The Advantage – S/T

In sitting down to write this review, having been presented with a full-length album of Nintendo theme-song covers, I didn’t quite know how to begin. Do I treat The Advantage’s eponymous album as mere novelty? Or is there legitimate musical merit in covering songs that, contrary to first-glance popular belief, were written with relative skill to soundtrack the games that occupied my childhood? After all, I can’t imagine someone covering X-Box tunes, even after 20 years. After much debating, I decided to consider The Advantage as a genuine musical statement.

After all, in covering these songs, The Advantage has achieved something to which many musicians aspire: the ability to conjure and form memories, to relate to something hidden away deep in a person’s unconscious. I can speak for my generation in saying that Nintendo occupies an affectionate spot in my soul that no other video game system has been able to encroach upon. I warmly recall sitting on the couch playing Bubble Bobble with my brother as being emblematic of my happily innocent childhood; the mere thought that I spent entire afternoons simply guiding little bubble-blowing dinosaurs through 8-bit worlds – and that I had nothing better to do – is enough to induce a breezy wave of nostalgia.

And this is exactly what listening to The Advantage accomplishes for me. Had the covers of such classics as “Double Dragon 2 – Stage 2” and “Contra – Snowfields” been done with less technical skill, the effect would have been severely cheapened. As it is, though, The Advantage possesses not only a significant amount of said skill, but also an obvious affection for the music the band handles. The end result is a familiar melody transcribed from the limited capacities of the original NES to the full range of expression of a band that includes guitars, bass, and drums.

As a result of this tact, the music is often surprisingly compelling. The transition from “Bubble Bobble” to “Bubble Bobble – Shark Skeleton” (the speedy hypermelody of the former) is genuinely exciting. “Zelda – Fortress” is hauntingly malevolent. It calls to mind not only the 2D adventures of a little green elf, but also more broadly applicable imagery; indeed, “Zelda – Fortress” is one of the moments on The Advantage which transcends its ties with the Nintendo theme song and becomes capable of being successful on its own. “Batman 2” achieves epic proportions in only two and a half minutes, the tension almost causing the song to collapse on itself. And of course, no album of Nintendo covers would be complete without “Mario 3 – Underworld,” wisely relegated to the near end of the album.

The rather surprising success of The Advantage’s debut album is encapsulated rather nicely in the fact that the theme songs of games I’ve never played are nearly as compelling as those which are familiar. “Castlevania 3 – Evergreen” builds a desperate crescendo that wouldn’t be out of place in the post-rock of Explosions in the Sky and proves that even without the gentle prodding of a shared nostalgia, The Advantage’s music stands on its own. Which brings me to my final thoughts: while I certainly cannot endorse The Advantage as an essential album, it’s worth a shot for more than mere novelty. If the idea of excellently executed Nintendo cover interests you at all, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that this is most likely the definitive collection as far as technical merit is concerned. So pick it up and descend those familiar green pipes into the world of walking mushrooms, flying turtles, and an innocence which no music, no matter how delicate, can communicate quite as well as the classic anthems of the Nintendo era.