Music Notes: The Metropolis of Fourside (Earthbound)

In honour of this month’s Bound Together feature, this week’s selection is “The Metropolis of Fourside” from Earthbound. While the soundtrack is primarily attributed to Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka, there are also credits given to Akio Ohmori and Ritsuo Kamimura. The composition of “The Metropolis of Fourside” is attributed to either Suzuki or Ohmori depending on the source. Earthbound was developed for the Super Nintendo which added another three channels of audio to its dedicated sound chip compared to the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This chip, called the S-SMP, was also capable of producing a wider and more rich variety of sounds compared to its predecessor. Like Mother, the first game in the series, Earthbound‘s soundtrack draws from – among others – jazz, bossa nova, and reggae influences and because of the technology, the composers were able to use more than rhythms and melodic traditions to create the soundscapes for Eagleland.

For those interested, an arrangement for the melodic line in “The Metropolis of Fourside” can be viewed here. Viewing just this melody alone, the intended tone of the work is a little less clear. Aside from the final bar in the intro and the drama in the “B” section, the melody reads more like “Frontier Village Dali” from Final Fantasy IX or “Traverse Town” from Kingdom Hearts. With the exception of one triplet, the “A” section is rhythmically simple and its melodic contour is similarly safe, but this structural steadiness provides a strong nucleus to give more freedom to the stylistic choices orbiting it.

It is the soothing tone of a french horn that lilts its way across this main melody of the work, but it is more bombastic brass instruments that reply and support and decorate “Fourside”. This combination lends itself not only to the tone of Earthbound itself, but specifically to the nature of a city which can be both a warm and chaotic place within the same moment.

Earthbound Fourside

Compared to last week’s selection from Mass Effect in which every melodic statement used was safely tucked away within the strict seven notes of its major scale and it was layering, interval selection, and home tone avoidance that gave the track much of its interest, “Fourside” instead gives itself happily to its jazz inclinations with use of blue notes, supporting swing rhythms, and rich smooth harmonies.

An interesting note about this piece is how its intro (which is only played once and is thereafter skipped when the track repeats and its vamping function replaced by the necessarily less intrusive “C” section) serves as a non-traditional overture. Instead of foreshadowing melodic ideas, the five bar intro provides a tonal preview of the track. Four bars pass by with smooth horns, driving bongos, and the relaxed excitement that takes place in the “A” section, the bulk of the track’s runtime, but an unexpected and striking fifth bar slides in as something of a mirror to the harmonically divergent, busier, and dramatic “B” section despite not owing anything to each other melodically.

All in all, “The Metropolis of Fourside” is a confident, self-aware, and fun track that – like Earthbound itself – incorporates ideas that sets it apart from the vast majority of its peers.

For the purposes of further listening and discussion, a cute cover can be heard here that further highlights the track’s jazz-like ability to foster improvisation.

Please use the comment thread below to add your own thoughts about “The Metropolis of Fourside” from Earthbound. How does its distinctive style strike you? Also, please offer suggestions for future pieces. Reader suggestions may lead to more frequent columns!

One comment

  1. The Mother series has received some excellent arrangement albums over the years, including some official remixes and orchestral versions. There are the quite famous pieces on the Smash Bros. soundtracks, but Nintendo used to do sponsored live concerts back in the SNES era, and a few Mother 1/2 tracks made it into those as well!

    Earthbound has a diverse and varied soundtrack with lots of neat musical approaches, but this is one of my favourite pieces. There’s just something about it that ensures I’ll be humming it for weeks if I hear it.

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