The last time Yoko Kanno tackled the Macross series was for Macross Plus, with the result being two enjoyable, eclectic OSTs and a vocal theme to die for. Over a decade later, Kanno has returned to the series with the soundtrack to Macross Frontier, and the outcome is perhaps even better than before.
Kanno remains as adept at combining memorable melodies with capable orchestral arrangements as ever. "Vital Force" is energetic and rife with the sensation of flight, reminiscent of Macross Plus's "Fly up in the air". The same goes for "Tally Ho!", but with higher intensity and a classical feel well suited to album form. Other orchestral tracks have a more sci-fi tone, which they borrow heavily from genre classics to achieve. "Bajura" is hard not to compare Richard Strauss's famous "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" prelude theme (used in 2001: A Space Odyssey), and "Frontier 2059" and "The Target" are both clearly inspired by David Arnold's score to Independence Day. "The Target" in particular is so similar both in tone and progression that it's hard not to imagine some colossal elliptical spacecraft hovering ominously overhead. It's not uncommon for soundtrack composers to be influenced by others' works (Independence Day's soundtrack itself has its own set of influences) but these three tracks are a little too close for comfort.
In the middle portion of the soundtrack are a number of non-orchestral instrumental tracks, many of which are highlights of the album. "Zero Hour" begins by nostalgically hailing Top Gun and other 80s flight action classics via synth percussion and electric guitar, until an uplifting string climax ushers in one of the most memorable themes of the soundtrack. The rollicking "Big Boys" gives a clear nod to "Pirates of the Caribbean", and "Private Army" takes on a Spanish sound with horns, acoustic guitar and rapid clapping, concluded by another moving string climax. Less complex but no less powerful is the poignant, Irish sounding "Alto's Theme" - it and "Aimo" provide the heart of the soundtrack and compliment each other sublimely.
Pop music has always been an integral part of Macross stories and thus their soundtracks, and Macross Frontier is no exception. But while Macross Plus went for a "future pop" sound, the songs here are almost straight J-pop and tend to suffer for it. "What 'bout my star" is the worst case, inheriting the simplistic melodies and dated synth-pop instrumentation that frequent the genre, but suffering most from the high-pitched, nasal vocals and embarrassing "Engrish" pronunciation of singer May Nakabayashi. (The "@Formo" version, which supplants her vocals with Megumi Nakajima's and emphasizes the chorus, fares considerable better.) "Welcome To My FanClub's Night" and parts of "Sagittarius 9pm" benefit from kinetic composition and exciting live concert ambiance; the remaining J-pop tracks are tolerable but not particularly valuable inclusions. Certainly none of them match Macross Plus's standout pop track "Pulse".
Fortunately the vocal side of Macross is about more than just its pop tracks. Just as Macross Plus had "Voices", Frontier has "Aimo", a hauntingly beautiful theme with soft, elegant vocals. The first arrangement gives us the theme in its simplest form, while the longer "Bird People" arrangement adds fuller instrumentation, extra vocals and a gorgeous string interlude. Rounding out the soundtrack are vocal selections "SMS Platoon Song ~ That Girl's an Alien", "Super-Dimensional Restaurant Girls", and "Ninjin (Carrot) Loves You Yeah", all of which are as quirky as their titles suggest and maintain the eclectic tradition of Macross soundtracks.
Aside from a few mediocre J-pop songs slowing it down, Macross Frontier OST benefits from smart track arrangement and high overall quality all the way through. Even "Innocent green" and "Twinkle" - two of the less striking instrumental tracks on the album - effectively set the mood for the gorgeous "Aimo" arrangements that follow. Chalk up another varied, memorable Macross soundtrack for Ms. Kanno, and bring on more from Frontier!