Years of My Life: 1995

1995
..in which The Corrs forgive, but don’t forget; The Lighthouse Family take a trip to Ocean Drive; and Virtua Fighter makes its second impact while the Fighting Vipers smash on to the scene.

To recap: This is a series of posts that will cover each year of my life since my birth in 1987; mainly the things that interest me that happened/were released or conceived that particular year. This will include happenings in the world of music, video games, literature and television that are of particular importance or nostalgia to me. I’m hoping that this will give my followers a better idea of where my interests and passions in life lie 🙂

Check out the previous post for 1994 here.

On to 1995!

World events:

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In Music:

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Lighthouse Family – Ocean Drive (Released September 1st, 1995)

This debut album from the British musical duo is just one of those relaxing, chilled out ‘feel good’ albums, with songs that most people will be familiar with whether they are a fan or not, given their considerable radio exposure. The lead single, ‘Lifted’ in particular sets the mood and theme of the album perfectly, being all about literally lifting yourself out of the bad times – or ‘the shadows’ as it refers to them, and then finding peace ‘above the clouds’ (one could also interpret it being about the peace found after death, I suppose). This establishes the use of weather as symbolic for the messages the songs try to convey, in particular through the mantra that ‘It doesn’t really matter about the rain’.

This continues through to the title track, ‘Ocean Drive’; a personal favourite of mine. I could write a lot more about this song and how it related, and then helped me through, a difficult situation in my life, so I will probably put together a ‘Songs that Speak to Me’ post about it (ala the one I did about R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts), but to be brief – this is just such a powerful track that is inspiring in both its sound and lyrics. The theme of weather continues with the chorus’ declaration that ‘the sun’s gonna shine on everything you do’, giving hope for the future in a few simple words. Again, the imagery of clouds is used here too, but merely to say, ‘When the clouds arrive/We’ll live on Ocean Drive’, indicating that they will not get in the way of finding contentment (also affirmed in the song’s assurance that ‘It ain’t so serious anyway’). It’s just one of those songs that can’t really fail to at least cheer you up a little bit, basically.

‘The Way You Are’ is a more sedate, subtle track but also with a message well worth heeding, that you don’t have to change anything about yourself just for others’ benefit (advice that I would have done well to follow a lot earlier in my life, especially the part about ‘not giving yourself a chance’!). This is a lesson that anyone would do well to take note of, and the soothing tones of the song provide an extremely welcome blanket of reassurance as well. This is also reaffirmed in the slightly faster-paced ‘Sweetest Operator’, along with affirming that ‘you don’t realise your strength’. It also conveys the pleasure of finding someone to ‘break the pattern of the everyday’ with; certainly something I was thankful for upon meeting my own partner, who embraced my weirdness rather than being repelled by it! ‘What Could Be Better’, meanwhile is another slower, calmer track, and again continues the weather theme as well as the contentment shared between soulmates – ‘I know inside there’s a better weather/And the world inside really doesn’t matter’, echoing the lyrics of ‘Ocean Drive’ as well as ‘Lifted’. It also asks what could be better than somebody smiling at you ‘like the sun’ – which at the risk of sounding sickeningly soppy and sentimental, I quite agree – my partner’s smile is one of those things that just lights up my day (although I’m not sure how he’d feel if I wrote a song about it!).

The album closes effectively with ‘Goodbye Heartbreak’, which again provides a valuable life lesson, and possibly advocating the art of mindfulness – beautifully conveyed with the words ‘You know that you’ll survive/The day you realise/You can’t stop day from turning into night’ – telling us there are certain things that we have no control over, that we cannot change, once again something I wish I had realised a lot sooner. Of course, when one does try to take control or fret obsessively over these things, is when the demons of anxiety and depression come out to play – or if we cling desperately to the idea of a relationship that didn’t work out, of a love lost – which the song still acknowledges, assuring us that ‘you’re gonna live to find another day’, and that ‘It’s just today things ain’t so good’, showing us that the bad days can still happen despite our best efforts. The desire to leave them behind, however, shines through in the chorus that repeats the titular farewell, as well as the proclamation that ‘I don’t need you now’, provide an effective close to what is a great album to just lie back, chill out to and soak in, losing yourself in the soft, comforting easy listening that they became known for.

 

Forgiven_Not_Forgotten

The Corrs – Forgiven, Not Forgotten (Released September 26th, 1995)

Another debut album from this year – this time from the sibling group with their effortless combination of pop-rock and traditional Irish music, of course, the Corrs (another band I got into through my Dad). This album begins on a somewhat sombre note with its title track; seemingly about a woman who has committed suicide, and left someone else behind. The video for the song reflects this, with the band all dressed in black, their faces serious and grave while in the shadows for most of the song. There are some beautifully poetic lyrics here, most notably ‘When her days are grey/ And her nights are black/Different shades of mundane’, perfectly encapsulating the sense of sadness and hopelessness one would feel if contemplating ending it all. ‘A bleeding heart torn apart/Left on an icy grave’, is also particularly brutal. The fact that this man the song speaks of has been forgiven, but not forgotten, is especially haunting – and saddening, as it is someone that she’s ‘still dreaming of’ and craving for. Quite a beautiful piece of music despite its subject matter.

‘Heaven Knows’ continues along similar lines, speaking of sending someone ‘away to her grieving’ – and despite the repetition of the lyrics ‘Sadness fills my life’, the song still manages to have quite an upbeat sound to it! ‘Someday’, meanwhile, deals with the spark fizzling out in a relationship, with some wonderfully poignant lyrics once again such as the reference to a ‘comfortable rhythm in a comfortless room’, and also ‘a rose without her petals/a song without a dance’. The theme of forgetting also pops up again (‘Someday you’ll forget me’), indicating that some things are better left to fade into the past. (a later track in the album ‘Love To Love You’ paints a similarly bleak picture with its examination of the pain of love that goes unrequited)

Things suddenly take a more positive turn, however, with ‘Runaway’, one of their most famous tracks, and one of my personal favourites. The romance is clearly burning a lot brighter in this case, quite literally with the line ‘By candlelight, make love to me through the night’ (this line proving rather embarrassing for Andrea to sing in front of her parents, apparently!). The combination of the declaration that ‘I’m never gonna stop falling in love with you’ and some truly beautiful instrumentation just makes it a pleasure to listen to over and over, which I most certainly have done (yes, you could say I’m a bit of an old romantic…). The more upbeat tone continues through into ‘The Right Time’, which touches on some of the simpler pleasures in life –conveyed rather nicely with the lyrics ‘Life’s in flow/Makin’ music in the morning/Laughter’s light/Creativity touches/In full flight’, and just generally goes along at a jaunty and jolly pace.

‘Secret Life’ is a bit more rocky and rebellious, but again with a rather nice poetic flair (‘But if truth were an ocean/Would it fit in the pool of a human mind’, it asks us). There also seems to be a bit of an anti-religious message being sent here, referring to evangelists and scientologists (and others they won’t mention), and that we should ‘Listen[to them] at [our] peril’  – as it points out, the more tangible pursuits of ‘Philosophy and theology/Offer us a glimpse/To something more incredible/Than you or I’ – something I have always strongly believed to, the idea of the bigger picture, and it is beautifully conveyed here. The closing track, ‘Leave Me Alone’ has that rebellious streak once again, seemingly about falling into the trap of becoming what other people want us to be – and then trying to find out exactly what our identity is (‘I’m looking for a life to come and rescue me’ the opening lyrics tell us, perhaps encapsulating exactly what feeling depressed and alone feels like). Once again, however, this is all done in upbeat, rock-style, meshing well with the desire to run away, and the defiance shown to those who want to mould us within themselves. It’s the perfect ‘angry song’ – what could be better than singing along to this after a bad day? Or maybe that’s just me…at any rate, this is a solid opening effort from the siblings, and still a great listen some 20 years later.

In Video Games:

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December 1995 – Virtua Fighter 2 released for Sega Saturn (JP and US; released in EU in January 1996)

(Originally released in arcades in 1994)

As with Sonic and Streets of Rage, I actually played this sequel first, before I later checked out the original game. However, with the Virtua Fighter series, I feel as if it’s almost a Street Fighter situation – the second game is the one where VF hit its stride proper and really made an impact, being such a massive leap over the original, both in aesthetics and gameplay. It was one of the first games I owned for the Sega Saturn – the sadly overlooked competitor to the unexpected success story of the PlayStation in the mid 90’s. My young self remained a die-hard, loyal Sega fan however, and was overcome with excitement when I came home from school one day to find that my parents had only gone and bloody bought me one. To be fair, I was even reading the Official Sega Saturn Magazine before I even owned the console, so I think it was fairly obvious to them how much I wanted one. My first taste of VF2 was actually from a demo disc that came free with the aforementioned magazine, which only had video of the game, but I must have watched it so many times, possibly putting more time into it than the actual playable demos! Like with Streets of Rage 2 years before, I knew it was a game I had to have.

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VF2 makes an impact right off the bat with its ‘attract mode’ demo (the footage you see play over and over in arcade games before you insert any coins, intended to get you to part with your money and start playing). The music is energetic and sets the tone of the game splendidly, new character Shun-Di is showcased practicing his Drunken Kung-Fu moves while the other characters take turns pummelling each other – and the improved graphics are clear to see straight away. Gone are the blocky, ‘cereal-box’ fighters with flat faces from the first game – the characters now look much more like real people, and the fighting arenas have been suitably improved as well.
As for the game itself? Virtua Fighter’s brilliance, and this applies to the series as a whole, is in how it is both simple and easy to pick up and play – (there are only three buttons, punch, kick and guard, compared to say, Street Fighter’s light, heavy or medium attacks, or Tekken’s control method of having a button assigned to each limb), but at the same time, difficult to actually play well and master. I will hardly claim to be an expert – I know nothing of the intricacies of studying ‘frame data’, or how to proficiently predict my opponent’s next move and counter accordingly – but I still found enjoyment in the game, perhaps because my character of choice was Jacky Bryant, with his flashy kicks and reasonably easy-to-perform moves, meaning that a scrub like me could still win the odd fight here and there. My brother’s character of choice was the other newcomer alongside Shun-Di, the floppy-haired Frenchman Lion Rafale – who was always extremely irritating to play against with his quick, pokey moves (even more so when the CPU is controlling him!) So essentially it can appeal to both casual ‘button-bashers’ as well as more advanced players – and may encourage the former to learn and ‘get good’ if they get their arse handed to them by one of these more skilled players.

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The Saturn version was certainly an eagerly-awaited port at the time. During this era in gaming, there was quite a lot of fuss about whether home conversions were ‘arcade perfect’ or not (again, the previously mentioned Official Saturn Magazine used to have quite a focus on this), as most home consoles of the time were not capable of reproducing an arcade game completely perfectly. This was made especially clear to me when playing the arcade versions of the older Mortal Kombat games after being so used to the Mega Drive renditions. Now, while the Saturn port of VF2 was not ‘arcade perfect’, and required a lot of effort from the programmers to get it running effectively (the Saturn was notorious for being able to handle 2D far better than 3D, which didn’t help when up against the PlayStation and its ever-growing library of 3D games), it is still a damn good port. I was gobsmacked by the graphics at the time, and in all fairness, it still looks pretty good over 20 years later. A lot of cuts and sacrifices had to be made – perhaps most famously, the bridge from Shun Di’s stage had to be removed completely, and the 3D backgrounds had to be changed to a flat 2D image – but everything important, most crucially the gameplay and wealth of moves, was intact. (There’s actually a good comparison video of the two versions running side-by-side here for those interested.) We take it for granted now, what today’s consoles are capable of (especially due to the fact the arcade original is now available to play on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live), but this really was a marvel at the time, pushing the console to its limits. And there was even extra modes as well, cementing it as a must-have game for the system. Sega AM2’s arcade games were always fantastic back in the day, and this is undoubtedly one of their best.

Selected music:

‘Man of the Fist’ (Lau’s Theme)

‘Escape’ (Jacky’s Theme)

‘Ride the Tiger’ (Akira’s Theme)

 

fvipers

1995 – Fighting Vipers released in arcades (Sega Saturn version released in 1996)

If Virtua Fighter 2 was Sega AM2’s serious, disciplined martial-arts based fighter, Fighting Vipers is its wackier, flashier cousin, and perhaps intended to be more appealing to the casual gamer. Also running on the Model 2 arcade board, Vipers retains the Punch-Kick-Guard control scheme of VF, but is different in two major respects – firstly, all of the fighters are kitted out in armour, which can be forcibly removed with strong enough attacks (split into upper-body and lower-body) – the damage dealt to an armour-less fighter increasing significantly. Secondly, unlike VF’s open arenas where victory can be achieved through ‘Ring Out’, FV’s arenas are all caged in by surrounding walls (although this would also later be implemented in certain stages in future VF games) – which can be destroyed if a knock-out hit is powerful enough to send your opponent flying into them. The combat is also a lot faster and more simplistic, adding to the ‘street fight’ feel. The fighters themselves are also certainly a colourful and zany bunch; from the schoolgirl Honey (renamed Candy in the US and European versions for whatever reason) who fights in a red plastic fairy costume, to the rockstar Raxel (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Axl Rose) who actually uses his guitar as a weapon, and also to Grace and Picky, who fight using rollerblades and a skateboard respectively (these lot seriously couldn’t look more from the 90’s if they tried). My favourite to use was Bahn, probably for similar reasons to my affinity for Jacky in the VF games – he had somewhat cheap moves that were easy to use to your advantage, in Bahn’s case his punches as compared to Jacky’s lightning kicks (complete with the nonsensical scream of ‘UMONOGRA!!!’, certain to annoy the other player after the twentieth time). In short, this game felt like AM2 letting loose and having fun after working on Virtua Fighter.

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As with VF2, a Saturn port followed shortly after, which again required similar hard work to get it running effectively on the console. Due mainly to the walls surrounding each arena, the graphics and resolution needed a significant downgrade, but it still looked pretty decent. The Saturn version also adds a lot of extra bells and whistles, including a Training Mode, which at the time was something the Virtua Fighter games lacked, being very useful and practice and even allowing you to go through each technique on a character’s moves list one-by-one. Of course this is standard in all fighting games now, but this was quite the novelty at the time. As with VF2, an ‘arcade-perfect’ port eventually arrived in the form of one of the ‘Sega AGES’ instalments on PS2, which more recently became available to download on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live (although it lacks the extras of the Saturn version). Again, you can see a comparison video between the arcade original and the Saturn version here.
Unfortunately, Vipers never quite caught on the same way as Virtua Fighter did – although the cast appeared in Fighters Megamix shortly after this (to be covered when we get to 1997), and there was a sequel a few years later, the series quietly retired after that. But it was a great game all the same, and provided an alternative for those who may have been intimidated by the more complex VF2.

Selected music:

‘Sundance Kids’ (Bahn’s theme)

‘Thirty 30’ (Sanman’s theme)

‘The Trouble with Raxel’ (Raxel’s theme)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, wraps up 1995. See you next time!

Previous entries in ‘Years of My Life’:

    1. 1987
    2. 1988
    3. 1989
    4. 1990
    5. 1991
    6. 1992
    7. 1993
    8. 1994

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, available NOW for download as an eBook on Amazon. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

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