Soundtracks is where we take a look back at the use of licensed music in games. Go here if you want to know more.

Today’s game is Pro Evolution Soccer 2010, which is probably the last football game I bought with a sense of genuine expectation that I would devote hours to the career mode, and the first time that such an expectation was not realised. In some respects, it was the end of football games for me: I’ve dipped my toe into various modern(ish) instalments of PES and FIFA since, but that hardcore, multi-season enjoyment just hasn’t ever returned. It’s probably why I remember the largely-reviled 2008 entry of PES so fondly, as that was the last time I experienced it.

The approach of PES 2010 represented a change in musical direction for the series, as it was the first to feature licensed music throughout (2008 did have a Kaiser Chiefs track for the intro sequence, but it otherwise featured extremely cheesy and enjoyable original songs, an approach which was in itself a departure from the generic background music of the PS2 era).

More generally, PES was starting to lose serious ground to the much-improved (and well-resourced) FIFA games, and once it was no longer the clear first choice in terms of playability, critics and the wider public were much less tolerant of the wacky presentation, lack of licenses, and polish. Although still lacking in these respects in comparison to FIFA, Konami snapped up the Champions League and Europa League rights for the 2009 edition, and started including recognisable chart music on its menus. It was something it arguably had to do, but the old-school PES charm was gradually being eroded.

As seems to be the tradition, the selection of tunes on offer seems to be a fairly random collection of recent and old tracks flung together without much sense of coherence. Let’s have a look at some of them, shall we?
 

The Chemical Brothers – Galaxy Bounce
(Virgin, 2002)

Back in the days when I was trying to carve out my own edgy teenage niche in terms of music, The Chemical Brothers were one of my first artists of choice, based on their 1996 hit Setting Sun, featuring Noel Gallagher of Oasis on vocals. I remember it coming on the radio for the first time and I had honestly never heard anything like it in my life (in a good way): I couldn’t quite believe it was receiving any airplay at all, never mind getting to the top of the charts.

Debut album Exit Planet Dust and acclaimed follow-up Dig Your Own Hole were on heavy rotation in my teenage years. However, by the time 1999’s Surrender came out, I had settled into more of an enjoyment of guitar-based music, and it seemed that the singles and celebrity guest vocals on that album were more obviously targeting chart success. (I know, how can you think a band that you discovered via a number 1 single has ‘sold out’, but, y’know – teenagers).

Come with Us (2002) was a comparatively low-key release, and Galaxy Bounce not one of its singles, but it’s a reasonably cool tune and perfect menu fodder (which is I’m sure what every recording artist wants to hear). In fact I was sure this was on another PC game soundtrack but I can’t remember which one and Google is no help! (Write in, you could win a prize, etc.)

 

Stereophonics – A Thousand Trees
(V2, 1997)

In my review, I talked about how this was such a weird song to put on a soundtrack, particularly as it’s about a man, a former football coach, who is accused of sexual offences against children. It’s a good song, and I’m not a big one for overanalysing lyrics, but there was something a bit jarring about its inclusion here. If this came on in an indie disco, and such things still existed, and we were allowed to go to them, and I still liked to do things, then I’d love it. But here, it’s a bit weird.

I do like Stereophonics, though, especially their earlier stuff, and this one is from their 1997 debut, Word Gets Around. As Oasis fell from grace, post Be Here Now, they were one of the newer UK bands pushed to the forefront. It seemed inevitable that their time in the sun would be brief, and so it proved, with the backlash from the cool kids aided in no small part by the release of 2001’s stodgy Just Enough Education To To Perform and chippy, NME-baiting single Mr Writer.

The NME might not have liked it, but ex-Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney was a fan, to the extent that he has the album’s title tattooed on his arm. (And while we’re talking about the Stereophonics and tattoos, it’s almost obligatory to mention that bassist Richard ‘Richard’ Jones has one of his own name on his neck).

 

Keane – Again & Again
(Island, 2008)

Of all the 00s indie bands it is probably not all that cool to like, Keane would have to be up there. They emerged in the middle of the decade with a couple of hits that got heavy radio play, were possibly a bit overexposed, and then became the target for criticism on the basis that they were a bit posh and their music a bit wet.

This is one of two songs featured here from 2008’s Perfect Symmetry album, the lead single from which, Spiralling – a Duran Duran style effort supposedly inspired by wrestler Ric Flair – is an absolute banger.

As for this one, it’s an inoffensive uptempo effort that sounds like it was designed to be played under a voiceover announcing a brief round-up of all the weekend’s goals from League One and League Two.

 

The All-American Rejects – Dirty Little Secret
(Interscope, 2005)

The All-American Rejects belong in my mind to a category of chart-friendly US pop rock artists whose best known songs had brief heavy rotation here in the UK only to disappear without trace shortly thereafter.

I was a fan of 2002’s Swing Swing, less so this one. I always thought there was something a bit ‘off’ about the lyrics: “I’ll keep you my dirty little secret; don’t tell anyone or you’ll be just another regret”, is it? Have some honour, you cur!

 

Kaiser Chiefs – Ruby
(B-Unique, 2007)

I’m from Leeds. When I was at university in nearby York, people from the south used to say things like, “Oh, Leeds? Cool. Don’t they have a great music scene?” And I would reply in a vaguely positive manner that would hopefully not reveal the truth that I did not go out in Leeds like all the bigger boys and only ever went to two gigs there, one of which was after I had pretended to know who the band Gomez were in order to secure a date to go and see them (in a manner almost entirely reminiscent of Simon’s bluffing during the gig episode of The Inbetweeners).

Was Leeds really good for music? I don’t remember too many great bands coming from there. There was a band literally called ‘The Music’, who had a minor hit called Getaway, the video for which featured their floppy-haired singer capering about in a wind tunnel. They were hardly Arctic Monkeys. York itself was more famously a one (shit) band town, with jokes about Britpop also-rans Shed Seven being endlessly recycled in the student press. Years later, my wife and I were surprised to be offered the services of the keyboard player as a compère and quizmaster as part of the package for our wedding reception. (We declined.)

Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes: Kaiser Chiefs. They were from Leeds, and they were quite good and successful. I went to see them live at Wembley Arena in 2009 and, aided by several pints of lager, had a good and enjoyable evening shouting along to their hits. Including this one!

 

Andrew W.K. – Party Hard
(Island, 2001)

Andrew W.K. was briefly everywhere and highly hyped for a while, only to fade from public attention when his work didn’t quite have the success such anticipation merited, amid conspiracy theories that ranged from accusations that he was an inauthentic fraud who didn’t write any of his own stuff, to those that claimed he didn’t exist at all, and that a variety of different people had performed under that name over the years.

In 2002, my metal-loving summer work colleagues, suitably judgemental about all pop music, particularly while forced against their will to listen to Radio 2 all day, surprised me by declaring total and seemingly unironic love for W.K. and introduced me to the album I Get Wet, from which Party Hard was the lead single. I personally quite liked I Love NYC (chorus lyrics: I love New York City; Oh yeah, New York City!) but otherwise couldn’t quite work out how seriously it was all meant to have been taken.

While this was definitely his most well-known hit, by 2009, you do wonder what kind of currency this track had to warrant inclusion here. And the more of these pieces I do, the more random the song selection seems. [It’s most likely a corporate record company type deal with the publisher – Ed.]


Not the worst selection in the world, then, but is it really better than Kick It, Futebol Soccer Goal et al? Like the game itself, the soundtrack did what the critics and public said they wanted, but in doing so moved away from the cheery eccentricity that characterized the series and set it apart from po-faced FIFA.

We took a bit of a break from Soundtracks for a bit, but I think we’ll be back again soon.