Mother is the perfect example of a record which grows on you. This score is such an interesting beast that one feels almost compelled to listen to it just given the story behind its recording, despite whether one knows the game, cares for video game music, or has even a passing interest in Japanese pop. The music for the game Mother was so absurdly popular that the company behind went into the studio with a full orchestra and re-recorded all of the music, in some cases with vocals.
It's a strange beast, this Mother record. The orchestral versions of the music are big and epic, yet still bring to mind the limitations of the late '80s Famicom console. You have Catherine Warwick, an American woman, signing in a Japanese pop vein. It's just all so strange that one can't help but put the needle on the record, and it's then that you're absolutely sucked in by the fact that this is really interesting music.
On just the first track, there's that J-Pop by way of America vocals, rock guitars, what sounds like an electronic harpsichord, and strange synthy fireworks. Visiting it in this context, at a remove of several decades, the music for Mother resembles nothing so much as something like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Electric Light Orchestra – bands that take elements of multiple genres and stack them upon one another until you're not quite sure as to what you're hearing. The Paradise Line could have easily been written by Jeff Lynne, and it could also be slowed down TO the tempo of its toy piano to become a stealthily eerie approximation of Japanese traditional music.
As a matter of fact, that's precisely what the track which follows it is: Magicant is a loopingly weird concoction which bleeps and burbles, yet still sounding rooted in the music of a centuries-old teahouse. It's counterbalanced by the ever-so-modern sounds of the flip side's last song, All That I Needed (Was You), another track which brings ELO to mind, but with a more brightly '80s sensibility.
The light disco funk of Fallin' Love, and seems like it's from another world entirely. It's lush and string-filled, while a wah-wah guitar anchors everything. It seems more suited for a soft-focus love scene than anything related to a video game, but it's certainly in line with its title. The final track of the re-recording, Eight Melodies, is a lovely bit of organ-backed choral music, but it's a flat end to what's otherwise been an interesting ride through stylistic exercises.
For sheer, unfettered delight, take the entirety of Side D – which is one epic track entitled The World of Mother, containing excerpts from the original game soundtrack – and match its component pieces to the tracks which have preceded it. To hear how these pieces were stretched and changed, yet still managing to remain true to their original form, is astonishing.
The gatefold sleeve is of the hefty tip-on variety, and while the obi strip only barely contains it, the outer packaging is akin to finding a lost gem somewhere in the depths of a Shibuya record shop.
Would your reviewer have bought this himself, given the opportunity? Likely not. However, there's no reason you should make the same mistake. Ship to Shore's release of the Mother score is absolutely the best surprise you could give yourself. It's an absolute delight, and each successive listen will reward even more than the one which preceded it.
MOTHER (1989) / COMPOSER: KEIICHI SUZUKI, HIROKAZU TANAKA / LABEL: SHIP TO SHORE PHONOGRAPH COMPANY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW