Hello and welcome to the latest in the Soundtracks series, the title of which is fairly self-explanatory, but you can read more about its aims and intentions here.

Today’s game is Need for Speed: Carbon, a middling-to-good entry in the NFS canon, but one with some fairly interesting visual choices that create a vaguely sci-fi aesthetic. The combination of permanent blue darkness, motion blur and neon effects lend an otherworldly feeling to proceedings, with the car almost set aside from the road in the manner of 90s FMV racer MegaRace. Meanwhile, non-player characters that feature as part of the accompanying story-line dress like fighting game characters and are introduced as such. Such choices, along with the gentle difficulty curve, especially compared with immediate predecessor Most Wanted (a superior game, no doubt, but one that felt like a grinding battle at times) make it an interesting one to revisit.

When we first looked at Carbon, it was in receipt of qualified praise from FFG, despite the interesting design elements, because it didn’t seem to have many new ideas otherwise. One half-baked concept that passes for a feature relates to car choices: specifically, whether you’ll plump for a muscle (good acceleration), exotic (top speed), or tuner (handling) class car. To emphasise the differences, your choice also corresponds to a music genre within EA Trax, so you can enjoy rock (muscle), hip-hop (exotic) or electro (tuner) by default depending on your choice.

You can mix these up in the main menu, something I failed to realise first time around, as it wasn’t necessary in sister title Own The City on the PSP (which I played first), and I made the mistake of thinking my favourite tracks simply weren’t available here [you dummy – FFG reader]. Anyway, with such basics established, it’s also worth saying that perhaps more than any other NFS title, the music is a really good match for the action and general ‘vibe’ the game is trying to create. And we’re now going to examine a selection of the featured tracks below. Ready?

Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric? (Beggars Banquet, 1979)

Gary Numan, circa peak Tubeway Army era (i.e. 1979) is an interesting choice for Need for Speed, which tends towards contemporary music more than anything else. Still, Carbon saw the series introduce classic muscle cars again after almost exclusively focusing on street racing and high end (exotic) motors since Underground, so perhaps it was deliberate.

After an extended commercial slump in the 80s, Numan found favour again after being cited as an influence by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, among others. On the basis of his cameo in The Mighty Boosh and the 2016 documentary Android in La La Land (a small sample size, I know), he seems like a relatively down to earth bloke, although I don’t know what marrying the president of your own fan club really says about someone, however cute a couple they might seem. Plus, he has the kind of voice that has inspired several thousand dubious American takes on the British accent, including Spike from Buffy and literally any TV show or movie featuring an English rock star, director or photographer as a character.

This is a great tune that has aged really well and is completely appropriate to the action. Although at various points a small part of you might be a tiny bit disappointed that it isn’t Freak Like Me by the Sugababes (a better pop song for sure, with a more satisfying flourish at the chorus), the relative distance and coldness of this track is perhaps a more suitable accompaniment to fake night-time racing. (For detailed examination of the Sugababes track, Popular is, as ever, the place to go).


Eagles of Death Metal – Don’t Speak (I Came To Make A Bang!) (Downtown, 2006)

My initial thoughts about Eagles of Death Metal were: gee, that’s kind of a silly name; and, wasn’t this some kind of Josh Homme side project, the kind which releases one album before disbanding? As with many surface level generalisations, these too were slightly unfair, and on the basis of this song, I actually ended up checking out some more of their music. (Incidentally, Hurricane, by Homme’s former band, Kyuss, also features on this soundtrack).

By coincidence, a few months after discovering the band through this game, an attack on the Bataclan theatre in Paris took place while the band were on stage, unwittingly raising their profile. The surge of goodwill towards them following the attack was undermined somewhat when lead singer Jesse Hughes made some ill-advised remarks about gun control and followed this up with comments that implicated venue staff in the attacks, although the impact of the events on the band, and just how close they were to danger (as outlined in Colin Hanks’ 2017 documentary Nos Amis) could be presented as mitigating factors.

And much as I may have protested about the cynicism of matching of music genres to types of car, this does seem like exactly the kind of music that people who drive a muscle car in an irresponsible fashion would listen to.


Ladytron – Sugar (Island, 2005)

Of the three available genres, electro is arguably the one most in keeping with Carbon‘s visual aesthetic (much in the same way as the 2011 film Drive paired its action with a synth soundtrack), and I’d say this song is perhaps my favourite of the whole lot.

I had been dimly aware of Ladytron before playing Carbon: they supported Nine Inch Nails on tour in 2007 and provided a remix of NIN track The Beginning Of The End (which featured a cute nod to notorious earlier hit Closer) for the Year Zero remix album Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D.

The mix by Jagz Kooner that features in the game is my favourite, although for reasons unknown the Spotify playlist substitutes in the Archigram remix, which occupies more thudding territory. And there’s the original too, of course. Whatever, they’re all good. Another Ladytron track, Fighting in Built Up Areas, also features.


Tigarah – Girlfight (Beatstar, 2006)

As I mentioned when writing about the music of Underground, there’s something transgressive and exciting about being forced to listen to music that’s slightly outside your comfort zone, and the soundtrack of a gaudy driving game, where such things are in keeping with the action, provides a perfect excuse to indulge.

Girlfight is fairly bonkers stuff, with Japanese rhymes barked over brassy electronic loops in a manner that becomes mildly hypnotic (although only in the invincible and forgiving game world of Carbon: if you try to listen to it while driving in real life your head/wife/dog will soon start to protest). I particularly like the brief acoustic interlude at around the 2 minute mark.

Categorically the best Japanese hip hop track I’ve ever heard!


Lady Sovereign – Love Me or Hate Me (Def Jam, 2006)

The “This is Me” type song that serves to introduce a new artist is a trope that seems destined to create one hit wonders, although that doesn’t have to be the case. For every My Name Is [Eminem – musical reader], though, there’s an Are You Jimmy Ray? [Er, Jimmy Ray, and by the way US audiences won’t understand that, and neither will UK ones with any sense – musical reader with more niche interests].

Sadly, for all Love Me or Hate Me’s charms: the catchy central bleepy loop, and the in-verse burping amid mentions of Heineken and shepherd’s pie, this ended up falling into the second category, and Lady Sovereign was last seen making an appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2010, which did as much for her career as the appearance of Sam Preston on the show helped his band The Ordinary Boys. [You’ve really lost us now – US readers].


The Bronx – Around the Horn (Island/Def Jam, 2006)

I hadn’t heard of The Bronx prior to this game, although having done some minor research, one does have to admire the confidence of a band who feel able to release 3 consecutive eponymously titled albums.

This particular track is a relentless, punchy rock number that burns briefly but brightly, and is the perfect accompaniment to recklessly weaving through traffic in a Dodge Charger.


Wolfmother – Joker and the Thief (Modular, 2006)

Back when people played Guitar Hero, I was among them, and like many other fans of the series, I spent many hours subjecting the other occupants of my flat to the same songs over and over again in the process of striving to become a slightly better fake guitar player. A cover of Woman by Wolfmother featured in the early stages of the second game, and is one of a handful of songs that my wife has since specified must never again be played in her presence.

(I have similarly mixed feelings about Message in a Bottle by The Police, after my flatmate PG and I stayed up until 3am attempting to be the first to get a 100% score: it was him, and I went to bed full of Red Bull and regret.)

Criticism of Wolfmother is generally on the basis that their music is derivative of 70s rock classics. Woman definitely sounded like some kind of knock-off, but I quite like this. The rolling riff intro is really good, and the song would seem perfectly at home on a movie trailer or soundtrack. Which is probably why it’s been included on this one (among others).

So there you have it. Not the greatest NFS game, but one with a pretty memorable soundtrack, for my money.

There are plans for more articles in this series, although the possible games are ever-changing, and I’m keen to avoid a procession of EA sports and racing titles if possible. We might take a bit of a break with it, or we might not.

Until then, I can’t leave a piece about Carbon without at least one reference to silly bad guy Darius (yes, that really is Helo from Battlestar Galactica)!