I hate Rob Fahey. Not personally, you understand. He's a lovely fellow, well spoken, very clean and he does a lot of charity work with confused dogs. But he has reviewed every new SingStar instalment over the last year or so and, with April's Pop Hits , finally admitted that at this point what we're really doing is reviewing a music compilation on a games website. This is a very shrewd observation, and one that rings loud with the crystal clarity of truth.
It also leaves me with precious little else to say by way of introduction for this ninth (ninth!) SingStar disc, and that makes me cross and a little bit itchy.
For one thing, you'll already know if you're into the whole SingStar experience. A great steaming wodge of readers have probably already skimmed past this link, scoffing about "real games" as they went. Even more will have simply checked out the track listing, totted up the songs they like, and made their purchase decision without once thinking about how that makes me feel.
So, what are we left with? A rather curious collection, that's what. The most obvious hurdle is that there's really no such thing as "90s music". It was a self-conscious decade mostly devoid of any unique identity, with only the disco-evolved rave and the dour t-shirt and jeans uniform of grunge as its lasting offshoots. Needless to say, neither rave nor grunge appears on this disc. Instead we have 30 tracks which were all released between 1990 and 1999, but have precious little else in common. Compared to the thematic focus of SingStar 80s, where Run DMC could rub shoulders with Kate Bush and Culture Club and still feel stylistically coherent, this is very much a grab bag of tunes aimed at serving the blandest of masters - "something for everyone".
Stage school divas are catered for with defiant tonsil-tuggers like Zombie by Cranberries, Natalie Imbruglia's Torn and Stay by bespectacled cutie Lisa Loeb. Shrieking Lambrini girls can slosh their booze to kitsch karaoke classics by Aqua, Divinyls, Technotronic, B-52s or the Spice Girls, while similarly inclined blokes can raise ironic eyebrows while belting out Achy Breaky Heart, New Kids on the Block's Step by Step or that Four Weddings song by Wet Wet Wet. Even grouchy indie kids can be enticed to the mic with Student Union disco stalwarts from Radiohead, The Cure, Nick Cave and REM.
Hmm. Nick Cave and New Kids on the Block. Try lumping them together under a generic 90s nostalgia banner. It just...doesn't...fit.
For maximum comedy value, there's the obligatory sprinkling of rap tracks. Most will automatically gravitate towards MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This, if only to drunkenly replicate his "lobster in my knickers" dancing, though there must surely be bonus points for anyone who fires up Sir Mix-A-Lot's ode to enormous arses, Baby Got Back, during a family get together. Ironically, the most tongue-twisting rap track on offer comes in the form of One Week, by quirky white alt-rockers Barenaked Ladies. With its densely packed verses and off-kilter rhythm, it is to SingStar 90s what Hangar 18 is to Guitar Hero - an absolute bastard. Also lying in wait to trip up over-confident minstrels is Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm by Crash Test Dummies, all throaty hummed chorus and peculiar rumbling intonations.
But then there's the filler. Who's really been waiting for the chance to sing along with forgotten guitar janglers like Savage Garden or Gin Blossoms? Or the bloody Spin Doctors and the intensely irritating Two Princes? Or Roachford? So while there's probably a handful of tracks here to appeal to most, the whole feels disjointed and rather charmless.
I'm sure there's a scientifically calculated reason why they've opted for this particular decade - probably something to do with demographics and the average age of SingStar owners - but that still makes this a disc that you might throw on for a couple of tracks before switching back to something more consistently fun. This is, after all, a social game and I've certainly never been to a party where the mindless plastic pop of Barbie Girl segues into the buzz-killing melancholy of Everybody Hurts.
I'm oh-so-very aware that I'm probably just out of touch with what Da Kidz are down with but, from a pure entertainment point of view, there would seem to be richer untapped musical pastures if you take the opposite direction from SingStar 80s, and go for a full-on glam rock SingStar 70s. After all, even today's pesky youngsters must surely enjoy a good ol' stomp to Slade, or Queen, or T-Rex. This, by comparison, feels like a hastily put together stop gap before the series goes PS3.