Various : Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
There's only one box-set you need to grab the next time you ram-raid your local record shop…More on
Even non-gamers will know the basic set-up of GTA: ultra-realistic ultra-violence with a backdrop of a fictional but lavishly-realised early-’90s Los Angeles. Since just driving too fast can bore even Jay Kay, players are given a spot of extra stimulation by the choice of eight built-in radio stations, and each CD in this box-set represents one of these. So now, when you’re nipping down to Tesco in your Punto, you can have exactly the same soundtrack as your on-screen escape from corrupt G-men. Just don’t get the two worlds muddled up. (Unless you’re in So Solid Crew, in which case it’s too late.)
Two things give this box-set the edge. Firstly, software companies’ spending ability – the budget for the GTA: San Andreas game would probably have funded every person in Wales making their own ‘Sgt Pepper’, with enough left over to produce a couple of My Bloody Valentine albums. In fact, Rockstar have probably only let themselves down by choosing playlists more adventurous than the budget-conscious, audience-whoring world of real US commercial radio.
Secondly, GTA have realised that an age isn’t entirely defined by the music (not even Radio 1 plays stuff solely from the current Top 40), so rather than churning out an ‘I Love The Early-’90s’, they serve up classics – country network K-ROSE offers Patsy Cline’s ‘Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray’ from 1957; Augustus Pablo’s ‘King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown’ pumps from rootsy K-Jah West, as fresh as it was back in 1976. You also get a disc full of Rod Stewart from his pastel-jacket-with-bunched-up-sleeves era ( ‘Young Turks’) and a spot of Kiss from before they became a doll-flogging pantomime franchise.
Hip-hop Radio Los Santos finds space for 2Pac and Public Enemy, but also gives Compton’s Most Wanted’s ‘Hood Took Me Under’ a rare airing. Bounce FM boasts Ohio Players and Rick James ( ‘Cold Blooded’) while Mastersounds offers James Brown – appropriately enough, as he’s no stranger to car chases or gun crime. CSR features Bell Biv Devoe, but makes up for it with En Vogue (the proto-Destiny’s Child) doing ‘My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)’ and Bobby Brown with a fist of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’.
Radio X, the piercings and leather trousers station, is the most disappointing. It has its moments – L7 doing ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ – but generally, you can’t help feeling that the rock underground had more to offer in the early-’90s than Helmet and Depeche Mode. The absence of Nirvana from the chosen tracks is a screaming omission but, knowing how much Kurt Cobain hated guns, is probably understandable.
With computer games outselling records by roughly three million to one, once-mighty musicians such as Axl Rose and Chuck D have been reduced to blagging slots as spoof DJs between tracks. It’s like when new owners of a bankrupt company hire back the old management to make them dress up as jesters.
Thoughtful, lovingly constructed and expertly programmed, this is the way all box-sets should be. There might be debate over what the digital violence of the game is doing to The Kids; but it’s clear that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has driven a huge, stolen car through the window of the record industry.
Simon Hayes Budgen
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