An often overlooked, yet essential aspect of a good visual narrative is the music. Whether it be a movie, television show, or video game, if the story contains some type of emotional element, it becomes the music's job to drive that element home. If you played Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption 2 last year, you experienced a story with a fair amount of emotional complexity that challenged the themes of loyalty, morality, and freedom, and did so in a way that resembled nothing short of a masterpiece. Like most stories of this nature, an enormous bow was needed to tie all of those layers together and create an experience that was just as moving as a movie you'd see at the theater, or a television show that you'd watch at home. Woody Jackson's The Music of Red Dead Redemption 2: Original Score serves as that metaphorical bow, elevating the game to be the immersive, unforgettable experience that is Red Dead Redemption 2.
Setting The Scene
Red Dead Redemption 2's original score works equally as a thematic landscape of the old west as well as it does an emotional vessel for the game's narrative. The opening track, By 1899, The Age Of Outlaws And Gunslingers Was At An End, eerily sets the tone for the story of Dutch Van der Linde and his gang, attempting to remain outside the law in a country that no longer tolerates the concept. Afterwards, we're greeted with the slow whistling introduction of Outlaws From The West, before the game's iconic western theme busts in, truly establishing the story's vibe. The song, which would play perfectly with any western film from the 60s or 70s, uses its drawn-out guitar riffs and flute to set the landscape for a world of both incredible natural beauty and harrowing danger. We're instantly introduced to the feeling of hope that anything can be accomplished, and the dread that anything can be taken away, a concept that defines Red Dead Redemption 2.
Representing The Game's Narrative
The act of listening to this score pulls you right back into the experience of playing the game and watching its story unfold. Each song's instrument choice, structure, and climax emotionally matches the storyline in which it represents. For example, Mrs. Sadie Adler, Widow, structurally mirrors the narrative arc of its character, Sadie Adler. The low, melancholy strings start the track off in a tone of tragedy, calling to mind the fact that Sadie's story begins with the murder of her husband. The song continues to build in pace, as heavy drums and high strings come into the mix, setting a more powerful, menacing tone, and representing Sadie's transformation from victim to outlaw, and a full-blown member of the Van der Linde gang. We finally progress into a conclusion that resembles what might serve as the soundtrack for a horror movie set in the wild west, as screeching strings mirror the building of tension while Sadie accompanies John Marston on a mission to confront Micah Bell at the story's end.
There are several other moments where the epic western score on this Woody Jackson album remarkably represent the complex nature of Red Dead Redemption 2's story. Blood Feuds, Ancient And Modern, serves to mirror the age-old conflict between the Gray and Braithewaite families. The song begins with a slow sense of anxiety, as steady drums and a hypnotizing female vocal performance set the tone of the uneasy peace between the two families who have hated one another for as long as anyone can remember. It creates the feeling of a calmness constantly sitting on the edge of chaos. The drums begin to build, and the guitar licks become heavier to mirror the manner in which the Van der Linde gang stirs up the conflict between the two families, making uneasy alliances with both. After an absolutely epic rise and climax, the song falls back into a violin-led epilogue of tragedy, representing the fact that this conflict, fueled by greed, only resulted in death.
A Key Moment
The song that stood out the most for me personally was Revenge Is A Dish Best Eaten, which served as the musical counterpart for the game's mission of the same name. It begins with an elegant string section, calling into mind the city of Saint Denis and the lavishly devious character of Angelo Bronte. Soon after, an eerie horn emerges into the piece, serving representative to Dutch in a tension-building contrast to Angelo Bronte's strings. The two instruments, while complementing each other, build two separate forms of tension in the same way that the ego-centric, power-hungry personalities of Dutch and Bronte clash with one another. The two personalities dance around with each other until they can no longer coexist. The horns build, rapid guitar strums emerge, then we experience an unnerving high set of strings, right before everything stops all at once for a brief moment. In that brief moment, Dutch kills Bronte. Right as it passes, a heavy string section crashes in to represent Arthur Morgan's horror in realizing just how far Dutch has strayed from the man he once knew.
Dutch Didn't Have A Plan, But Woody Did
The Music of Read Dead Redemption 2 so easily and masterfully plunges you right back into the emotional intensity of the game's storyline. The attention to detail and careful construction of this score is instantly noticeable, and the manner in which it so perfectly represents the game's biggest and most complex moments is absolutely impressive. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an incredible mold of different tones, including humor, awe, entertainment, jealousy, morality, mortality, love, and hatred, and the task of unpacking all of that in a musical composition is certainly a tall one. Not only is this score a perfect western soundtrack that would go great with a horseback ride in the desert, but it also represents the complicated themes of the game's story so spectacularly, and to such a detailed degree, that I can't help but to praise Woody Jackson and the rest of the talented people who are responsible for it.
Whether you're looking to jump back into the immersive world of Red Dead Redemption 2, or you just need some good theme music to cruise around town with your ten-gallon hat on, you can't go wrong with The Music of Red Dead Redemption 2.