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Isn’t It Beautiful? Distant Worlds II: more music from FINAL FANTASY (Review)

May 5, 2010 | | 10 Comments Share thison Facebook Isn’t It Beautiful? Distant Worlds II: more music from FINAL FANTASY (Review)on Twitter

Distant Worlds is today one of the most respected touring videogame music concert around. With its source being the endlessly amazing Final Fantasy series, and the combined minds of many of the best in the videogame music scene, it’s not hard to see why fans and music lovers of all kinds line up time and time again to hear the concert as it rolls into town. In 2007 we got Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy and like the concerts, the CD is one of the very best videogame orchestra recordings of all time.

Come June 1, 2010, we’ll once again be tickled by Nobuo’s musical mustache and load up Distant Worlds II: more music from Final Fantasy. With this CD, the main focus is on the later titles in the series from Final Fantasy V and up, and some major fan favorites are represented. However AWR decided to release the album in digital form last week, so here we are, giving you an insight into the newest Final Fantasy orchestra album.

Read the review after the jump!

For those of you who bought Distant Worlds, you probably remember the artwork. It was a simple black gradient with the logo and a single white feather floating down. Well, this time it’s simply inverted, giving the two albums some continuity in terms of appearance. The booklet shows pictures from the recording session, and the feather is prominently featured throughout the photos. We also get some nice liner notes from Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth on their thoughts on the project. The pictures are really nice and add a warm atmosphere to the album as you get a sense of the dedication going into the recording sessions.

This CD was performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, who also recorded the first album. I’ve been traveling since my late teens and have seen many orchestras around the world in places like Poland, Brazil, Germany and the US, but my very favorite orchestra in this world must be the RSPO. I have seen them almost 10 times in my life, and the talent and passion they emit is stronger than any other I’ve experienced, and I think that shines through on this CD even though some of the arrangements themselves aren’t exclusive to this CD.

The first track, “PRELUDE,” is actually the same arrangement that opened the VOICES concert in Japan, but the performance here is incredibly strong. The mixing is perfect, making the slowly building melody even more powerful. As “PRELUDE” ends, we quickly jump into the fast paced and energetic “The Man with the Machine Gun.” I’ve always loved this song in orchestral form, and it’s no less good here than anywhere else.

Long time fans and collectors will probably be able to detect the sources of the arrangements better than I can by ear, and you may be slightly disappointed that they’ve re-used arrangements from other concerts and albums, but make no mistake about it: the emotional depth of the RSPO’s performance and the other talents makes it an excellent listen that distinguishes itself from past performances. One talent in particular to note is Susan Calloway. She was featured on the first album doing vocals, and she’s back one more time to perform two songs, “Melodies Of Life” and “Suteki Da Ne.” The former is quite emotional, and the slow and almost heartbreaking vocals combined with Calloway’s pop-aligned voice is somewhat of a mixed bag. The talent is definitely there, and it does shine through, but the performance can take a little away from the value of what is there lyrically. The latter, however, is much more of a fit as “Suteki Da Ne,” while also quite slow and emotional, is more adjusted to her voice and range. The lyrics here are actually in English, which surprised me at first, but I actually would say I prefer this version by Calloway more than the original.

The longest track clocks in at 11 minutes, and it’s a grand epic “Dancing Mad” arrangement. Not only is this performed by the orchestra, but a certain individual of milkman proportions joins in on the fun. Yes, Uematsu performs keyboards along with his band, the Earthbound Papas (is he a Mother fan?). While this may sound very impressive, I actually believe this is by far the weakest track on the album. The reason is mainly because of the over use of the organ, which sounds a bit iffy. The track also does not pace itself well over the 11 minutes, and I found myself zoning in and out as the track progressed. It’s certainly interesting with all the different elements and styles thrown in, and the Earthbound Papas section was especailly awesome, having an almost 90s Konami vibe to it.

Another song that struck me was “Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII.” While I’m not the biggest fan of the game (or any Final Fantasy game for that matter… they need more Cho Aniki), this was one of the first orchestral arrangements I heard back when I downloaded Final Fantasy VII Reunion Tracks off Napster. While this is the same arrangement used on that album, the performance and mixing here is far superior, and suddenly all the good memories I had of the game came rushing back. “Dear Friends” is another extremely beautiful track, combining acoustic guitar with the orchestra. It’s a very simple arrangement, yet so powerful because of the way it blends the elements. The last song on the album, “J-E-N-O-V-A,” is actually an all-new arrangement that was included after a vote by fans, and it has not been featured any other other album. I love the beat they’ve worked in, as it feels very similar to “The Man with the Machine Gun.” It also has excellent percussion and horn sections, but it does feel a bit too long.

In a way, I don’t feel this is as strong as the first CD. While the majority of tracks here are quite excellent, it is hurt by some odd choices to the overall layout. “Dancing Mad” also takes a hit on the CD, because with such length and intensity, it breaks up the flow of the album. Tracks like “Dear Friends,” “Suteki da Ne,” “Ronfaure,” and “Terra’s Theme” help make it an overall great musical journey. Distant Worlds II: more music from Final Fantasy may not be as great is it could have been due to some of these issues above, but it’s damn sure wonderful when it works.

Available At: Distant Worlds

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