It’s fine, but to be honest very few of these tracks stand out in any way at all. I highly doubt that most were composed for the game – I suspect many were b-sides or outtakes that were relegated to soundtrack status simply because they weren’t good enough for any of the bands’ proper albums. The previously released music makes up volume three, and it includes many of the more notable tunes from the game’s radio stations from artists such as Toro y Moi, Waylon Jennings, Bob Seger Simple Minds, and so on. It’s not a bad cross-section of tunes, but I do get the feeling that tracks chosen to represent the game were chosen not because they were soundtrack highlights, but because they were cheaper to license for a soundtrack release. What else would explain excluding more memorable numbers by artists like Queen, NWA or Aphex Twin?
Despite their problems, both volume one and three of the soundtrack are good, but the real star here is the second volume, which features 22 tracks from the game’s score, mixed and arranged by DJ Shadow. It’s really an amazing collection, and easily one of the most dynamic and interesting scores from a game in recent history. As I mentioned before, the score was a collaborative effort between Tangerine Dream, Woody Jackson, The Alchemist and Oh No, but it sounds like a Tangerine Dream score at its core, with bountiful synthesizers and electronic pulse-pounding beats. That being said, the influences and contributions from the other artists are obvious as well, and it gives the entire piece a 21st century shot in the arm that Tangerine Dream’s work has sadly lacked for the past couple of decades. In fact, with the help of Jackson, The Alchemist and Oh No, I would say that this might be the best score Tangerine Dream has worked on since Legend, or possibly even The Sorcerer in 1981. It’s really a work of art, and something that instrumental or electronic music fans should really check out even if they’re not interested in the game from which it came.
As far as the media itself, I picked up the 6 LP version. It certainly does look fantastic, with each volume represented by its own colored vinyl. The original music is blue, the score yellow and the soundtrack selections red. Very pretty. They also sound pretty good for the most part as well. One side of the score LPs had a rough spot on it that led to some scratching sounds, but its hard to tell if that’s specific to mine or a widespread problem, and besides, it wasn’t very noticeable. Sadly, the box that the records come in is rather flimsily put together, and mine came with several tears that have just gotten worse over time, which is very frustrating. It also lacks a download code, which is at best lazy but most likely exploitative, as I bet Rockstar hopes that “true” fans will end up buying it on analog and digital formats.
The vinyl and CD box sets are sold out now, so if you want them you’ll have to dole out the extra bucks on the second-hand market. And as much as I love the score, I really don’t think these sets are worth the money they’re commanding now. Hell, they were barely worth the retail price. If you’re a fan of the game and on a budget, all three volumes are also available digitally – you’re better off buying the score entirely and then paying for the individual songs you like off the other two volumes.
Basically, whatever you do, you need to buy that score. It’s incredible.