Posts Tagged ‘ J-Rock ’

Differences on Buck-Tick’s ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’


This is an article that exists solely because I wish I had something similar in order to find out if Buck-Tick’s first compilation ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’ would be worth purchasing. While that may seem like an odd question for a compilation, this is not any ordinary compilation, as its title already subtly suggests. All of the songs have been reworked to varying degrees, which means that some of the songs have been altered significantly. If for whatever reason – mine were both biological and topgraphical – you are also a latecomer to the popular J-rock band, my hope is that this article will help you decide whether or not to purchase ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’.

While I have decided not to shy away from mentioning my opinion when I feel it is warranted, my aim was to be as descriptive as possible in order to let facts rather than my opinion shape your decision. If you feel that I have not succeeded in this goal, please feel free to let me know. In case I agree, it is only little trouble to alter the article.

1. Iconoclasm

Out of all the re-arranged tracks on ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’, ‘Iconoclasm’ is the one that most sounds like it was prepared for the strong industrial leanings of the era that followed the release. This is not only obvious from the electronic samples and noises that have been added to the beginning of the track, but also from Atsushi Sakurai’s heavily processed vocals. If anything, they sound like they have been recorded through a distorted megaphone. Personally, I think this significantly hurts the – admittedly limited – melodic qualities of the original version, but if there is one song that lends itself well for such an approach, it would be ‘Iconoclasm’. Best listened to on speakers, because it’s a little trebly and abrasive on headphones.

2. Aku No Hana

The alterations made to the justified classic ‘Aku No Hana’ are subtle enough to fool the casual listener into thinking that they were minor, but some of the changes were rather substantial. The overall sound mix is considerably brighter and more balanced than the mildly murky production of the album with the same name. While I’m not quite sure if the instruments were re-recorded or just remixed, Sakurai’s vocals went through some notable changes. Not only does his voice sound a tad deeper than on the original, some parts have been changed, like the whispers that end every other line of the verses. Overall an improvement over the original, though cutting out the vocals of the characteristic “I’m falling down” bit near the end was a bad idea.

3. Do The “I Love You”

A minute and a half longer than the original and that’s not because of an extended break or something similar. The song is substantially changed from its hyperactive, punky original incarnation into a new wave track with a more seductive groove. This version would not have sounded out of place on an INXS album. Hisashi Imai’s guitar solo remains surprisingly faithful to the original, it may actually be lifted directly from the original ‘Sexual XXXXX!’ recording. The accompanying parts are more streamlined, with especially the absence of the sudden crazy noises being notable.

4. Victims Of Love

Another track that is much longer than its previous version. Nearly twice as long in this case. For a more than significant part, this is due to its much slower tempo, which fits the dangerously seductive atmosphere Buck-Tick were going for much, much better. They would nail it completely on the ‘Climax Together’ live video recorded the same year, but this studio version is an excellent attempt as well. It is surprising to see how much Sakurai’s voice has developed in the less than four years since the original release. His somewhat deeper tone completely tosses the almost innocent quality of the original vocals out of the window, finally allowing him to make his vocal sound like they were probably intended. The abrupt ending is a bit of a downer ending though.

5. M.A.D

Easily the most recent song by the time the album was released – along with ‘Speed’ and ‘Jupiter’ – and therefore, it is kind of strange to see how much they changed it. The highly cinematic intro – think film music meets electro or maybe Enigma without choirs – made me hopeful about the outcome, but the rest of the track left me disappointed. Instead of a quirky, uncomplicated, Talking Heads-ish new wave track with some cool vocal harmonies, the re-arranged version of ‘M.A.D’ is high on electronic rhythms, sudden explosions of synth and aggressive vocals reverberating in the distance. As much as I would like to commend Buck-Tick for their creativity here, I don’t think the result is listenable enough.

6. Oriental Love Story

In its original version on ‘Seventh Heaven’, I have always thought ‘Oriental Love Story’ was promising, but also suffered from productional limitations. The new arrangement definitely improves upon that, though in a different way than I was expecting. When I saw the song was on this album, I expected Buck-Tick to further emphasize the “new romantic” atmosphere of the original and they certainly do in the first couple of minutes, but the song develops into something considerably more propulsive when the full band kicks in. Whether or not that is a good thing depends on how you prefer the song. Personally, I would not have minded a dreamy, romantic track, but the song works very well as an optimistic new wave rocker.

7. Speed

Right off the bat, the most notable change here are the sound effects carried over from the cross-fade of ‘Oriental Love Story’. That also means Imai’s lead-in measure has been sacrificed, but apart from that, the differences with the original version are quite minimal and superficial. The mix is certainly a lot brighter and it seems like Imai has added a lot of extra effects to his guitars, he may even have re-recorded his rhythm guitar in the middle section to make it sound a bit more funky. Also, some vocal textures have been added, though it is entirely possible that they were there already, they have just been made more audible in the mixing process this time around.

8. Love Me

If you don’t like Hawaiian style slide guitar work, avoid this version of ‘Love Me’ like the plague. That also counts if you found Sakurai’s vocals on the original version on the verge of being too schmaltzy, because this arrangement pushes the rest of the track into that territory as well. No longer do Imai and Hidehiko Hoshino deliver chorus laden chords that sound like a mix of late seventies punk and early gothic rock; instead the guitars are calm, shimmering and drenched in reverb. As you may have already understood, it’s also quite a bit slower than its original version. To be honest, I personally am not a big fan of either version, but if I had to choose, I would certainly go for the more energetic original.

9. Jupiter

‘Jupiter’ was an excellent ballad to begin with – Buck-Tick has quite a lot of those in their catalogue – so my guess is that they wanted to alter the track for this release just to include it. There is a lengthy Gregorian-style choir chant opening this version, but the rest of the track has just been embellished slightly. The vocal harmonies appear to have been redone, as their execution sounds better than on the original, Yutaka Higuchi added some cool, subtle fretless bass flourishes in the calmest sections and Imai reinterpreted his guitar solo. Some of the choir singers return on the background in the final chorus, but overall, ‘Jupiter’ feels like the original version with an intro tacked on.

10. …In Heaven…

On the surface, the reimagined version of ‘…In Heaven…’ does not sound that different from the version on ‘Seventh Heaven’, except for the grateful use Buck-Tick makes of the technological progress that has been made in the intervening years. New vocal textures have been added to the chorus and Imai explores the pleasures of harmonizing in the lead guitar parts, but overall, it is still pretty much the same song. And yet, it sounds so much more powerful than the already impressive original. The much clearer mix is definitely a part of the reason why. Yagami Toll’s drum especially sound massively improved in this version, but I also think Higuchi’s bass has more balls this time around. Whatever the reason, this is the definitive version of this delightful pop rocker, even though it still does not fix the awkward English. Oh well…

11. Moon Light

‘Moon Light’ more or less becomes the second part of a diptych with ‘…In Heaven…’ for this release. It kind of makes sense too; both songs have a similar upbeat “in love for the first time” vibe. In order to optimize the transition, I think ‘Moon Light’ has been adapted to fit alongside ‘…In Heaven…’ more than the other way around. The song has been slowed down slightly and the bright, clear guitar sound definitely sounds fitting to the ‘Seventh Heaven’ sound. This is still largely the same song as on ‘Hurry Up Mode’ though. The structure is largely the same and so are the melodies, though I think Sakurai has come a long way since the band’s debut album. Imai’s guitar solo on this version is beefed up and really cool here as well.

12. Just One More Kiss

If you want to appreciate what a good rhythm guitarist Hoshino is, by all means check out this version. This is something that stands out most when you listen to it on headphones and you can really make out all the subtleties of his picking hand. ‘Just One More Kiss’ on this release actually focuses slightly more on clean guitars as far as Hoshino is concerned than it did on ‘Taboo’. Apart from that, differences are relatively minor, though the shift from slightly distorted to clean might throw avid fans of the original off. Too bad that the only flaw in this furthermore more than decent song – the large amount of repetition in the last three minutes – is still there in the remake.

13. Taboo

‘Taboo’ is the reason why I considered buying ‘Koroshi No Shirabe: This Is Not Greatest Hits’ in the first place. The original is a masterful, goosebumps-inducing new wave track full of seductive grooves and vocals that really only could have been made in the eighties and – along ‘Tokyo’ – the highlight of the eponymous album. But what that song does not have is this incredible bass line courtesy of Higuchi. Here, ‘Taboo’ is completely reimagined. Whilst retaining the general melodies of the original, the guitars are much more sparse and the track is more oriented on almost jazzy grooves, though Yagami is too much of a hard hitter to go full jazz. The result: instead of one, Buck-Tick now has two utterly amazing tracks named ‘Taboo’ with the same lyrics and vocal melodies, but surprisingly little in common with the original version otherwise.

14. Hyper Love

Another track that is seamlessly connected to the previous one – Buck-Tick seemed to be in the mood for that when they sequenced the album. Not unlike ‘Victims Of Love’, the subsequent ‘Climax Together’ live recording is more powerful than the studio version, but I’m still on the fence about this one. Yes, Sakurai’s vocals are better than on the original and the chorus, while maybe a tad silly, is an improvement, but I’m a little conflicted about the choruses. They have a powerful, almost tribal feel, but they also kind of lack the mysterious menace of the original. That sounds like the album ends disappointingly for me, but admittedly, it works really well in terms of flow here.

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Album of the Week 13-2019: NoGoD – Proof


With the visual kei scene being as full of rather faceless soundalikes as it is, it’s good to have bands like NoGoD pop up every once in a while. While the band does not use any elements that are all that different from what most bands in the scene are using – modern hardrock, melodic heavy metal, subtle hints of pop punk and J-rock aesthetics – they were always just a bit better than their peers. And with ‘Proof’ being probably the most consistent release NoGoD has released thus far, it rivals ‘V’ as the perfect album to get acquainted with them.

Stylistically, NoGoD is always at risk of being too little of multiple genres to appeal to fans of the respective genres. Approach them with an open mind, however, and you will find a lot to enjoy on ‘Proof’. Dancho is without a doubt one of the best and most unique singers in Japanese rock. Some people are apparently put off by the fact that he is always belting passionately, but I think that is one of his biggest assets. In addition, the rhythm section is rock solid and Kyrie is one of the more creative lead guitarists in the country.

‘Proof’ was preceded by two excellent singles. Selecting single was not always NoGoD’s forte, but they hit the nail on the head this time around. ‘Missing’ is very melodic and elegiac in atmosphere, but at the same time, the riffs are undeniably heavy, which pushes the song out of the power ballad territory it would have been in otherwise. Certainly one of the best songs in the band’s discography. ‘Arlequin’ is a little more uptempo and aggressive. It’s not quite heavy enough to be metal, but there’s a lot of metallic chugging on the lowest strings of the guitar, which is contrasted nicely with the open and catchy chorus.

That is hardly the only catchy moment on ‘Proof’. Opening track ‘Break Out!’ feels like a Japanese spin on the heaviest side of the Foo Fighters, ‘Dreamer’ is a little more aggressive in vocal approach, but just as memorable and ‘Tonight!’ will get stuck in your head no matter what. ‘Proof’ may sound even better when the band adopts a darker approach. The title track inverts NoGoD’s formula by making the verses more positive than its great chorus, ‘Shinkiro’ works its way through multiple climaxes and a wonderfully brooding middle section, while ‘Henrietta’ is surprisingly heavy with some inventive lead guitar work in its chorus. ‘Sendo’ is even the fastest, heaviest moment in the band’s history, bordering on thrash metal.

If you want to know what NoGoD is all about, ‘Proof’ may actually be the best place to start. It is generally slightly darker in tone than most of their other works, but every aspect that makes them the great band they are is here, right down to the fantastic instrumental ‘Kyoji to Tomoni’ and the awesome intro ‘In The Cage…’. Once, in the late seventies and early eighties, there was a time when hardrock and heavy metal weren’t two separate things yet. What NoGoD shows here is there is no need for that to be the case in the 21st century either.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sendo’, ‘Missing’, ‘Proof’

Album of the Week 11-2019: Kinniku Shojo Tai – Shinjin


Making a worthy comeback is one thing. Releasing a comeback album that is as good as your classic material is rare though. And yet, that is exactly what Kinniku Shojo Tai does on ‘Shinjin’. The band had broken up somewhat unceremoniously in the late nineties after a string of enjoyable, but highly inconsistent albums. A reunion was announced in late 2006 – without drummer Akira Ota but with original keyboard player Satoshi Mishiba helping out significantly as a session musician – and less than a year later, ‘Shinjin’ was released. Easily their best set of songs since their early nineties heyday, this is how comebacks should be.

With Kinniku Shojo Tai’s trademark bizarre mix of punk, metal, funk rock, prog and Queen-like theatricality being firmly in place, it would be tempting to say that nothing has changed since the split. There is a small, but notable change of direction to be found, however, as post-reunion Kinniku Shojo Tai has a notably stronger orientation towards melodic hard rock and power metal than before. And while some may argue that wild genre-hopping was an important part of the band’s sound, it does cause the overall sound of ‘Shinjin’ to be a little more consistent than before.

Of course, the band has not suddenly ditched all of its weirdness. There is some rather unique piano work underneath even the thickest guitar riffs and only very few western hard rock bands would dare to attempt a nervous, jangly sixties rocker like ‘Nukenin’. The fact that the first vocals on the album are some of the most aggressive “la-la-la” chants in music history (‘Nakanaori No Theme’) is quite telling as well. The campfire atmosphere of closer ‘Shinjin Band No Theme’ is one of the many moments evidencing the band’s sense of humor, but it’s surprisingly listenable as well.

Still, if you primarily want to hear Kinniku Shojo Tai rock out, ‘Shinjin’ is one of the best places to start. The blunt force of the band’s punk roots shines through on ‘Mishiyo Hikikaiken’, but there’s a surprising amount of class in their hardrockers too. Fumihiko Kitsutaka’s compositions, such as ‘Torifido No Hi Ga Kitemo Futaridake Ha Iki Nuku’ and the particularly neoclassical ‘Headbang Hatsudensho’, are renowned for that, but the powerful ‘Ai Wo Uchikorose!’ appears to be from the same mold, despite being written by his fellow guitarist Toshiaki Honjo. Also, letting a singer as shouty and unsubtle as Kenji Otsuki sing no less than three ballads seems like a bad idea, but they are fortunately quite good, the remarkably dynamic ‘Koshonin To Rosalia’ in particular.

Eclectic bands like Kinniku Shojo Tai usually have a couple of flaws on their albums, but they are quite limited in number on ‘Shinjin’. The sequencing could have been a little more effective and I am unsure about the necessity of the re-recordings of ‘Moretsu Ataro’ and the speed metal monster ‘Iwan No Baka’. Especially the latter does sound significantly better than the original version though. Having them on there does contribute to the album’s introductory value to the weird world of Kinniku Shojo Tai. ‘Shinjin’ is an album that plays to the band’s strengths, after all, and therefore worth a shot if you like any of the genres mentioned in this review.

Recommended tracks: ‘Headbang Hatsudensho’, ‘Ai Wo Uchikorose!’, ‘Iwan No Baka ’07’

Album of the Week 03-2019: Asagi – Madara


Asagi’s debut solo album is one of those instances where I doubted the necessity of a solo venture. After all, Asagi is by far the most prolific composer of his main band, the immensely popular visual kei band D, and his surprisingly unique voice is characteristic enough to add D’s character to everything he sings on. What makes ‘Madara’ a successful record, however, is its focus. Japanese folk influences have been quite prominent in some of D’s best songs, but on this album, Asagi goes full-on folk rock and folk metal. And it’s not just a gimmick: the songs are great.

Of course, Asagi has not lost his ability to write catchy, powerful rock songs. In fact, some of the songs are filled with his trademark stock visual kei melodies – opening track ‘Gekkai No Miko’ most notably – but the Japanese traditional instruments, such as the koto, the shamisen and the taiko drums, are an integral part of the songwriting rather than an extra touch. On a majority of the songs, it’s not the guitars, but these instruments that carry the melodies. While the guitars are there to give them extra punch, that does impact the character of the melodies significantly.

While the entirity of ‘Madara’ is highly entertaining, the best moments of the album are the hardest rocking ones. Songs like ‘Hakumenkonmo Kyubi No Kitsune Hidama’, ‘Kimera’ and ‘Komo Sakura’ just work wonders: the shamisen introduces the melody, the electric guitars join, either in unison or as bottom-heavy accompaniment, creating some fantastic oriental folk metal. I have always wondered why the number of bands attempting this style is not larger and Asagi makes a strong case for the combination of sounds. The more melodic rockers, such as ‘Hotarubi’, ‘Hana Kumo No Ran’ and ‘Ooyama Inudake ~Tsukuyo Ni Hoeyu~’ are sure to please D fans, but might also draw in people who usually find them too heavy.

Since this is an Asagi album, there is of course room for some ballads in which he can show off his vocal talents. There are quite a few of them here and those are probably the most folky sounding ones on the record. Ironically, it is not Asagi himself, but bassist (and prolific producer) Hajime Okano who stands out on the album’s best ballad ‘Kaishikoki Eru E Kaeryanse’ features some gorgeous melodic work on the fretless bass that really enhances the atmosphere of the song. Closing track ‘Asagimadara’ is another beautiful ballad, this time with absolutely stunning symphonic touches.

Beside the songwriting, it is also impressive how Asagi managed to make the album about the songs and not about the all-star cast that appears on the album, which features members of Luna Sea, Dir En Grey, Galneryus, D and loads of other high profile Japanese bands. It still sounds like a cohesive collection of songs and that, again, is probably the result of Asagi’s razor sharp focus. He wanted to make a powerful rock album that was heavy on the Japanese folk influences and that is exactly what ‘Madara’ has become. One of the Japanese highlights of 2018.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hakumenkonmo Kyubo No Kitsune Hidama’, ‘Komo Sakura’, ‘Ooyama Inudake ~Tsukoyo Ni Hoeyu’

Album of the Week 02-2019: Gargoyle – Gaia


For some reason, ‘Gaia’ often gets ignored when people discuss the greatest works of Gargoyle. Up until last year’s unfortunate dissolution of the band, the songs on ‘Gaia’ did not even appear on their live sets all that much. Maybe that is a result of the material on the album making optimal use of the two guitar line-up, since Gargoyle would continue with just one guitarist after Yotaro left. It would really be a pity to let ‘Gaia’ go by unnoticed though, because there is simply too much good music on the album. It is in fact one of Gargoyle’s finest efforts.

‘Gaia’ is probably the second most experimental album Gargoyle released to date, surpassed only by its predecessor ‘Natural’. Unlike the latter, however, ‘Gaia’ feels pretty coherent stylistically and does not have as many sudden shifts, save for maybe the odd, but successful percussion and Spanish guitar exercise that is ‘Hako’ and the hyperactive funk rock of ‘Baby Cat’, one of Gargoyle’s better funky tracks. Everything else consists of variations on the trusted Gargoyle formula. Some songs have a cleaner guitar approach and more swing rhythmically (‘Unkown ~Annon~’) or a more exotic overall sound (‘Yagate Hikaru’), but but the thrash riffs and heavy metal melodies are everywhere.

Opening track ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’ does a pretty good job of preparing its listeners for the general sound of ‘Gaia’. The rhythm guitar work and Katsuji’s rolling double bass thunder still is as deeply rooted in thrash as the band always was, but the overall approach is a little more melodic. Frontman Kiba even shows a surprising amount of restraint in its uncharacteristically melodic vocal lines, but it all works remarkably well. ‘Sora Wa Ao’ is another track that manages to successfully blend a wild, propulsive bottom end with a melodic, almost rocky top layer.

That does not mean ‘Gaia’ cannot thrash your face off. The stomping ‘Meditation’ and the vaguely OverKill-ish ‘Who Are You?’ are both excellent energetic thrashers in the best Gargoyle tradition, while especially the speed monster ‘Kamikaze’ is absolutely annihilating. Truly one of the highlights of the band’s career. If ‘Gaia’ proves anything, however, it is that Gargoyle does not have to do that to sound amazing. ‘Sanbika’, for instance, is one of the most powerful tracks on here and it has an almost doom metal vibe, with Kentaro’s and Yotaro’s riffs not containing any more notes than they have to and Toshi laying down some of his best melodic bass lines. Definitely one of the best of their more atmospheric tracks.

My only complaints about ‘Gaia’ are aimed at its production. The guitar sound is not as powerful and pulsating as it should be and I have no idea why Kiba’s vocals on ‘Sayonara Jibun’, otherwise a very pleasant melodic thrasher, had to be so trebly, borderline unlistenably distorted. But apart from that, ‘Gaia’ is one of the best albums the Japanese experimental thrash machine has ever released. It may even have been the most consistent set of songs they have ever recorded, save for the near-perfection of ‘Tsuki No Toge’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sanbika’, ‘Kamikaze’, ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’, ‘Who Are You?’

Album of the Week 44-2018: Kinniku Shojo Tai – Za Shisa


Despite being somewhat unpredictable stylistically, Kinniku Shojo Tai has been experiencing a very solid run recently. More so than during the latter years of their original run, in fact. Some of their recent albums are slightly better than others, ‘Omake No Ichinichi (Tatakai No Hibi)’ in particular, but none of them is less than enjoyable. ‘Za Shisa’ is another convincing entry into their discography, which currently counts over twenty studio albums. The general vibe is slightly more relaxed and less crazy than on their previous records, but anyone who liked their melting pot of influences before will certainly enjoy ‘Za Shisa’.

Kinniku Shojo Tai’s unpredictability is a result of every band member bringing something different to the table. ‘Za Shisa’ features a relatively large amount of the playful funk rock riffs that guitarist Toshiaki Honjo specializes in. Everything muscular, classy and melodic is the work of Fumihiko Kitsutaka, who in my opinion is one of the world’s greatest guitarists and arrangers. Founding bassist Yuichiro Uchida usually is responsible for the weird progressive and psychedelic stuff, while his co-founder Kenji Otsuki yells, speaks and sings everything together. That sounds like it may not work, but ‘Za Shisa’ proves it does.

The first peak of ‘Za Shisa’ arrives quite early. The elegant melodic hardrock of ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’ is Kitsutaka in its purest form with a gorgeous chorus, after which the darker, vaguely Middle Eastern tones of the climactic ‘Occult’ account for one of the album’s most atmospheric moments. What follows is the most metallic track of the album; the aggressive speed metal of ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’ would not have sounded out of place on one of the band’s earliest releases. And like on those albums, the creative use of piano and dynamics lends gravitas to the energetic aggression.

After that, the album takes a slight dip. Not that ‘Naze Hito Wo Koroshi Cha Ike Nai No Daro Ka?’ and ‘Uchu No Hosoku’ are bad songs, it’s just too much consecutive tranquillity. The pace is picked back up quite quickly though, with the subdued seventies rock feel with spoken verses of the awesome ‘Marilyn Monroe Returns’ bringing Thin Lizzy’s ‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’ to mind. Uchida’s songs ‘Kenji No Zundoku Fushi’ and ‘Parallax No Shisa’ have the dynamic, haunting quality he excels at. The former has a pleasant stomp, while the way the guitar line and piano melody teasingly dance in unison on the latter is only the beginning of its ominous atmosphere. ‘Next Generation’ and ‘I, Toya’ are pleasant upbeat rockers.

Though ‘Za Shisa’ feels somewhat more laid-back, Kinniku Shojo Tai is still as weird and reluctant to stick to one genre as ever. As always, it may require some time to sink in, but it is a rewarding album for repeated spins. If you have not heard of the band before and need a western reference: imagine if Queen had embraced punk and further developed the metallic leanings of their first few albums. Now add a dash of Japanese weirdness to the mix. Sounds impossible? Tell that to them. They have been doing it for over thirty years.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’, ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’, ‘Occult’

Album of the Week 37-2018: Atsushi Sakurai – Ai No Wakusei


With his amazing voice being the defining factor that it is in Buck-Tick, it is quite surprising that no one in the Japanese record industry pushed Atsushi Sakurai to release more solo albums than just ‘Ai No Wakusei’. It sold reasonably well, but it would be logical to assume that Buck-Tick took up most of his time, given that their second career peak started shortly after its release. With several of the song titles containing references to his contributors, it is likely that Sakurai was inspired by the people he worked with. That also explains the wide range of styles here.

A different songwriter and different musicians on every track sounds like the album could turn out quite messy and to be honest, it kind of is. After Wayne Hussey’s sublime gothic rock of opening track ‘Sacrifice’ and Raymond Watts’ heavy industrial rock with Arabic string interlude in ‘Yellow Pig’, the album is all over the place for a while. There’s electronic tracks (‘X-Lover’), sparse funk highly reminiscent of Prince (the surprisingly cool ‘Smell’) and J.D. Thirlwell – perhaps better known as Foetus – contributed the hyperactive, chaotic jazz of ‘I Hate You All’. That could throw you off, but it’s worth hanging on.

The album settles for a certain groove during its latter half, that groove being low-key rock with a distinct dark vibe. It is public knowledge that Buck-Tick guitarist Hisashi Imai was inspired to write a more gothic-leaning album (the incredible ‘Jusankai wa Gekko’) after hearing Sakurai’s solo performances in support of ‘Ai No Wakusei’. And with songs like the menacing ‘Hallelujah!’, the incredibly dynamic ‘Shingetsu’ and the brooding majesty of ‘Yokan’, a reworking of his excellent collaboration with Dutch electro-goths Clan of Xymox, it is clear why Imai heard the impact Sakurai could have in dark, gothic surroundings. His deep, emotional baritone is tailor-made for it.

However, that does not mean that ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is all dark all the time. ‘Taiji’ has an optimistic chorus with subtle guitar work and a gently purring hammond organ in the background, while as a whole, the track is simply a powerful, well-constructed pop rocker with several surprising climaxes. ‘Fantasy’ is an upbeat electro-based track and the semi-title track ‘Wakusei’ has a bit of a positive ring to it, despite being built upon crunchy power chords and reverb-drenched lead guitar parts. ‘Neko’, which I assume is a tribute to Sakurai’s cat, even closes the album in a surprisingly soothing manner.

Somehow, ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is one of those albums where you don’t know what to expect even after you have heard it. But that is part of its charm as well. What the first half of the album lacks in terms of flow, the album as a whole more than makes up for in the individual quality of the songs. It is also not quite as vocal-centric as one might expect from a solo release by a singer as characteristic as Sakurai. A decade later, Sakurai would team up with several ‘Ai No Wakusei’ contributors to form The Mortal, but in name, this is truly the only album where he could do whatever the hell he wanted and one thing is for sure: he ran with it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Yokan’, ‘Smell’, ‘Taiji’, ‘Shingetsu’

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