I am in control of the RPS Game Club this month, so therefore I can do whatever I want – and this time I’m delving into the world of Hypnospace Outlaw‘s music. No other game sounds like Hypnospace. Featuring a veritable mountain of tracks (most of which was composed by the game’s creator, Jay Tholen), Hypnospace’s extensive catalogue stretches across genres both real and imaginary. While Seepage’s Nothing Left For Me is a clear pastiche of Linkin Park, Fre3zer’s Icy Girl is a purposefully poor attempt to mimic Coolpunk, a genre built upon remixes of a jingle for a discontinued soda brand. The most exciting thing about Hypnospace is that its soundtrack is so dense and complex that there’s opportunity to hyperfocus on one particular area to an intense – even problematic – degree.
Enter The Chowder Man, a stetson wearing Kid Rock analogue who makes frequent appearances throughout Hypnospace. A prominent rock musician in the 80s, Erik Helman (portrayed beautifully by musician, comedian and inventor of the Rick Roll Hot Dad) is attempting a last-ditch revival after his music career flatlined, transforming him from Jagger-esque superstar to sold-out jingle writer. The Chowder Man’s in-game discography is strange and varied, spanning from glorious rock ballads to 22 second earworms about a microwavable butter-based dessert. Totalling ten tracks, I have decided that it is my duty – nay, my fate – to rank and review them in their entirety. So let us commence this spiritual journey together, my friends, into the complex mind of The Chowder Man.
A small warning before we do: this post will contain some spoilers for Hypnospace Outlaw, although if you’ve never played the game a lot of what I’m about to say will sound like genuine nonsense so I wouldn’t worry too much.
10. Desperate In Dallas, Montana
The theme song for Desperate In Dallas, Montana – a long-running soap opera – is so authentic to its real-life inspirations upon listening I am immediately transported to my Grandma’s living room circa 1996. The room smells musty, my Game Boy has run out of batteries and Grandma won’t let me watch The Simpsons until she’s finished watching Emmerdale. It’s overly sentimental, it’s synthy, it’s pitch perfect to the point where I can’t listen to it more than once.
Best bit: Despite the show’s name being purposefully clunky, the final two lines (It’s perfect ’cause I’ve got you, Desperate in Dallas, Montana) flow together surprisingly well.
The theme for Pokémon-like video game Squisherz is everything you’d expect from a piece of music created to market a toy to 90s kids. Crunchy, edgy guitar riff? Check. Memorable lyrics that get lodged in your head for months? Double check. You could be convinced Squisherz were a real Pokémon (or rather, a Digimon) competitor from this theme alone. It’s great, but seeing as I’m convinced my Dad would have complained loudly about it every time it was on TV, I can’t in good faith place it any higher on this list.
Best bit: “Slimy gooey animals” would have been enough to sell me on every single piece of Squisherz merchandise back in the day.
8. Granny Cream’ Hot Butter Ice Cream
Perhaps the most famous of The Chowder Man’s run of jingles, the theme for Granny Cream’s Hot Butter Ice Cream is Hypnospace at its most nonsensical. Butter you place in the microwave? And drink like a soup? Sure. It’s a plinky plonky foot stomper that’s silly and surreal. I’m a big fan.
Best bit: I mean, “Heat and sip” is just a great combination of words isn’t it?
7. Gray’s Peak
A perfectly solid jingle for a soda (the addition of jingling bells during the chorus give it a great wintery feel, and it’s as suitably rocky as you’d expect from Helman’s wider work) but Gray’s Peak ranks highest out of all of The Chowder Man’s marketing tracks for its role in the creation of Coolpunk. A sub-genre that uses samples from this jingle to create ironic, counter-culture jabs at rampant commercialism that are then shared online, without Gray’s Peak we wouldn’t have Colder Than The Rest, arguably the best song in the entire game.
Best bit: How can you not laugh at the lyric “Store it in the fridge inside your house”? It’s brilliant.
6. Chowder Man’s Hotel Room
Ah! Finally, we’ve reached actual Chowder Man tracks and not the mass produced earworms he made for huge brands during his sellout years. A single from his 1986 second album, Chowder Man’s Hotel Room is The Chowder Man at his sleaziest peak. Worryingly close to an Aerosmith track, this is an easy-going party anthem that glamourises ragers that last until the early hours, cool helicopters and the delights of charcuterie boards. Like most Chowder Man tracks, this is a superb parody of 80s pop rock right down to the excellent guitar solo and the questionable implications of being invited to a rock star’s hotel room.
Best bit: I love the lyric in the chorus that says “It’s probably time to party”. Why is he unsure? Great stuff.
5. I Am The Chowder Man
Hard to heap anything but praise on a fist-pumping heavy-metal track that is lyrically little more than a bad dating profile bio. I Am The Chowder Man is a humbling reminder that no matter how rich, complicated and unique our inner monologues are, our entire personality can be easily distilled into a 3:36 runtime with some tasty guitar riffs and a harmony-heavy chorus. It’s the perfect introduction to the character of The Chowder Man, a surface-level narcissist whose ego is only inflated by recognition and fame. Of course he wrote a song where he sings his own name repeatedly.
Best bit: “I don’t buy a round of drinks, I buy a square” is lyrical perfection.
4. Chowder Man, Please Come Back Home
Remorseful, heartfelt, sincere. Broken and slipping quickly into irrelevance, The Chowder Man laments the direction of his life in this acoustic heavy ballard. Its chorus, a plea for the glory days of Helman’s career to make an overdue return, is best sung in the shower on a Sunday evening using a shampoo bottle as a microphone. Feel-good melancholy. Is that a thing? In the tale of The Chowder Man, this is definitely the track that plays at the climax of Act 2.
Best bit: “Chowder clown with no act”. I feel that.
3. One Legged Man
The only track that directly references an event that occurs during your time within the game itself, One Legged Man is an unreleased bootleg recorded after the disastrous Coolfest ’99 music festival. After crashing his Chowder Copter, and killing fellow KRUNCHER bandmate “Kuff” Johnson, Helman loses a leg and quietly retires from the world of music in disgrace. Sharing parallels with Chowder Man, Please Come Back Home, One Legged Man is an equally reflective track about the person Helman is now that an important part of him has been lost. There is a raw energy to the track that’s so far removed from the glamour and glitz of other Chowder Man songs, it’s hard not to find it genuinely moving in comparison. It’s great, as is the vocal performance that resembles Jack Black more than other tracks.
Best bit: The repeated lyric of “They got so much gold” in the final verse is a beautiful mantra for seeing the best in a terrible situation.
2. Ready To Shave
Coming in at a whopping six minutes and fourty seconds, Ready To Shave is the best heavy-rock power ballad about shaving you’ll ever hear. This is an adventure of a track, each verse seamlessly swaying between alternate melodies and instruments, building up to a climactic finale that deserves no less than a shirtless rendition in the middle of your kitchen. It’s so silly it loops all the way back into being brilliant, and is one of the best songs in Hypnospace as a result.
Best bit: The lyric “And I’m not frightened, I just am” is literally one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever heard in my life.
1. Christmas Pain In Christmas Town
Could I have placed anything else at number one? Alice0 has already written many earnest, lovely things about this song over the years, but I will try my best to champion this track in a way that is comparable. Christmas Pain In Christmas Town isn’t just the best Chowder Man track. It’s so good that it manages to break away from its fiction completely, standing tall as one of the greatest Christmas songs in history.
As we’ve already established, sincerity is the key ingredient that makes for Chowder Man gold, and Christmas Pain In Christmas Town captures this through and through. An entry in that most evocative of genres – “sad man reflects about lost loves as twinkling lights reflect off freshly fallen snow” – Helman raises a lonely bottle of whiskey to those he hurt due to selfishness in Christmases past.
Eschewing heavy rock guitars for 80s era synths (although it does contain an excellent guitar solo towards the end), Christmas Pain In Christmas Town captures that specific “grim British Christmas” sound that makes Wonderful Christmastime, Last Christmas and I Believe In Father Christmas such timeless favourites. This song is as good as anything Paul Mcartney wrote about the holiday season. That is a real belief I hold. Christmas Pain In Christmas Town is the best Christmas song ever written.
Best bit: Every single second of it. This song is an actual triumph.