Tetsuya Komuro, 1996

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I get the feeling one is not supposed to like Tetsuya Komuro, not anymore, but I can’t help being consumed with the work of yet another gangly male producer who works almost exclusively with young, beautiful women (take your pick from history or the latest Oricon chart topper). We’re not supposed to like Komuro for some or all of the following reasons:

  • He sold and broke too many records, awarding him the distinction of filling most of the spots on the Top Ten best-selling singles at one time, therefore, he was too popular to actually be any good

  • He wasn’t that great a keyboard player, really

  • He used his talent and power for nefarious purposes, essentially ushering a number of young women into the limelight while being personally involved with a number of them, after which when he had moved on, they were discarded and left to pick up the pieces in front of a prying public and eke out a living in photobooks and greatest hits compilations (luckily, some moved forward with even greater dignity)

  • His label, Avex Trax, helped create the modern term and sound called “J-pop”

  • He stopped composing pop songs you either loved or hated and started indulging in genres nobody was interested in

  • His megalomania caresses the CD booklets of all his work, as his name is credited two dozen plus times under each song title of producer, composer, writer, and vocals, ad nauseum; after discovering Tomomi Shimogawara, he made her change her performing name to Tomomi Kahala so they shared the same initials

  • Speaking of, his penchant for self-promotion was so inclusive he dictated every aspect of his proteges’ work, from clothes and hairstyles, to stage directions; his ego and shameless public persona guaranteed we’ll always think first of Tetsuya Komuro before his equally gifted partners, like Cozy Kubo

  • He squandered most of his money away, probably on expensive toys and drugs, ending up in court for attempted fraud on the copyrights to his songs

  • Took him long enough, but he finally worked with Ayumi Hamasaki, writing most of Love songs, and gifting the world “Feel the love”

Yet his presence, craft, and instantly recognizable style influenced what we now call Japanese pop music, and what we continue to call it as long as he’s still at large. His label, Avex Trax is still producing some of the most talented, very non-idol, performers. And most importantly, his music was constructed with the kind of care one uses to hold a newborn baby — I think here of “DEPARTURES,” the mindful piano line, the slow addition of bass, cymbals and drums, beat, the soaring vocals, I go, also, to “I HAVE NEVER SEEN,” and even a throw-away single like “I wanna go,” filtered with so much distortion Komuro comes close to carrying a tune.

In fact, for a large portion of the 90’s, Komuro was the greatest common factor in any J-pop fan’s collection. When we see sales figures like 4,136,460 copies sold of globe’s debut album, that’s actually 4+ million physical copies that were sold, without the need to adjust for hand-shaking event tickets, senbatsu ballots, or alternate cover art (but maybe karaoke culture). The death of physical copies is itself a blow to those who like to keep score at home, but with the Internet making available all kinds of rare, mainstream, old, new, underground, I mean, basically all, music, there’s little room for another phenomenon or means of shared cultural communication quite like that experienced before the 00s. But it’s boring to go there. So rather than lamenting the “outdated” production values (is it outdated now? I guess I’m too old to notice) and getting nostalgic, let’s share one of the greatest years in J-pop history together as it was.

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Friday night shuffle X

I put the ol’ iRiver on shuffle and post the first five songs that come up.

hide – POSE (MIXED LEMONed Jelly mix ver.9): “POSE” is one of the more popular hide solo works, even featured in X Japan concerts as his rather promiscuous solo spot (not everybody got one, and some people who didn’t deserve one got one, ie Heath, Yoshiki, everybody else besides hide). “POSE” was remixed a lot, probably due to the catchy upbeat industrial vibe of the original which opens up with a ping-pong game before the guitars and industrial beats come in while hide waxes eloquent on the state of human nature. This remix is found on the posthumous In Motion single release. It sounds very much like the original, making it a rather superfluous track on an altogether superfluous single release.

Hikaru Utada – Boku wa Kuma (Instrumental): As the end of 2006 drew near, singer/songwriter Hikaru Utada released “Boku wa Kuma,” a rather hypnotic nursery rhyme meant for children. I find this particularly strange, as her core-audience is cetainly not children, although the song was featured in Minna no Uta, a children’s music program, where it became quite popular. Although the song itself is quite fascinating (“I am a bear! a bear! a bear! a bear! who is not chocolate!“), this instrumental version came up on shuffle, so enjoy it sans vocals.

hitomi – My Planet (Tatsumaki Remix): Probably one of the greatest trance compilations ever released was song+nation 2 trance. Fresh off the heels of song+nation, a Japanese pop star tribute to the victims of 9/11, came the remixed edition. Spanning two discs, the album is probably the best and my favorite dictionary definition of trance. Each song ranges from seven to twelve minutes apiece, gradually building up, gathering instruments, getting synthtastic before the chorus comes in and the song reaches a trance plateau before gradually beginning its descent. Amazingly enough, while I find each and every song on the original “song+nation” drab, expendable pop music, I love pretty much every single track on this album; that is how amazing and unique each remix manages to be. hitomi’s “My Planet” remix is no exception. If you’re ever wondering what real trance sounds like, wonder no further.

Ringside – Cold On Me: Ringside is a pop rock band from California that mixes contemporary electronic sounds in their work that injects an almost Depeche Mode-like quality in their work. “Cold On Me” is a good example of this, a plaintive song about a failing relationship. Surprisingly, the key changes are similar to late 60s/early 70s pop music, which comes in strongly through the vocals. Not a song I play very often, but a decent track on the 2005 self-titled album.

The Cure – Just Like Heaven: If you haven’t heard this song before, then yeah. I pretty much have nothing to say about that.