After the breakout success of “Grand Theft Auto III,” Rockstar Games finally had enough clout to create the type of soundtrack befitting of such a cinematic game. No longer would Rockstar have to rely upon deeply underground (albeit brilliant) electronic music: They could license songs that fit in perfectly with the game.
All of the music in the “Grand Theft Auto” series is arranged into different radio stations that the player accesses every time he gets behind the wheel of a car, making the soundtrack especially important.
The soundtrack is now available from the latest incarnation of the series, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” in which Rockstar tackled the early ’90s West Coast gangster scene. The early part of the decade is ripe for musical mining, featuring the battle between old and new-school gangster rap, the mysterious boy band phenomenon known as New Jack Swing and the birth of alternative rock. San Andreas misses none of these opportunities, presenting the old and new schools of hip-hop and rock, a station devoted to dub and reggae and a country and western station — eight discs in all.
Unfortunately, all of the brilliant commentary presented in the game by guest DJs like Axl Rose and Andy Dick aren’t included (though each station does feature two of the game’s numerous wry commercials). This commentary would admittedly mar the purity of each individual song. Also absent are both talk radio stations and the electronic channel, SF-UR. Interestingly, Rockstar didn’t include any songs by Nirvana, poster child of the grunge generation.
This is a trend in Rockstar’s releases — choosing to include a more eclectic and less obvious variety of songs on its soundtracks. The channels are as freeform as a college radio station, which keeps the box set fresh and less like an overblown collection of old Now: That’s What I Call Music CDs.
The “GTA” soundtracks have always been more about music education than music regurgitation, and thankfully, San Andreas is no exception. Gamers who would normally dismiss any form of country music could very well find themselves humming Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” on their way through the backcountry. Mastersounds 98.3, a disc entirely devoted to the songs sampled by the “jive turkeys” on the rap station, inspires this same feeling of musical enlightenment.
All in all, the San Andreas boxed set is an astonishingly diverse collection from the makers of some of the greatest mix tapes of the era — the masters of controversial game culture — Rockstar Games.
Rating: 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars