‘Gran Turismo 5: The Official Soundtrack’
Why we don’t recommend it: The pianist’s immense talents seem to have been exploited for marketing tactics in this less-than-stellar, manufactured party mix of classical numbers
Best track: Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 (a polished interpretation that was on the program of Lang’s latest recital tour)
Lang Lang has become a ubiquitous brand name, from designing special edition Adidas sneakers and modeling for Mont Blanc pens to featuring in the soundtrack for the hit Japanese TV soap “Nodame Cantabile.”
Now he has whipped up sound effects for a video game.
PlayStation3’s Gran Turismo 5 opens with a stormy snippet of Prokofiev (third movement of Sonata No. 7) and ends with chorale music a la Bach (“Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in piano solo). Joplin’s “The Entertainer” plays while you choose settings for your car.
But in order to consider the merits of the recording alone, it is absolutely necessary to set aside doubts about how Chopin might go with the sound of burning rubber, or the fact that his $3 million contract with Sony meant more than purely musical pursuits — his Vienna recital live recording was released, for example, in 3D Blu-ray to promote Sony’s audiovisual component and the Sony video game soundtrack seems to be another such project.
The album is like a party treat, featuring everything from a dash of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” to Holst’s “The Planets.”
But it’s a mix that seems to come from a manufactured cardboard box, rather than hors d’oeuvres on a silver platter. It’s a disappointing body of work for an artist of his caliber and genius.
Of course he gets all the notes right, but it’s an odd, meaningless selection of works — one has to wonder, does the fact that the world’s hottest pianist recorded the soundtrack of a much anticipated video game, make a difference for the player?
With some exceptions, such as the Prokofiev, which featured in the program of Lang’s latest international recital tour and thus is impeccably interpreted, overall it feels either rushed or labored. Lang often seems to confuse nuance with tempo, particularly in Chopin’s “Military Polonaise,” which is played at an excruciatingly slow pace.
The Chinese superstar, a fan of the game, said he’s excited to share classical music with “people who have never been in a concert hall before.” But not all game addicts, for sure, are new to classical music. Fans who worship him, however, might be smitten with the album jacket that shows the baby-faced pianist donning a racing jacket and fiddling a controller.
Two out of four stars.
— LEE HYO-WON
‘Becoming a Jackal’
(KANG & MUSIC)
The Irish Villagers shot to fame earlier this year with a Mercury Prize nomination, but the debut album reached local shores just last week. For those squandering in the post-holiday lull, frontman Conor O’Brien’s folk-based compositional assuagement and linguistic acumen will make you forget all.
“Pieces” demonstrates his range, which flits from a high soprano before weaving downward, breaking into an orchestral core that parallels a cathartic pique (i.e., literal howls). O’Brien’s vocal singularity bursts forward from each track, whether it’s in the Ben Gibbard-esque crooning or the Elliott Smith clarity helped by the plucking guitar.
Combined with playful lyrics — he carefully peels back words to reveal unexpectedly poetic narratives — upbeat melodies eclipse into enlightened tales of letting love go (“Set the Tigers Free”) and even ecclesiastical searches (“Home”).
Though likened to everyone tousle-haired and sweet, the artist finds a niche somewhere to the left of Wilco and behind Nick Drake _ yet he channels pure Conor O’Brien.
Three-and-a-half out of four stars.
— INES MIN
Whang Bo-ryung seems like a tough grunge rocker with her arresting, hoarse vocals, but the release of her fourth album last month brings a more “light-hearted”offering.
The strong base of Whang’s whispered voice set against the elongated notes of the bass, guitar or synth, create a siren-like magnetic appeal. Each chord, key or beat is perfectly set to maximize its effect; compositional simplicity allowing the rhythms to pulse forward.
From the tribal haunt of the Irish whistle in “Do You” to the strumming of the electric guitar in “100 Yrs,” the classic alternative rock sound of SmackSoft recalls its American counterparts — with a twist.
Whang is able to mix the use of English and Korean, working with wordplay in titles, before countering to show her deft use of instrumentals. Closing number “Horizontal” finishes up with a boom.
Three out of four stars.
— INES MIN