Growing up, I was “pretty into” Pokémon the way monks are “pretty into” vows of silences. I was also a musical kid; both my parents were music teachers, and I latched onto anything with notes for dear life. Thus, when the 1999 Pokémon soundtrack album “2.B.A. Master” was released, combining two of my favorite interests, I picked it up immediately and devoured it. Now, as an adult (well, kind of), I will revisit each of these tracks to see how they hold up. For Poké-science!
The album kicks off with an undisputed classic (smart sequencing move, Pokémon Company). This tune’s driving eighth-notes and inspirational lyrics still make me feel like throwing on a hat, grabbing my Pokédex, and venturing out into Cerulean City. The extended version has a very fun momentary key change and guitar solo, for folks who’re into that sort of thing. (Me. I’m very much into that sort of thing.)
Holy Psyduck, this tune has a groove! Like Ash’s restless spirit, it goes all over the place, switching from a standard funk-rock feel with pseudo-rapped lyrics, to syncopated horn hits, to a dang children’s choir, to a spoken-word interlude! It kind of feels like Danny Elfman produced a Red Hot Chili Peppers track and peppered it with Pokémon references. In other words, “2.B.A. Master” is everything good about the ‘90s in one catchy song.
If there’s such thing as a Poké-nightclub, this is the upbeat house beat that gets everyone on the floor. For my taste, the verses are just a little too cheesy and non-melodic, but when we get to that chorus? Ooh is it tasty. The moment where the instruments drop out and the tight harmonies sing, “Viridian City” reminds me of Prince. Also, big ups to that key change at the end. Like I said, I really like key changes.
What Kind Of Pokémon Are You?
First of all, to answer the song’s question, I am Farfetch’d. Second of all, this is another Poké-song that flips genres, as it starts with a boy-band crooned chorus before shifting to an old-school-cool hip-hop feel. I’m not sure how the censors allowed a line like “kick your grass” to make it through, but I’m glad they did. Side note: do you think the rapper on this song’s rapper friends make fun of him for this, or are they jealous?
My Best Friends
“Gospel choir harmonies over driving rock drums and insane DJ scratching? Yeah, why the heck not?” apparently said the producer of this song. “My Best Friends” is the first song on the album I’d call a dog (apologies to Vulpix). I like the optimistic message of the lyrics, but the emotions of the music feel overreaching and forced. It does have not one but two key changes going for it, however, so it’s not all bad.
Damn 2.B.A Master, you’re getting heavy! This song rather ingeniously takes the Poké-concept of evolution and extends it metaphorically to talk about the inevitable changes of life. (Although, I’m an adult man writing extensively about a thing I loved as a kid, so maybe not everything changes.) “Everything Changes” is the first tune where I’m not as into the genre-fusing. I think the simple, sparse intro is, to borrow Poké-parlance, super effective, and when the big drums come in, it loses some of its power.
The Time Has Come (Pikachu’s Goodbye)
This song is special because it subconsciously introduced me to the sounds of melodramatic ‘80s soft rock and pop, which I now love. Seriously, listen to those electric keyboard licks and try not to think of Christopher Cross or Whitney Houston. Lyrically, maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, or maybe my heart is made of Geodude, but I wanted a song called “Pikachu’s Goodbye” to be much more heart string-pulling. I had trouble feeling the feelings it seemed to want me to feel.
Pokémon (Dance Mix)
I get serious Dance Dance Revolution vibes off this spacey techno remix, and while those types of songs are fun to dance to in up-down-left-right arrow formations, they can feel a little samey as stand-alone songs. There are some fun breakbeats going on, but it’s just too repetitive to make big enough impact.
Double Trouble (Team Rocket)
Am I the only who felt sympathetic for Team Rocket? Just once, I wanted to see them win an episode and not end up flying through the sky with a “Ding!” indicating their defeat. My wishes for this balancing of the scales are answered by “Double Trouble (Team Rocket)”, a slinky, slimy funk tune that’s just pure fun. Try not to get a huge grin on your face when they rap their iconic speech. Also, who knew that Jessie had such impressive pipes?
Before 23 seconds: A warm, sensitive, captivating soundscape of synths that makes me feel warmly nostalgic. At 23 seconds: A cloying, doing-his-best-to-sound-awesome singer rips a big “Yeah!” and totally ruins the mood. Can the song recover from this fumble? My answer: surprisingly, yes. The chorus, while not as catchy as the Rick Astley tune of the same name, is very bright and poppy, successfully capturing the feeling of many of my childhood friendships. Weirdly, despite other songs on this album deliberately trying to make me feel melancholy, this sunshine-and-rainbows song succeeds the most so far.
Full disclosure: I was terrified to revisit this song. When I first heard it as a kid, it made me unbearably sad. I would cry at the most inopportune times, just from thinking about the lyrics, for much, much longer than was healthy. What long-suppressed feelings would be unearthed during a modern listen? Well, maybe it’s a defense mechanism, but all I can do now is focus on the mechanics of the song. Things like: I like how the chorus plays with augmented chords in its progressions! These are some genuinely nice melodies! But good Gengar is the lead vocalist’s tone annoying! Maybe I’ve outgrown the lyrics’ childlike views on love and heartbreak, or maybe I’m just subconsciously ignoring them so I can finish this article without bawling, but it didn’t leave me as gutted as when I was a kid. I’d call that growth, but again, grown man writing extensively about Pokémon.
I don’t mean to poke a Beedrill’s nest, but damn, this song’s groove is confusingly soft. Other tunes on this album have aggressively funky beats, and on the actual song that has “rap” in its title, the production becomes light and muted, and I’m not sure why. I can’t deny the nostalgia the track gives me, but I wish it was more in-my-face.
You Can Do It (If You Really Try)
I used to work as a church musician in a contemporary praise band, where we played light, acoustic-guitar-driven pop songs that were invariably about the one true Poké-God that watches us all. Frankly, that’s the vibe I get from this very, very cheesy conclusion to the album. I think it underlines a desired artistic thesis statement to not just this album but the TV series in general: the importance and willingness to be emotionally vulnerable, sometimes in a positive sense, but often in a sad one. I just wish this final track was a little less maudlin about it. But, again, I cannot be too mad at this ending, as it has — you guessed it — a key change.
What Poké-songs on this album are your favorite? Anything you vehemently disagree with? And what are your other favorite childhood soundtrack songs? If you can’t get enough of this over-analysis of things that’re just supposed to be fun, might I suggest my Twitter?