I write about a lot of random junk here. Such as writing about about having a strange collection of video game related albums in the past. Sometimes just simple soundtracks of games, other times stuff like the soundtrack of the the first Tomb Raider film, or even a set of songs featuring the cast of the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? game show. Struggling with what to write about to wrap up the year, I thought I’d grab one of those unexpected soundtracks and give a review to wrap up 2017.
So let’s look at the soundtrack album to the the once-yearly skateboarding franchise: Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. Or as the CD spine calls it, “TONY HAWK’S AMERICAN WASTLAND.”
This is the second released soundtrack album for a Tony Hawk game. The first being a “music from and inspired by” album for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which had a bunch of songs from people who didn’t appear in the game like Outkast, Papa Roach, and Drowning Pool; while omitting good stuff like Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.”
The soundtrack for American Wasteland only covers a small portion of the 64 (!) tracks that are in the entire game, and the 14 songs featured here are all covers of punk songs of the ’70s and ’80s like Suicidal Tendencies, Misfits, The Stooges, and even Black Flag. Considering Tony Hawk games tend to hit the gamut of multiple genres, it’s a bummer they focused on this and not the rock or hip-hop sides of the game’s soundtrack.
While I ended up finding the album at a thrift store for a pittance, you don’t have to do the same. The whole album is available on digital streaming services, including Spotify, so you can listen along with me here:
Some of these songs are by bands I’m familiar with thanks to their appearances in Rock Band or Guitar Hero — My Chemical Romance, Dropkick Murphys, Fall Out Boy, Rise Against — but the rest of the bands featured are pop-rock, post-punk or emo-rock bands that came and went. A fair share of these bands were modestly popular for the era, but unfortunately my music knowledge post-1998 is kinda like swiss cheese: it’s full of gaping holes everywhere.
Punk is also a genre I don’t know all that well besides the more mainstream representations of the genre, so in this case I ended up having to go back and listen to the originals to see if the cover is better than the original, and most importantly if it’s worth listening to Taking Back Sunday cover The Descendents.
The album starter is Senses Fail’s cover of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” which was originally a deluxe edition bonus track on their debut album Let It Enfold You. Senses Fail appeared on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock‘s soundtrack, with a song I barely remember because Guitar Hero III wasn’t that good of a game. As for the song, Senses Fail give the song a much harsher pop-punk kind of sound, complete with slightly changing the lyrics since the original songs reference the lead singer. It’s alright, but kinda lacks the raw, do-it-yourself feeling of the Suicidal Tendencies’ original. At least they didn’t cover “Cyco Vision.”
Next, Taking Back Sunday covers two songs from iconic punk band Descendents: “Suburban Home” and “I Like Food.” The original version is a straightforward fast-paced punk song, and while Taking Back Sunday keep the spirit of the original, it does feel a bit too polished. The inclusion of the 17-second “I Like Food” also feels too out of place and a bit too jarring of a transition. I assume this is done because many of the songs are under three minutes, and an album under 30 minutes probably didn’t seem kosher to the record label.
Track 3 is the rather famous My Chemical Romance covering Misfits’ “Astro Zombies.” While I tend to know MCR more as a joke thanks to their emo-rock anthem “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” their cover of “Astro Zombies” is surprisingly alright, even if it ends up sounding more in line with their other work.
We follow that up with the mostly forgotten band Emanuel covering The Stooges’ “Search & Destroy.” Iggy Pop’s band has to be considered one of the classics of the punk genre, and thus covering this song has to be a huge undertaking. Emanuel’s cover turns out to be in line with a lot of 2000s-era pop-punk, which means this is an alright version, but under no circumstance does it eclipse the original.
Listening to this album has made me really appreciate classic punk despite being not being really familiar with it. This is more apparent when I listened to Saves the Day try to cover Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer.” “Sonic Reducer” is definitively late ’70s punk. It’s what punk sounds like to a person like me who’s not familiar with the genre. Thus to hear Saves the Day give it a boring mid-2000s kind of sound is rather unfortunate, as it loses the more grungy sound of the Dead Boys original.
The next track threw me for a loop primarily because of the artist: Dropkick Murphys covering Adolescents’ “Who Is Who.” This cover really threw me for a loop, since when it comes to Dropkick Murphys, I’m only familiar with “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” The original by Adolescents is clearly a sign of early 80s punk, but Dropkick Murphys give it their own unique sound that sounds at times better than the original. I know that probably sounds like heresy, but it feels like they put more effort in than other bands so far.
Thrice, another 2000s band that came and went, opted to cover two Minor Threat songs: “Seeing Red” and “Screaming at a Wall.” Surprisingly, the covers have that feeling of being rough and fast while also keeping sort of that rough, dingy spirit of the Minor Threat originals. This is surprisingly one of the highlights of the album.
As I hit the halfway point, my knowledge of punk bands starts growing considerably, as relatively unknown band The Bled covers the relatively famous punk band Bad Brains’ “House of Suffering.” It’s okay. I need to give Bad Brains more of a listen, since the song The Bled covers comes from an album that is one of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Government Issue’s “Time to Escape” is a pretty good fast-paced punk song. Hearing that a band called Hot Snakes covered it made me think it was a joke band name that you’d hear in a movie, but they’re a real band. Hot Snakes’ version is another fairly unremarkable cover.
Admittedly me making fun of Hot Snakes’ name is probably silly considering the next track is a cover of a song by Gorilla Biscuits. “Start Today” is the song being covered, and who’s covering it? Fall Out Boy. Who I will eternally confuse with My Chemical Romance as they’re both pop-punk bands from the 2000s with modest hits. As for the cover itself, it just sounds like a Fall Out Boy song from the 2000s. It made me appreciate the original more.
We follow that with another track from fairly notable rock band Alkaline Trio covering T.S.O.L.’s “Wash Away.” The original is one of the rare occurrences of hearing synthesizers and pianos in a punk song, and while Alkaline Trio kept the piano part, they left out that cool synth backing part, thus it sounds a bit more flat as a result.
I will say that I was not expecting to hear a cover of The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love” on this album, but Thursday, a relatively forgotten 2000s band, is an alright choice. Hearing a version of that song that’s more like the original is nice, considering my point of reference is the Fine Young Cannibals cover from The Raw & The Cooked, which swaps out the fast-paced punk sound for a more late-80s synthpop sound. Thursday give it a fairly faithful rendition, but I’d rather listen to the original.
Most of the songs I’ve been looking into at this point never really get outright political. But somebody gave Fear’s “Let’s Have a War” to From Autumn to Ashes, who give a rather average cover. The original is this fast-paced manic song, the cover is significantly slower, and a lot screechier and it sounds pretty bad as a result. On the bright side, they did replace a rather homophobic slur that was in the original, so I’ll give them that at least.
The final track is Rise Against covering Black Flag’s “Fix Me.” Keeping with the tradition of short punk songs, this band is covering a song that’s under a minute long. It’s an alright cover, but again, nothing particularly outstanding. Rise Against is one of those bands whose music was in a bunch of games for a while, and they’re particularly inoffensive. (I also keep confusing them with Against Me, despite the two bands are in two completely different genres.) Honestly, I’m amazed this cover exists, and that at no point did they consider a different Black Flag song or to do what Thrice and Taking Back Sunday did and do two covers.
As I went through this album, I realized that a lot of the songs sounded too similar to each other. This was apparent as I went through listening to the originals. The covers vary from basically copying the original without any of the love to it, to giving it a style that the song doesn’t work in.
Punk always seemed to be this sort of underground, modestly popular genre that went all over the place in terms of styles. This album doesn’t do that. In fact, it highlights how particularly “samey” the genre can sound sometimes.
That, combined with this being released to advertise a skateboarding game by a major video game company makes it come off as corporate punk rather than “pure” punk. This is more apparent when your album cover is an homage to one of the most popular punk albums: The Clash’s London Calling. It just feels like something strictly made to advertise a game rather than a celebration of a genre, and that kinda sucks.
This review may sound negative, but the album is not completely awful, far from it. There’s a bunch of decent stuff in here, and if you like the bands featured, or if you wanted to hear My Chemical Romance cover a Misfits song, this is something worth a listen. When I think about it, this reminds me of one of those “Modern tribute to punk rock” cover albums you’d see at thrift stores on the cheap, like this:
My Tony Hawk experience stopped at Pro Skater 3, thanks to Giant Bomb playing it once and giving me a reason to grab that game to see what the hype was all about. I did buy Pro Skater HD off Steam before they removed it off digital storefronts, and the Tony Hawk games are plentiful in secondhand shops. Maybe I’ll give American Wasteland a shot sometime.
(Cover image courtesy of Discogs.com.)
Updated the review itself on 9/21/2020, along with some link updates. This was written in a period where I was in a rough place, and wasn’t quite my best work. I hope this updated version is a bit better.
Track listing for Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland Soundtrack:
- Senses Fail – Institutionalized
- Taking Back Sunday – Suburban Home/I Like Food
- My Chemical Romance – Astro Zombies
- Emanuel – Search and Destroy
- Saves the Day – Sonic Reducer
- Dropkick Murphys – Who Is Who
- Thrice – Seeing Red/Screaming at a Wall
- The Bled – House of Suffering
- Hot Snakes – Time to Escape
- Fall Out Boy – Start Today
- Alkaline Trio – Wash Away
- Thursday – Ever Fallen In Love
- From Autumn to Ashes – Let’s Have a War
- Rise Against – Fix Me
RECOMMENDED TRACKS: Institutionalized, Astro Zombies, Who is Who, Seeing Red/Screaming at a Wall, Start Today, Ever Fallen in Love