FABLE (Soundtrack, 2004)
When one first fires up the Fable soundtrack, they are greeted with a very Hollywood-style action track written by famed film composer Danny Elfman. Such a high profile composer -- and such high quality title music -- let you, the gamer (or the listener), know almost immediately that the rest of the soundtrack (and indeed the game) are undoubtedly going to be of equally high quality.
Fable is no exception. Russell Shaw's score is fantastic -- it gracefully moves from dark and ominous to bright and, dare I say, fun without so much as a falter. The style, the melodies, the instrumentation, and the overall sound all fit the game perfectly. Is it bad to say that this videogame's music is more than just a backing track? Is it fair to say that the music in Fable almost plays a role of a character in itself?
Russell Shaw takes some of Danny Elfman's themes -- after all, the title music is more of a 'suite' than anything else, meaning it moves effortlessly through several different themes -- and expands them into glorious full-length compositions that not only accent the world of Albion but are even great to listen to on their own.
01. Fable Theme - Introduces the overall Fable theme, the main melody (at times) sounds extremely similar to the more recent Medal of Honor games (e.g. European Assault). Fits the Fable intro nicely, sounds pretty epic in places. Good ol' Elfman! [4 out of 5]
02. Oakvale - The calming track for a village of the same name. With its delicate woodwinds, chorus, and soaring violins, it makes you feel like you're not-quite-a-hero roaming a village that is not-quite-safe. [4 out of 5]
03. Darkwood - Ooooooh creepy! A harp melody over soft dissonant strings reminds you that you're never safe from bats, creatures, more bats, undead, and even more bats. Seriously, those bats really don't like you! The piece opens into deep basses, woodwinds and semi-action-oriented strings that give you the subtlest hint (okay, fine: 'blatantly obvious audio cue') that you're gonna have to fight your way out of this one. [3 out of 5]
04. Witchwood - A slightly twisted and less harmonious version of the "Bowerstone" track (oh, it's also in the parallel and relative minor keys for the most part) is a memory of the city where you (might) spend most of your time, but at the same time it cues that you're never safe from attack in the forest. [4 out of 5]
05. Lynchfield Cemetery - Behold the creepy choir of death, dissonant bells, and plenty of crescendo tremolo bass strings (cellos and contrabasses). Ominous bassoons and other woodwinds complete the feel of the fact that -- hold on a second, please, I need to go knock a few skulls off of some undead. Interestingly, it encompasses most of the musical themes used in the game, which gives you the sense of "everything ends here." And it might, unless you remember to bring your sword. (Sorry, no firearms allowed.) [3 out of 5]
06. Summer Fields - This track moves along at a fairly slow tempo, and it is very calming. It reminds you of summer, and, well, fields (*looks at title* whoa!). Quite simply, it does what it says on the tin. It's very interesting melodically: rhythmically, not so much. [4 out of 5]
07. Bowerstone - Wow. I just don't know what to say about this track. It's easily my favourite track of the entire score. Unofficially, it's called the "Pizzicato Ballad of Bowesrtone" and boy, neither track title does the music justice. It's rhythmically fascinating, it's written entirely for pizzicato (or 'plucked') strings. Pizzicato provides an interesting sound, not what you're (probably) used to hearing from string ensembles. It provides for a really different-sounding piece of music. But, it fits so perfectly. This doesn't even belong in the city of the same name, it should just be a concert piece. It's really well written and shows Russell Shaw's finesse with orchestrating and arranging a composition. [5 out of 5]
08. Arena - Do you hear that? Of course you do. It's the drums of war! And no military band would be complete without some non-harmonious piano, a tuba, and some screechy strings. [3 out of 5]
09. Temple of Light - This track is a warbly harp/synth that sounds reminiscent of the old Pokémon Yellow/Green/Red caves. It's a fairly unremarkable track but, despite its creepy overtones, it's oddly calming. [3 out of 5]
10. Hobbes Cave - A fairly Hollywood-style track, not the fastest pace ever, but it has some mild action music at the end of the track. It's not great and the rest of the track is mostly comprised of strings moving from one dissonant 'chord' to another. [3 out of 5]
11. Greatwood - One of my favourite tracks. It's got a great motif which recurs throughout the whole piece, it's just memorable, even though one of the percussion bits sounds like somebody's relentlessly using a pair of scissors throughout the entire recording. Pizzicati strings, doubled with a glockenspiel, provides a memorable melody with some really nice bass lines (brass and woodwinds, people, not bass guitars!). [5 out of 5]
12. Guild / 13. Fresco Dome - I'll combine these two tracks: they sound very similar. Both are pretty slow moving and boring tracks featuring a near-Gregorian chant. In fact, "Fresco Dome" is basically just the "Guild" track repeated with sopranos/altos and tenors instead of baritones and basses. Neither track really goes anywhere and listening to either gets very tedious, very quickly. Listening to both in a row is near impossible. [3 out of 5 / 3 out of 5]
FINAL VERDICT - 4/5 - GREAT
(NOTE: final score is not an average)
CLOSING COMMENTS: Fable has a unique soundtrack. It's not a standard Hollywood (or "Big Video Game") score that we're used to from games like God of War and Call of Duty. It has its own sound, its own unique style: a cross between Baroque and Early Romantic music, blended with a little contemporary Hollywood sound for good measure. It's certainly not classical, but it's still quite far removed from the sound of most other video game soundtracks. I'd definitely recommend this if you like the Fable games. If you're looking for some video game music that is unique, I'd recommend you give the tracks a listen on YouTube. Then, if you like what you hear, you can grab the soundtrack off of Amazon for a fairly reasonable price. ($9.00 for an mp3 download of the album, ~$7.00 + shipping if you want a physical copy of the CD.)
Recommended Track Listening: Bowerstone; Oakvale; and Greatwood
EDIT: This is my first time reviewing music, so any comments and feedback regarding style or length, etc. are greatly appreciated! :)