B'z – Magic – 3.5/5
To call this a 'big' artist in Japan would be something of an understatement. Aside from the fact they're the only Asian artist to have been inducted to the Hollywood Rock Walk and their guitarist's status as a Gibson signature artist along side BB King and Larry Carlton, they're the biggest selling artist in their home country (at almost 80million records sold, they're #1 by over 25 million), stringing together 43 consecutive #1 singles and 24 #1 albums. After all that you'd think they'd be somewhat well known, which at first only added to my confusion the fact that I'd never really heard them crop up in conversation, but the more likely reason is that they probably aren't worth mentioning.
In that void of “everyone knows them anyway” and “little to say that hasn't already been said” sits ignorance; the lack of knowledge that they even exist, and with little advertising – little being needed beyond perhaps pointing out they made another one – their reputation is a long earned and well deserved one. You don't become one of the big names artist by doing things differently, experimenting with your sound and trying out new idea's, you get there by being reliable. There's nothing you'll find here that'll blow you away – and I expect the rest of their past catalogue to be no different – but is solid from beginning to end, through the gentle ballads and all out rock anthems; it all carries an element of pop, at times perhaps getting a little close to a Japanese “Journey,” but there are no bad tracks in this 45 minute release.
Despite really being comprised of just two musicians – the vocalist/producer and the guitarist – the sound is fleshed out with an array of keyboards, bass and drums to complete the line up, even if these two instruments take precedence. With plenty of chunky blue based riffs and catchy-as-crap chorus lines they have found their niche, and if they are guilty of anything it's of becoming complacent in their style. Many tracks begin to sound similar and the solo's lack a spark or vivacity that really separates them from a long list of others performing in a similar manner.
Being 'stuck' musically has never been something I've been particularly fond of but I feel an AC/DC comparison is necessary here. When asked about about “Black Ice,” Brian Johnson (vocalist) was asked his thoughts on the comments saying they'd released the same album fifteen times, to which he simply responded “bollocks, they've not counted our live albums.” When I'd found a formula that works and works so damn well time and time again, I'd probably be hesitant to fuck around with it too. B'z are nothing new but at the end of the day 'Magic' is another album to rock to, plain and simple.
Highlights: Dive, Long Time No See, PRAY, Freedom Train
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Me-Al-Art – 生まれてきたけれど – 4.5/5
This is not an album that has had a small number of plays in the last few weeks, but I've been struggling with just how to tackle it. On the surface there seems to be little that feels unique; in fact for a Japanese artist it has a surprisingly western feel to it all, particularly where the vocals are concerned. And yet despite this apparent unoriginality it never seems to become tiring, always straddling that line between familiarity and something new with every turn right from the get go; an almost jazz like gift for experimentalism, playing around with guitar tones and drum fills flitting in and out of the song's heart, it's hard to put your finger on just how they accomplish treading this fine line. A dozen plays later – my interest still going strong – and the only thing I've managed to conclude is that they simply must do it really well.
Much of the focus falls onto the vocals, as happens perhaps all too often with many artists, but she's more than capable of facing up to the scrutiny. There are times where I'm forced to double-take as you realise the language is foreign as often it'll feel like an all too familiar voice, perhaps sitting somewhere between Tori Amos and Alanis Morisette; the ever present acoustic guitar making it's presence heard combining with her almost schizophrenic ability to transition from a gentle melancholy to screaming her lungs out about everything that's wrong in the world. And even though I haven't even the faintest idea what the track titles mean, somehow her point feels made, even if the finer details are lost in translation.
So I've described what makes them good but I feel no more compulsion to reach for an old Alanis Morisette CD as I do listen to someone pretend to be her, which makes it all the more fortunate that this isn't another generic singer-songwriter but an actual band complete with capable instrumentation. The bass adds an almost ambient backing to the composition, providing its own distinct lines that work as much with the aggressive guitars during the energetic passages as with the delicate overlaying riffs performed almost as a piano. With compositions that seem to evolve throughout the track's length, for all it's simplicity, the marriage of all the instruments performing their own subtly varying lines working in unison with one another is one that's hard to beat. Enigmatic, Epic, Emotional and Energetic; Me-Al-Art are unquestionably my unlikely discovery of the past month.
Highlights: 生まれてきたけれど, ありきたりな日常, もう一人のボクに
|Exist – 4/5|