It’s 1993, and young, universally celebrated composer Yuzo Koshiro has grown tired. His living space is no longer his own, and months ago he began taking resumes and holding interviews in the hopes of hiring a full time staff to see to the managing of his seemingly endless cache of awards. These talks…have yet to bear fruit. What began as a small trophy room in the back of his house sometime in1986 was now inching up his leg like bottom feeding moss and lichen. So praised was Koshiro that his every waking moment guaranteed another sumptuous congratulatory bouquet. His physical awards were more numerous than the throng of ardent and fanatical fans who had slowly taken up residence on his front lawn. Everyone wanted a piece; everyone had an agenda…everyone wanted Yuzo Koshiro. Employers, handlers, friends, fans, things had gotten way out of hand, and a fraying Koshiro, nearly incapacitated, retreated from the impenetrable wall of expectation and endless homage to craft a record that defied all assumptions, labels and objections placed upon it. From seed to birth to masterpiece, this is a celebration of Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets Of Rage 3.
When you think of Koshiro, it’s likely you’ll immediately recall Streets Of Rage 2 and its musical centerpiece Go Straight. And why wouldn’t you? It is a stunning piece of black and white negative capturing Koshiro at one of his most pronounced and analyzed peaks. A gorgeous print will remain a gorgeous print, and it’s one of the reasons why you store its image in memory…it’s something beautiful. With Streets Of Rage 1 and 2, Koshiro became something of a vigilante exposing the more complacent side of audio within the video game industry. His typeset, however, was so radical and so unexpected that the massive waves Koshiro himself created, dictated a change in sides from Cerberus to outlaw.
Streets Of Rage 3 finds our youthful composer at a particularly thorny crossing. He was THE golden boy, a no-brainer first draft pick chosen to helm a host of triple-A releases the likes of Actraiser, Ys, and Sega’s Revenge Of Shinobi, all before he hit the age of 22. Koshiro’s work went from high watermark to higher watermark, as with each release his ear tightened and his layers became ever more intricate. BUT. No doubt, he was being watched, directed and told in some manner to skew and tame his more outlandish touches. While Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 present him in a furious bare-knuckled state of creative carte blanche, Streets Of Rage 3 is the all dispensatory enema of contracts and direction from his masters.
Streets Of Rage 3 on the surface is the sound of Koshiro finally baring his teeth at all those who ever once told him no, and to those more concerned with crafting him as a marketable brand instead of the genius musician he clearly is. It’s stark, abusive, and overrun . That’s just it though, you see, all of that is merely its surface. SOR 3 is Koshiro at his most powerful, at his most in-synch, and at his most chaotically unapologetic avant-garde. You HAVE to listen and listen carefully. It’s not that the tunes in SOR 3 don’t come as easily as his freshman and sophomore efforts. Not at all. It’s that there are tunes inside of tunes and melodies tripping over hooks. It’s that there’s so MANY points of articulation that if you turn your head too suddenly you’re likely to have missed one of his more central choruses.
Let’s take an example. In each of the tracks for SOR 3, you’re never made to stand on the ground floor. Just when you think you’ve interpreted Koshiro’s jargon, he changes his dialect. The opening number, Spinning Machine, while not adding up to much in terms of time on the clock at a mere 25 seconds, consists of three very different levels. The first 11 seconds play out like blunt force head trauma, but with the later 12 comes a lightness of touch more akin to fusion jazz… much more Bob James. Each of the two very distinct stanzas have their very own legs, but then it becomes 3. Their collision point is where the song actually begins… never mind that each of these 3 verses is STILL very much its own complete piece of music.
On that note, let’s listen a bit further down the LP tracklist at Happy Paradise. While Spinning Machine briefly illustrates this point, Happy Paradise showcases this method with far greater detail. As the song begins, and then begins to wear on you, you’re deceived into thinking that you’ve heard all there is to this particular offering. As you toll the minute mark, however, you uncover Koshiro’s gold. My God! Listen to it. Moreover, listen to HOW it is done: all inside the pocket, that sweet spot. Like some saccharine sweet glaze. He plays it like nothing! Listen to his fingers because when you hear them barely bristle the tops of the keys, that’s your signal to cross over into one of several hundred dimensions Koshiro has created specifically for this album. Believe me, when you hear it, OH MAN.
Those looking for that immediacy, that unmistakable Koshiro signature, and that direct sequel to the sounds of SOR 2, will not be disappointed as Dub Slash, Beat Ambiance and Random Cross are in fact the heirs apparent to the likes of Go Straight, Alien Power, and Never Return Alive. BUT. Where SOR2’s signature singles were mere anarchy and intermittent brush fires, SOR 3 is a state under martial law and curfew .The audio for SOR 3 IS brutal and Koshiro plays both manic and unpredictable. Koshiro seems to self-medicate though, and as he toys with the levels of lithium in his blood, the more erratic his creations become. Bulldozer, Cycle 2 and the particularly busyInga Rasen,whose beat chafes and ultimately dismantles the underlying melody, and buries the listener in sheet upon layer upon slab of bombastic babbling and indefatigable discordance. They are also markedly brilliant and widely ahead of the established dance music curve set for 1992. Crystal Waters and The Shamen this is not.
What is also just as fascinating is how brazen Koshiro is about dismantling, satirizing and caricaturizing his own work. Shonobi Reverse and pieces of Percussionare a tantrum born of necessity, a middle finger resolutely engaged in the kersplat of all that has come before it. Mocking, jaded and spent, Koshiro’s backwards squall of lampooning fried noise picks apart his legacy, destroys any notion of him returning to previous form, and sets a dangerous, cloaked precedent of ambiguity for the road ahead. It’s a risky proposition, but from time to time, all great composers need to censure and rebuke all that makes their fortunes stand, and here, Koshiro’s condemnation of his own artistic affluence stands self-assured and void of defect.
Go ahead. Listen to the first 10 seconds of each. Not only are these completely alien to all of the other works on this record; they are perhaps the only ones working with a structure of verse, chorus, verse. What’s interesting here isn’t so much that fact, nor the fact that it is so strikingly different from all Koshiro’s previous takes, it is the sound, the style of it, and how he has split this obviously single epic composition into two. The Poets 1 and ThePoets 2eschews our composer’s penchant to straddle all genres of dance and instead finds him focused on delivering some kind of sermon on the mount, a definitive rock performance. Not just rock though, this is the early 90’s: the burgeoning of alternative music. This is where aging new wave and college rock meet the 90’s Manchester Sound, Chapel Hill, and Shoegaze. Albeit brief, both remain strikingly fresh today: snarling, dynamic and cutthroat. Koshiro’s radio singles play like all the best from that era: individual, peculiar and entirely euphonious. Yeah, listen again.
Streets Of Rage 3 is a stunning about-face, a reckoning whose applications of bedlam and chaos served to give birth to Yuzo Koshiro as a singular, visionary artistic force.
While the scores of Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 are without question masterpieces like that of The Beatles Revolver or Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Streets Of Rage 3 is a masterpiece for the Orwellian times in which we currently live and much more akin to David Bowie’s Low or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.
Koshiro’s insistent and frigid rejection of both his own past master tapes and the shunning of direction from admirers and superiors, facilitated an audacious work going far beyond the present for which it was written. Streets Of Rage 3 is Yuzo Koshiro’s ultimate test of faith, a double bind bet made under extremely tenuous conditions, but it ushered him from mere mortal to untouchable sonic deity. Sometimes, you just have to run with it.
Side Note: Readers, please note that the opening story in this piece is a work of fiction.
Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.