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Let’s Talk About The Most Powerful Song In Red Dead Redemption II (Spoilers)
S H O O K E T H
Red Dead Redemption II’s soundtrack is vast but most of the time, it used sparsely. But when it takes the center stage, it’s oh-so-powerful it will leave you shaking.
If you ever wondered whether Red Dead Redemption II can top the first game’s scene when you enter Mexico for the first time, then wonder no more. Let’s talk about that one song, the most powerful song in the game.
Though we recommend you only to read this after finishing the game. Or not care about spoilers. Be warned.
First, the song itself. Full title “May I? Standing Unshaken – Oh Traveller Have a Seat”, or as we are going to refer to henceforth as “Stand Unshaken”, is a new track by D’Angelo.
In the music world, D’Angelo is one of the best artists out there in the realm of neo-soul. As hard-hitting as his works are, granting multiple Grammy Awards, they don’t come as often. His last album, Black Messiah, was released at the end of 2014. His previous album was in 2000.
So to see a new song appear from him is already something of a big news. For it to be in a video game, is another.
On its own, Stand Unshaken definitely is a good listen. Bluesy, neo-soul vibes definitely permeate well through the laid-back, but emotionally strong song. Here’s a good, clean rip of the song.
But within context of the Red Dead Redemption II, the song elevates the storytelling to another level.
The song appears in-between the missions “Paradise Mercifully Departed” and “Dear Uncle Tacitus”.
Protagonist Arthur Morgan has been through some hard times. He is already seeing that time for the outlaw life, the life him and the Van Der Linde Gang he is part of, is coming to an end. Civilisation is spreading through America and the law is breathing down their necks. But Dutch, the gang leader, still has a plan to lead the gang to a better life. He just needed one last score. One final robbery.
But each time he tried, it never worked. A botched job in Blackwater, where they lost some good men and women, is the starting point of the game. And from there there’s rarely a score that got right, despite all the planning. Arthur, the right-hand man of the gang, has gone weary, causing tension to the gang. Dutch is getting worked up. And you see this conflict slowly unfold.
The crescendo is the bank heist at the end of Chapter 4. Despite all the good planning the Pinkerton Detective Agency cornered the gang immediately. The gang’s co-founder was shot dead. So is Arthur’s favourite member of the gang, which hit him hard. One got arrested. And the remaining members had to flee into a boat that later sank, leaving the gang stranded in Guarma. And then they got caught into another civil war with the locals.
Things are getting rough, Arthur and Dutch continues to not get along. He also saw Dutch not being himself, or showing his true self depending on the way you look at it. Arthur starts doubting himself. Should he remain loyal to the person who he grew up with and own his life to or stay loyal to the values he grew up to believe in?
The culmination of despair and conflict from the end of Chapter 4 and halfway through Chapter 5 comes to a close as the gang members stranded in Guarma found a way to get back to the US. They split up, with Arthur being tasked to visit the gang’s last hideout to find clues to what happened to them. Will they be still there? It’s been some time since the botched bank heist. Are they still alive?
As you landed back into the game map, in an unfamiliar town of Van Horn, there’s only a horse that you can ride to reach to the gang’s last camp. A gloomy night, with rain looming. You gallop to the south of the map.
And then the twangy guitar starts plucking.
And the cinematic camera prompt appears.
And then you hear the lyrics.
Personally, it left me shook. Shooketh.
After all the tragedies, you are left hoping for something. Hoping something to keep you going.
“May I? Stand unshaken
Amid, amidst a clash of worlds?”
Stand Unshaken’s lyrics capture the essence of this conflicted emotions Arthur has. A hint of optimism among douses of remorse.
He chose to be outlaws for life, but something in his conscience doesn’t feel right. The loan sharks activities where he forced people to pay their loans without remorse has left him shaken. He saw the consequences of his actions. A dying man with tuberculosis was one of his clients. And when he passed, the widow has to live a life as a prostitute, ridiculing him and his actions each time they crossed paths.
Then there’s the gang. Dutch is very hurt that his right-hand man doesn’t see things as he does anymore. But he has gone estranged over the events of the game up to this point, not being the man Arthur looked up to all his life.
All these inner doubts seal Arthur as a good man at heart, but he knows he is not. He killed many without remorse. He threatens and interrogated many because that’s his job. But is there a way to redeem himself?
Then there’s the immediate conflict, what happened to the rest of the gang? At this point, you will start to be wary because developers Rockstar is going full Game Of Thrones, they start to kill off characters.
The long travel down south will leave you contemplating on the current arc of the very long story. Will it surmount to anything positive? Is the gang’s fate as sealed as we expected given Red Dead Redemption II is a prequel story from the first game, which has a known, definite and grim ending?
Rain then starts pouring as D’Angelo sings his heart out. Asking you over and over.
Spoilers for the ending.
As the story continues, Arthur starts to suffer TB himself, a sealed fate in those times. When a man is dying, his worldview changes. He confronted Dutch even more. He starts planning how to save John Marston and his family from the gang life. He won’t live to be a family man so at least helping someone to do so is good enough.
In Arthur’s dying breaths, the song appears again.
One last reminder of the struggles you suffer through. And even at the end of Arthur’s life, the lingering doubts remain. Is it all worth it?
The game then continues into a two-part epilogue of seeing how John Marston got his ranch and brought his family together. In the context of Red Dead Redemption, this is one sour blow knowing what unfolds later in Marston’s life. But in the context of Red Dead Redemption II, this is what Arthur died for. In a way, this is his redemption.
And that is why “May I? Standing Unshaken – Oh Traveller Have a Seat” is the most powerful song in the Red Dead Redemption II soundtrack. Our review of Red Dead Redemption II has us saying that it is “the best 60+ hours of your life.” And this is one of the many high points of the game, a stellar soundtrack used in a stellar way.
UPDATE 15/1/19: Grammar fixes have been made and the link to song now points to the official release.