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April 1, 2015

His World, A Video Game Song Review

Note from Nicolas: Hey everyone! I decided to start off Sonic Month on a strong note, so I asked Todd Nathanson, AKA Todd in the Shadows, a pop music reviewer, to take a look at what's probably the most famous theme from the Sonic series: His World, from the no-less-infamous Sonic The Hedgehog '06. I gave him basic details and then let him write the rest. He's out of his comfort zone, considering he usually reviews pop hits, but I think he'll manage it pretty well.

Todd Nathanson, A.K.A. Todd in the Shadows, is a reviewer from Channel Awesome, formerly That Guy With The Glasses. He specializes in reviewing pop music and artists. He is the host of two series, Todd's Pop Song Reviews and One Hit Wonderland. He also records v-logs about the Grammys and does musical movie reviews once in a while; he also participates to a multitude of review crossovers. Last but not least, he appeared in two anniversary specials from That Guy With The Glasses, Suburban Knights and To Boldly Flee.

So, that weirdo comes up to me on Twitter and says he has a favor to ask me. He wouldn't be able to repay it, I heard he's indebted, so I really wonder why I even accepted. Why should I care? Oh, right – I thought he sounded really pitiful. Who's that “Nicolas” guy? Why no H? I heard he's from Canada... And like every Canadian, he was so stereotypically nice in his request. I finally accepted to write something for his blog, but he'll have to pay me someday. I read some of his reviews. Damn, he's got some anger issues. Kind of like most people on Channel Awesome, but then again, if you kept reviewing crap for income, you'd develop some anger issues too. I know the feeling.

I never heard of His World before. I'm a pop song reviewer! I review pop songs from the billboards! The recent hits! And my plate's already full. Nicolas told me it's a song from a game in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. I might have played a Sonic game here or there, but that must have been a long time ago. It was the first time I heard that song title. I didn't even know the Sonic the Hedgehog series had started using real songs! Nicolas also told me it was by a band called Crush 40, and that this was the theme for a game called Sonic the Hedgehog 2006.

Let's get this started, shall we? And I hope I won't regret it.

Johnny Gioeli and Jun Senoue, the two without which there
wouldn't be a Crush 40 to speak of.
So, Crush 40 is a “Japanese-American” rock band that started with Jun Senoue, a Japanese video game composer. He was contracted by SEGA to make a few songs for earlier Sonic titles, such as Sonic the Hedgehog 3. He then helped for multiple games in the Sonic series, until he finally became the main composer and sound director of Sonic Adventure. Around that time, he contacted Johnny Gioeli, who accepted to become the main vocalist for a little Sonic-centered band then called Sons of Angels. The original band also had Naoto Shibata on bass and Hirotsugu Homma on drums – am I spelling that right? Thank God I don't have to pronounce these names at the moment. In 2001, Takeshi Taneda replaced Shibata on bass, and the band went through two different drummers, including Homma, before settling on Toru Kawamura. Somewhere between 2000 and 2003, they changed the band's name to Crush 40, on the basis that 40 was Johnny's favorite number and Crush was Jun's favorite beverage. Hey, if you're going to write about a hyperactive hedgehog, make yourself hyperactive too and gulp down a super-sugary soft drink. That's gonna help for sure. The last guys who wrote songs on a sugar high ended up with Sexy And I Know It.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard “Crush 40” was something like this: What, is this the band who felt they had to go up a level, so they added all of their talents and became Sum 41? *chirping crickets*  Terrible pun, I know.

Crush 40 went on to release multiple albums with songs based on the Sonic franchise, songs that were usually part of the games' soundtracks. And most of the titles really sound like something straight out of a children's cartoon: What I'm Made Of, Never Turn Back, Live And Learn, Rise Again...

That's not what they looked like in 2006, but that's the best
group picture I could find. Or I'm just lazy.
Admit it, those sound like titles for Disney songs! But then again, this IS Sonic the Hedgehog we're talking about. My knowledge of the series is limited, but thanks to the influx of tweets about Sonic Boom I saw in the past two years, I know a few things. Sonic is the hedgehog with super-speed. He can also turn into a ball and ram into his enemies. He has a friend, Tails the fox, who is more brains and less brawns and keeps on building machines. There's Amy, the pink hedgehog, who apparently used to chase Sonic around and had an unhealthy obsession about him, to the point she'd probably stalk or kidnap him if she could, just so she can be with him. ...I've once known a girl like that. She was only into me because of my mask. She, um, stopped being interested when I revealed my face. And then there's Knuckles, who I've heard was just as scrawny as the others in the past, but Sonic Boom remade him into a musclebound ekk... echidna? What kind of animal is an echidna anyway? Last there's Sticks, but everyone talks about her like she's only in Sonic Boom. Sonic '06 predates that, so I don't have to give a damn about her for the needs of this review. They're constantly fighting Doctor Eggman, a criminal genius who always forgets not to put weak points on his machines. That's some Wile E. Coyote level of genius right there. I've read that this Eggman guy never takes off his goggles. We've never seen his eyes. Does he even have eyes? Does he keep these goggles on for the same reason I keep my mask on?

So, Speedy, Emo and Pothead. I'm sure
everyone has done these jokes already.
As for the plot of Sonic The Hedgehog 2006... It involves Sonic teaming up with two other hedgehogs, Shadow and Silver, to fight another villain. I'm just reading the synopsis on Wikipedia while writing this part. So, there's some kind of deity in their world, and it wants to bring the end of times or something. Gee, never seen that one before. It's just the thousandth work of fiction that has this kind of story. Multiversal destroyers are so outdated. And then apparently Sonic has another crazy fangirl, a human princess this time around, and she... falls... in love... with him... and kisses him... Okay, you know what? This went in a few seconds from slightly awkward to outright creepy. Thanks a lot, Nicolas, for putting me through this! You freak! Now, my greater fear is that this *ahem* story is also a part of the song... Let's hear it, shall we?

It's a good thing this one specifically says “Crush 40”, because there's half a dozen different versions of this song! The soundtrack-official one:

The hardcore punk one:

The instrumental version, which comes from Super Smash Bros. Brawl:

And so many others.... If you really want to know, the one I like most is the orchestral one, and the one I like least is Zebrahead's “hardcore punk” version. But now that you mention it, the Crush 40 version really IS different from the others... The lyrics are different. And there's so much to say about those, I really should start analyzing them. By the way, I have to mention that the music is louder than the lyrics, which makes it difficult to understand what's being said. Unless it's the kind of effect they've put over Johnny Gioeli's voice that causes this comprehension problem. Either way, it's not helping me.

Sonic the Hedgehog was designed in the 90s to be “hip” and “cool”, and “with a 'tude”, and he's one of a handful of video game heroes who managed to prosper with that gimmick. Let's just say that after the 90s, this wore off very quickly. “Sonic is, like, totally rad, dude, and it shows in those awesome songs, man.” You can practically feel the desire to use teenage slang through the whole song, and yet they avoid it, because they knew it would remove any serious the song attemps to have. Not that it helps, since it still sounds like a theme song for a cartoon from the 90s...

Beware of the time as it moves along.
Takin' you back always feared and strong.
Like the rush of the wind he moves on and on and on and on and on.

On and on and on and on and on and on and on... Get over it! This line is repeated a few times in the song. They could have cut it, keeping only one “on”, and it would have been great.

He's the fire, flame, conflicting pain.
Untouched, uncrushed, and will remain.
The one, the two, the three, the four [...]

“The one, the two, the three, the four”. Can you count up to 2006? No? Thought so. We tend to forget the bad numbers. I'd rather forget 2013, which was bad when it comes to pop music, and 2014, which was even worse.

In this world! (His world!)
Where life is strong. (Life is strong!)
In this world! (His world!)
Life's an open book. (An open book!)
In this world! (His world!)
Where compromise does not exist.
In this world of worlds, every step meets the risk!

“In this world of worlds”, what, it's a multiverse? Yeah, um, Linkara's the expert on that kind of comic book stuff. Ask him, don't ask me. Here, I got him on speed-dial. I'm calling him. Hey Linkara. ... I'm reviewing a song right now and there's a line about “worlds of worlds”... Does that ring a bell? … … ...He hung up! He's probably angry about something that involved many comic book superheroes at once. Besides, what the Hell does these lyrics mean? Are they related to the game's plot? Does Sonic cross to another universe to fight the ancient evil or something? Also, “every step meets the risk”? I know it's dangerous to be a video game character, but if Sonic met risk at every step, since he has super-speed, he would have joined video game afterlife a long time ago!

Beware of your mind as it proves you wrong.
A forward push, the clock strikes strong.

“The clock strikes strong”. Where is strong on a clock? I see the numbers from 1 to 12, no problem, but where's “strong”? Is it somewhere between 7 and 8 AM, or between 3 and 4 PM? Can there be a fifteen past strong? A strong thirty? A five to strong? My point is, this line sucks.

Like the rush of the wind he moves on and on and onand on and on
He's the tower, power, admits no shame.
Untouched, uncrushed, and will remain.

Yeah, yeah, he's unstoppable. I get it now. Can you stop repeating yourself? Start a religion while you're at it! Also, there's just a big boy band feel to this music. It's weird to say, but it just sounds like they're trying to appeal to a younger demographic... which is kind of the point, since the band is a walking advertisement for the Sonic the Hedgehog series. In no doubt they can make great music, and from what I understood Jun Senoue's range goes far beyond rock music – since he signed the soundtracks for multiple games – but I don't feel like His World could ever be their strongest. Then again, it could be worse. Actual boy bands can do some good songs, but will frequently end up with terrible ones. I'm randomly reminded of the Jonas Brothers' lame attempt at covering a Disney song, Poor Unfortunate Souls. No, seriously, look it up. That exists. I'm ashamed to even know about it, so don't count on me to put the link here. Look for it yourself. It sucks.

He can see what he can't feel,
Without one touch, it becomes surreal.
But it's true, the power lives inside of you.
Inside of you, yeah!

Is he talking about Sonic or about the gamer here? Just empty metaphors and sentences without sense... I'm getting some serious Nickelback flashbacks. ...Oh wait, I take that back, this is so very insulting for Crush 40. Then again, it's kind of justified that they're using obvious metaphors about strength, since they're writing about a video game character with an attitude. As for uplifting and self-empowering lyrics, it's good as long as it doesn't fall into every imaginable cliché, like Katy Perry's Roar did. Thankfully, Gioeli's vocals will even make a cheese of a song sound better. The lyrics just keep on repeating themselves until the end, with a very out-of-place piano solo... wait a second, piano in a rap, hard, symphonic rock song?

"Super Sonic songs". They'll never live it down.
I suppose that's all I really had to say about this one. Yeah, I've been cruel to it, but in the end, Crush 40's His World is alright. I'm thankful that it's not a pain for the ears, as I feared it would be. It's not about an awkward interspecies relationship – Thank GOD for that. It's all self-empowerment, but there's a reason for it. To any metal or rock aficionado, it sounds generic, but the entire point of the song was to promote a video game, and it succeeded. If anything, people still listen to the song and honestly like it, while Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 has become a punchline for bad games. The song doesn't appeal to me, but it has an audience, whether it's fans of rock music who enjoy bands that like to play around and try different sounds, or Sonic fans who became fans of the band by association. I personally prefer the orchestral version, from the video game. It's more refined, clearer, prettier, more interesting from a musical standpoint. The lyrics differ as well; from what I've read, the lyrics in the orchestral version (and, by extension, the Zebrahead remix) tend to fit Sonic's personality, while Crush 40's version fit more Shadow's. In the end, it's not the worst thing I've ever heard, by a large margin. Then again, seriously terrible pop hits on the billboards are hard to beat. If you want to discover more songs by Crush 40, go and listen songs such as Open Your Heart, Live And Learn or What I'm Made Of.

And I must admit it was fun, for a moment, to bash something else than pop artists. I, too, enjoy a good bashing every once in a while, whether I'm mocking Chris Brown's awfulness, Will.I.Am's laziness, or Train's terrible, intelligence-insulting lyrics. Or Bieber, or Pitbull, or LMFAO. Or the Grammys. While I'm at it, since this article is going to be read by plenty of people who don't know me, how about I post links to my page at Channel Awesome, my Blip page and my Patreon? Watch some episodes from my Pop Song Reviews, perhaps episodes of my second show One Hit Wonderland (the link leads to the first episode of that second series), and if you really like my videos, you can send me money through Patreon.

This is Todd in the Shadows, saying: This is the last time I ever write something this long for someone so unimportant. Also, Nicolas: You owe me money.


APRIL FOOLS! Todd never actually wrote this post. I did. I was trying to mimic trhe way he reviewed music, and I hope I succeeded. I thank Todd for giving me permission to write this article. Seriously, go watch his series; if you like pop music – and even if you don't – it's pretty great. You might make great musical discoveries through his One Hit Wonderland series.

On Friday, April 10th, I'll start reviewing Sonic and the Secret Rings. Don't miss that! (Think of this review as the first one of the month, even if it's not on a Friday.)