It’s frankly astounding that it’s taken the 15-year-old OverClocked ReMix this long to finally release a Mario album. After all, the soundtracks of the series are easily the most iconic pieces of music to ever come out of the video game medium, and when you combine that familiarity with the amazing creativity of the OC ReMix community, there’s virtually no limit to the potential ways the music could be reinterpreted. Well, after all this time they’ve finally gotten their act together and released a full album of Mario songs, having chosen Super Mario 64 as their subject.
The selection of a specific game to remix, rather than the series as a whole, seems rather strange to me, as none of the games (except for the RPG games) exactly have a wide variety of tracks- most of the classic games just have 10-15, many of which are just variations on the same tune. The ReMixers have done a great job making the best of their limited selection, however, so that much can be forgiven. Less acceptable is the cover art, which features Mario in a Mona Lisa-esque pose – because it’s a Portrait of a Plumber, geddit? – and it’s certainly a clever concept, but the execution looks a bit amateurish. The plumber’s face looks a bit off, with eyes and a mustache that are too small and a rather flat nose, and the oddly sparse background is a disappointment. The frame looks lovely, though.
The album itself begins on a marvelous note, with Mikeaudio’s “The Strange Green Pipe”, a highly impressive blending of several different tracks from the game (somewhat resembling end-credits medleys from Sonic 1 and 2), which are all remixed in a unique style yet flow from one to the other seamlessly, and it feels like a five-minute album all by itself. After that track, I was compelled to skip to Track #12, “Sunken Secrets” by (heh) Fishy, because it’s a remix of “Dire Dire Docks”, one of my all-time favorite game tunes. It was then that I suddenly realized the likely reason that OCR has held off from doing a Mario album for so long: listening to the track, my first thought was “haven’t I heard this before?”
Indeed, pieces as beloved as “Dire Dire Docks” have been remixed so many times in so many styles since game soundtrack remixing took off that creating more just feels redundant. Mind you, “Sunken Secrets” is a great track on its own merits, with great instrumentals and lots of distinct components that are a feast for the ears, but it feels a bit like going through the motions: the acoustic guitar plays lead melody, then the electric comes in, then the drums play that same old beat, then we have the synths, then the piano shows up… Beyond that, how many different remixes have you heard of the Super Mario Bros. theme, or the “Underworld” music? And how about the fact that SM64’s “Title Theme” and “Cave Dungeon” are basically already Koji Kondo-produced remixes of the same? What new things could yet another mix, even by OCR, possibly bring to the table? Now, none of these tracks are badat all – the only track that’s anything less than good is prophetik’s “junkie”, a particularly dumb example of the annoying “add lyrics to a tune that doesn’t need any!” phenomenon, mumbled off-tempo by a fake barbershop quartet – but they are familiar, which is typically the exact opposite of OC’s bread n’ butter.
The album’s best tracks, thusly, are the pieces that go after the lesser known tunes, the ones that haven’t had quite so many prior remixes. With that in mind, special props go to “Perilous Pathway”, Nutritious’ badass dubstep makeover of “Koopa’s Road”; “So Long-eh, Bowser” by Scaredsim, a surprisingly understated, quiet reinterpretation of the final boss music; “Through the Flames” by Nutritious, a reimagining of the harsh, sparse “Lethal Lava Land” into an epic fantasy symphony; and Argie’s “Roads to Everywhere”, a remix of the immortal “File Select” music that, frankly, doesn’t sound particularly unique, but is just so excellently put together that it’s impossible to not recommend it. The standout piece of the whole album is easily “Peach’s House Party” by Sir Jordanius, a stellar remix of “Inside the Castle Walls” that applies infectious beats and punchy orchestration to the familiar tune, and which, like “The Strange Green Pipe”, appealingly switches itself around to new beats and new tempos at just the right times, helpfully announced by a sampled voice announcing “and now we shall mix things up a bit.”
Sampling is a common theme among the various tracks, in fact- which works great for each individual track, although there is a rather heavy amount of repetition in the album as a whole- get ready to hear Mario’s “oof” a whole lot. A standout example of the sampling being put to good use is “Boo’s Cues” by Fratto and Nutritious, a deliciously spooky remix of “Haunted House”, which subtly blends in numerous facets of the famous Big Boo’s Haunt level (such as a slowed-down version of the that creepy-ass Merry-Go-Round music, eerie whispers of Mario’s wounded moans, and the infamous man-eating piano mixed into the percussion) to brilliant effect, though its original instrumentals are rather amateurish, using obviously-MIDI instruments where most of the other artists use more convincing ones.
The game’s wonderful end credits music, “Staff Roll”, has seen much fewer remixes than such a phenomenal piece truly deserves, so Sole Signal has finally given it its due with “See You Next Time” (which is just a fantastic name for it, by the way). Granted, it doesn’t do much with the basic composition except update the sound and add some more instruments, but it stays true to the deeply beautiful, happy, and nostalgic mood of the original, and that’s all that matters to me. Interestingly, “See You Next Time” does not end the album. Instead, the final track is “Do Piranha Plants Dream of Electric Italians?”, by Tubers McGee, a variation on “Piranha Plant’s Lullaby”, the song you hear when you sneak up on one of those sleeping Piranha Plants. It’s an unexpected choice, but it works- the quiet, soft lullaby is a nice cooldown from the similarly happy, but much more upbeat, “See You Next Time”.
Perhaps it’s a bit too-little-too-late, but even for soundtracks that have had more remixers than could be counted, nobody does it better than OC ReMix. Portrait of a Plumber is, ultimately, a very minor production for them, but even their weakest is better than anyone else’s best - and hell, the damn thing’s free, so you don’t exactly need much persuasion to go and get it!