The soundtrack to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is my favorite of the year. It’s a mix of original, synth-heavy songs composed by Ludvig Forssell and licensed songs from the 80’s, including Midge Ure’s wonderful and haunting rendition of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. While playing the game and listening to its tracks, I couldn’t help but go through my own playlists and mix tapes and say, “What else would work here?”
I’ve picked a bunch of songs that I feel would fit either thematically or amusingly into the game’s world. Some of these were recorded a couple of years after the game’s 1984 setting, but it’s a game full of technological anachronisms, so what’s a few songs out of time? Besides, the soundtrack includes Take on Me, which wasn’t released until 1985 anyway. But overall, I just want to listen to and share some good music.
Some of the song choice explanations are ending spoilers, but all spoilers are blacked out. Highlight them to read. You’ve been warned!
The earliest song on this list is Peter Gabriel’s anthem of war as a children’s game. Games Without Frontiers can refer to The Phantom Pain’s open world intrusion as well as referring back to Big Boss’s army in the previous title, Peace Walker: Soldiers Without Borders. The game’s child soldiers and its messages of civilization inhabiting language, rather than nations, gives the song some extra meaning. Skull Face’s “Words Can Kill” can be seen as a sort of perversion of Gabriel’s “If Looks Can Kill” lyrics.
A Cold War song about confusion between what reality and our machines tell us is fitting for an installment of the Metal Gear saga where the world is on the brink of the Patriots Era, in which machine AIs begin controlling human civilization. The blurred lines between enemy and friends has been a major theme since Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It would also just be funny to have this song in a game where Big Boss abducts hundreds of men via the Fulton balloon recovery system.
Before it was covered and adapted a million times and became synonymous with Gary Jules’ somber piano cover in 2001, Mad World was a nervous, rebellious song by Tears for Fears. The function of the song endures while the form transforms into something completely different, but this is the original: This is the Era of Big Boss. Like The Boss before him, his words and actions take on completely different meaning to the generations that follow, reinterpreting his dream/nightmare vision as they see fit. Spoiler: The fact that the hero of this game is Venom Snake, a sort of “cover” version of Big Boss who becomes synonymous with the original, would add a cute detail to people looking back on the game at the end.
D-Dog needs his own theme music. Pairs well with Hall and Oates’ Maneater, if you want to read that as sort of unofficial theme for Big Boss’s other best friend, Quiet.
“The killing time: Unwillingly mine.” “Fate up againstyour will.” Diamond Dogs is an army largely made up of men abducted from the battlefield and brainwashed into serving the will of Miller, Ocelot, and Big Boss. Stripped of their homes, their future as people (rather than living guns), and their comrades, the Diamond Dogs grow into a group of warmongering maniacs, driven only to fulfill the will of a man who they mostly know from rumors and legend. The child soldiers encountered in Africa aren’t too different from the Diamond Dogs themselves. Spoiler: And, of course, Venom Snake was unwillingly transformed into a phantom of Big Boss to both serve as a decoy and to fulfill his will.
Both the song and the video are appropriate to The Phantom Pain here. “You’re a hard man to find.” “How did he look?” “Older.” If that’s not Big Boss and company, what is? The song explores heartbreak and suffering as war, shown as a symbolic minefield. As war is the only thing Big Boss and his Diamond Dogs can understand anymore, it’s fitting that they would view even love through a lens of death. There’s a reason that the woman who may have won Big Boss’s heart is an angel of death.
Here’s the big plot line running throughout the entire series: From
Big Boss to Miller to Zero to Skull Face to The Patriots, everyone wants to reshape the world in their own image, most of them in a blind misunderstanding of the words of The Boss in MGS3. Spoiler: “Welcome to your life” certainly sounds like something the real Big Boss would say to Venom as he inspires his former medic into his own life of world conquest.
One of the most nightmarish music videos of all time, a horror show from start to finish. What better than horrifying puppet caricatures to represent the cast of this series, in which soldiers are used again and again as pawns in a greater game, and in which heroes are reduced to symbols to be abused and re-appropriated? Real people turning into demons in this video is certainly apt to The Phantom Pain too.
It would seem Ocelot loves Big Boss slightly less than he used to. There’s a reason for that, but you’ll have to play the game to find out. His series-long love for Big Boss fits this song where angry, sad young men who sometimes turn to violence search for their place in the world. Ocelot’s place is at Big Boss’s side, but things get waylaid.
It’s a little too upbeat for the game, but that’s ok: So’s Laura Branigan’s Gloria, and that’s in there. Consider this one a lovely vacation video asking people to visit Big Boss’s floating vacation getaway, Outer Heaven! Who wouldn’t sign up for Diamond Dogs with a recruitment video like this one?
So, why did I not include any David Bowie songs, given that the game’s army is named for one of his albums and a cover of one of his songs plays a major role? Spoiler: I actually like that Bowie’s presence is felt, both in reference and in Midge Ure’s cover, without the real Bowie appearing. It fits well with the Venom Snake / Big Boss reveal, in which we’ve only spent time with the real man’s phantom. The fact that Ure’s version of Man Who Sold the World is so ghostly just adds to that.
Hope you’ve had some fun! Got any songs of your own that would fit in with The Phantom Pain? Want to smugly brag about playing the PC version and being able to customize the soundtrack? Just want to list some good 80’s songs for kicks? Doowutchyalike.