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