A different level of rock star: The Yoshiki Show rolls on with documentary film We Are X

wearexapp

By now, everyone has heard about We Are X, the documentary film about one of Japan’s most legendary rock bands, X Japan. The film already won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Best Editing by the Sundance Institute, and extra buzz picked up speed when it was announced that the movie would be screened at this year’s SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas last week. SXSW describes the movie as “the arc of X – from phenomenal origins through tumultuous super-stardom and premature dissolution up to present day, as the band prepares to reunite for a show at the legendary Madison Square Garden while struggling to reconcile a past haunted by suicide, injury and cultish extremism with the insatiable thirst for perfection.” It’s the stuff of high drama and theatrics, just the kind band leader, drummer, and pianist Yoshiki lives for.

Here’s what I knew about X Japan by the time I purchased their first CD over a decade ago: hide was the most interesting, Yoshiki was the most tortured, and almost none of it mattered because the band had already broken up. hide was dead. Toshi was in a religious cult. And Heath and Pata were scrambling to cobble together new projects.

xjapanapp1The band cited few reasons for breaking up, but it was obvious that even before the release of their last studio album, DAHLIA, most of the members were unhappy. hide achieved the most success in his solo project, combining a different, less serious and more blithe aspect into his work, which incorporated more and more progressive and industrial sounds into the mix (he was a big fan of Garbage); in fact, hide’s signature loud and fun colors and style were the only remaining “visuals” in X Japan as the years wore on — pink hair and neon green latex suits were hard to miss standing next to everyone else in black. Toshi had started to second guess his fame and fortune, struggling with his identity and place in the world. And Yoshiki was too busy controlling every aspect of every facet of every second of every piece of song that made the cut; “perfectionist” might be one way to describe him. Control-freak would be another. Domineering, also a good one. Hogging the spotlight wouldn’t be too far-fetched either.

Before long, the credits on the track lists stopped featuring all the members and only Yoshiki’s name appeared. The other members stopped getting solos. Their songs were cut or heavily edited. Yoshiki, a classically trained pianist, dropped the others’ songs out to make room for more of his signature ballads. The band’s last album, featured two songs written by hide, one written by Heath and Pata, and seven songs written by Yoshiki. It’s not hard to see where disagreements and artistic differences started to crop up.

xjapanapp2Watching the trailer for We Are X is like seeing the evidence come to life all over again two decades later: I’m not sure what the movie actually features since I haven’t seen it yet, but the trailer is nothing short of the Memoirs of Yoshiki. His voice, or rather, his story and his point of view, narrates the entire time: like the last five minutes of all of his ballads, it is a creation of his mind, a rehearsed poem, with special attention paid to the darkest nights of his soul, and the highest peaks of success — which are now, naturally, even though they haven’t released an album of new material in almost 20 years (despite Yoshiki promising said album for nearly as long). “Why am I here? Why am I in this world?” he asks as the trailer starts, and we strap ourselves in to find out why Yoshiki’s existence alone matters in a movie about a band of five.

His ego knows no bounds: his talking head crops up countless times, while the other members don’t speak at all (the language barrier shouldn’t be a  problem when other voices get subtitles). Understandably, X was a band Yoshiki started with his childhood friend, but to take all the credit is nearly sacrilegious. This is not a movie about one of the greatest rock bands of all time, this is a movie about Yoshiki: Yoshiki the musical genuis, Yoshiki the frail, injured victim who seeks the medical help of doctors for tragic plot development (as already frequently chronicled on his Instagram and Facebook — cue the far away, searching look in his eyes as he delicately cradles his arm and looks out the hospital’s window for his staged photo), and Yoshiki the actor, taking his role in the spotlight once again, playing the part he’s been rehearsing since the days of Vanishing Vision.

“After my father died, my mother bought me a drum set. Instead of breaking things, I started banging drums,” Yoshiki begins, and we’re immediately transported to one of his “Tears” sagas: a carefully practiced tale of sadness and woe. When the band segues into hide’s suicide, we get a shot of sad-Yoshiki, looking forlorn into a mirror while the facts are smeared to aid in the drama (hide was not a member of X Japan at the time of his suicide on May 2, 1998, as the band had already officially broken up in December of 1997). When we hear him say “X Japan’s era was over,” we get a cinematic shot of Yoshiki, walking alone down a crowded street. Pata who? That bassist guy, what was his name again? Even when Marilyn Manson chimes in with an informative soundbite, we see pictures of Yoshiki, pretty odd when hide was the known Manson fan. It’s not until about 1:50 in that we even see a single shot of any of the other surviving and current members.

xjapanapp3There is no doubt in my mind that X Japan was one of the best and most influential Japanese rock bands of all time, and this movie is a long-overdue recognition of the talent, skill, hard work, luck, and perseverance that are all hallmarks of the greatest bands since the dawn of time. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons a comment like Gene Simmons rankles so much: “If those guys were born in America, they might be the biggest band in the world.” But they weren’t. They were born in Japan, into a very unique time in history where their style of music and dress were able to resonate: influenced by KISS, they started out as a speed metal band  dressed in flamboyant hair and makeup, at a time when equivalent “hair metal” bands were already going out of style in America and the simplicity and dressed-down nature of grunge was gaining popularity. This creation of what would come to be called “visual-kei” would go on to influence countless number of Japanese bands from Dir en grey to Due le Quartz to Malice Mizer. America was already over it, trading in one type of cool for another. If they were born in America they wouldn’t be X. They wouldn’t be X Japan. And in the end, it’s a shame that particular pride is missing, when so much of the movie seems to concentrate on Yoshiki’s very personal emotional journey and comeback. In that sense, the movie seems like it’s going to be less factual documentary, than a curated collection of highlights that seek a predestined agenda and work off a script, one that clearly paints Yoshiki as the hero and savior of the band. One wonders why Yoshiki didn’t just drop the humble brags and false modesty, call the movie I Am X, and have done with it.

hide.

More than his or her musical debut, a musician’s death bears the mark of an era. Buddy Holly, Kurt Cobain, and Michael Jackson have all been memorialized not only for their contributions on Earth, but for the enduring legacy of their media-saturated deaths that accompanied them into the afterlife. Indeed, an early, and even mysterious, death can often immortalize an artist beyond what they could have achieved as living, breathing, creating individuals who, like everybody else, make poor choices and bad decisions. Trapped in time on the day of their death, their work can transform from increasingly lackluster, to an omen of things so great to come, their death becomes almost shameful.

hide was no different.

Lead guitarist of X Japan from 1987 to 1997, he helped pave the way for dozens of Japanese visual kei bands whose popularity would peak in the 90s and 00s. Originally intending to work as a beautician, he was recruited by Yoshiki, the demanding drummer/pianist of the band, introducing the trademark guitar solos that would mark their tracks from the speediest metal to the softest power ballads. Even under Yoshiki’s controlling musical environment, he was able to compose some of the best, if not eccentric, songs for the band, including “Love Replica,” an instrumental guitar number featuring spoken French, and “Scars,” one of the more traditional tracks on X Japan’s final album. The band’s most unconventional character (in a band of already peculiar gentlemen), he was often seen sporting plastic suits in lime green and bright red even after the band’s more visual look was toned down to black leather and slick haircuts. With his fuchsia hair and distinctive guitars, his energy during concerts was magnetic.

Despite his standout performance in X Japan, his solo work, too, captured unprecedented national and critical attention. Free to explore his more quirky musical influences, hide’s solo work evinced a futuristic charm that transcended the tired, bloated grunge and alternative of the Western 90s with a focus on the fantastic and otherworldly, though even with lyrics about pink spiders and majestic rockets and a predilection towards nonsensical musical accents, hide defined his nation’s musical decade by remaining ahead of his peers without ever forgetting his audience. Keeping the punk rock ethos in his glam rock aesthetic, infusing the lyrics with absurd realities, and perhaps dating himself with the older style of punctuating lyrics with English phrases rather than inserting foreign words at random transcended his albums beyond the sincere Japanese pop aesthetic into a world of deconstructing genre.

It’s too easy and too predictable, as well as foolish, to reexamine hide’s body of work as a series of suicide letters: as early as 1996, he sang “Hallelujah! I’m miserable” and composed “Good Bye,” the song inevitably playing in the background of montages and clips portraying his greatest moments; the work of all artists can be sad, lonely, depressed, and desperate as equally as they can be joyful celebrations of life’s more satisfying moments. The day before hide’s death is littered with amusing anecdotes and aggressive showmanship: set to release “PINK SPIDER,” he was interviewed and performed several songs for a television program before heading out for a night of drinking with friends only to be found dead in his apartment the next morning with a towel tied around his neck. Enter the media.

Since May 2, 1998, greatest hits compilations, remix albums, toys, tribute concerts, and museums have all been released, held, opened, and closed. Unfinished recordings have hit the market, taped footage of the funeral has become legendary for the morose portrayal of a former band wilting behind their instruments as Yoshiki and X Japan vocalist Toshi belted out their signature hit “Forever Love,” and several dollars have been made under the hide brand while fans formed theories on whether or not the death had been intentional or accidental. Yoshiki vowed never to drum again. Japanese rock music was never the same. And a twelve-year-old girl in Chicago discovered her first hero.

For fans of hide, the songs were more than therapeutic, they were intimate reflections of a society seen by freaks and outsiders. Like all the world’s popular artists, hide was viewed as a physical manifestation of late night dreams and unspoken aspirations, not just as an entertainer, but as a man who found a way to skirt the system and get paid for tearing it down. The oft repeated saying about finding one’s favorite music before one becomes an adult or never at all sums up the notion of the unformed, emotional mind and its relationship to sounds that, literally, are nothing like what you’ve heard yet; without broader contexts, without better or worse comparisons, it is one of the only times in one’s life where music can be pure. Even after resurrected corpses via holographic technology, for a generation of music lovers, hide will always be the guy on late night shows who told funny stories about being mistaken for a prostitute in Los Angeles, blogged his love for Garbage before blogging was a word, and gave thousands of people an escape for brief moments of time. Even when the world gave you nothing, it gave you music.

Friday night Oricon (August 17, 2009)

An every Friday in a while look at the weekly Oricon Top Twenty Singles Chart.

Summer has always been the de facto best music release season; there’s just something about warm weather that motivates the song writers of so many idol groups. Indeed, in Japan it brings nothing less than shame to an artist who dare not release a ballad or something of sentimental value during the winter, and so it is The Summer Single that I anticipate to effectively wash away the grime of winter coats and snow boots that still cling like crusted salt to less than warm springs.

But though I admittedly enjoy the riff after the chorus, B’z’s “Ichibu to Zenbu”/”DIVE” (#1) is pretty unfulfilling. I’m tempted to play the irrelevance card, or even the age card, but the fact is that you really aren’t ever too old to rock, there just comes a point when you stop doing it as well. Let’s put it this way: if I went to see B’z play live, I would politely tolerate “DIVE” so I could hear “Easy Come, Easy Go” and “BAD COMMUNICATION.” And so it goes.

This is the second week EXILE’s “THE HURRICANE ~FIREWORKS~” (#6) is on the charts, and listening to it again only solidifies my opinion that this song had a lot of potential before something went horribly awry. The whole traditional Japanese instruments against a contemporary beat is a bit overdone in the frenzied, happi-wearing, Japanese  masturi summer, but it’s a conceit I don’t hate as long as it’s done well (a personal favorite is 10nin Matsuri’s “Dancing! Natsu Matsuri!” – and by the way, I just watched that PV for the first time ever today and I feel really embarrased for them). I don’t necessarily hate EXILE, but it’s worth noting that they have released thirty-one singles and I have liked zero of them.

Speaking of zero, that’s how much potential GIRL NEXT DOOR has. There’s a sort of euro-dance vibe to “Be your wings” (#4) but the song is fatally flat. This group is relatively new, but as cool the PV was, I’m not holding out for anything spectacular.

I do like Alice Nine’s “Hana” (#8), though there is something desperately abingdon boys school about it. I haven’t listened to much Alice Nine since a few years ago and it’s kind of like, where did the VK go? I mean, the song is so tame, it’s almost housetrained. While suits don’t make guitar solos sound better, they do make you look classy in ways leather shorts and checkered uber-belts can’t, especially if you’re singing in front of a really large staircase on some old-timey estate. Even so, it’s like Sherlock Holmes without a pipe, or Joseph Chamberlain without a monocle; something’s just missing, you know?

On that note, my favorite single on the chart this week is STRAIGHTENER’s “CLONE” (#15). I’m not going to pretend that I’ve ever heard anything by this band before, because I haven’t, but this song is more than adequate. There’s something about the way the insistent drums belie the overall melancholy state that made me do a double-take. The guitars are a bit much, but it’s still the greatest song ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION couldn’t pull it together to write in the past three years. It may not have been the summer jam I was expecting, but at least it doesn’t rely on past glories or a gimmick.

400 blows: A few greatest hits

After reading Elisabeth Vincentelli’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series, ABBA GOLD, I’m left thinking less about defending ABBA (because I really don’t think they need to be defended any longer; they’re kind of pop royalty, having finally been critically acknowledged), and more about defending greatest hits compilations in general, much of which Vincentelli discusses in the introduction. I used to be opposed to compilations for the simple reason that I wanted to be a part of a band as much as possible and thought the only way to do that would be to listen to entire, original albums, particularly in chronological order; if I couldn’t be a part of U2’s progression through the 80s, I wanted to at least be there synthetically. But in reality that’s sort of impossible: just being alive and breathing assures you’ve heard dozens of songs by artists out of chronological and even cultural context.

Today I think compilations are a good starting ground for unfamiliar artists; the only problem arises when these compilations are the best a group has to offer. These so-called “singles bands” shouldn’t exactly be written out of the canon, maybe just re-imagined to a hearkening of a not-so-long-ago time when singles were all that mattered and albums were those things that nobody really bought. However, thanks in part to The Beatles and Brian Wilson, who helped create the modern concept of an album, we now have a po-mo concept of compilations:

There’s perceived to be something distinctly second-rate about compilations, like sending a pre-printed thank-you note instead of a hand-written one: It smacks of an after-thought, something that can’t be taken quite seriously. Worst of all, it smacks of something done for purely mercantile reasons. Since bands and record companies have recouped their recording and promotional expenses, compilations are what happens when someone wants to make quick cash. They’re also what happens when a band is in a creative quagmire, or on hiatus, or gone: the reminder of something that was, not the promise of something that could be. (Vincentelli 7)

I can think of plenty of artists the dreaded “compilation” has affected negatively; Chihiro’s post-EMI split releases that really were outright manipulative cash cows, Ayumi Hamasaki’s A BEST, which she vehemently opposed, going so far as to appear in tears on the front cover, and pretty much all of hide’s compilations which serve as nothing more than posthumous dividends. And that’s just three artists off the top of my head. But conceivably, there may have been some bands that really were just the sum of a dozen really great songs. That isn’t to say that their contribution to music history is really any less (not if we’re looking at quality over quantity) but simply that they may not have been built for rock operas or extended concepts, instead, flourishing in the reduced brilliance of three or four minute mini-epics. Vincentelli notes that “acknowledging that your favorite band’s most important album is a compilation somehow casts a pall on the band itself – and thus on your judgment for championing that group” (5) but I don’t necessarily think that’s true, depending on the artist (and so doesn’t she, not really). I don’t think a lot of people  (especially critics) would pick a greatest hits album by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, or even Michael Jackson as their favorite, even if, statistically speaking, that album is the artists’ best seller.  But in acknowledging that greatest hits do have merit somewhere in this great big universe, and that ABBA’s GOLD is already de facto number one (don’t believe me? read the book), here are ten more of my favorite greatest hits compilations:

Golden Earring: The Continuing Story of Radar Love (1989)

I may be pushing this one a bit too far; how easy could it possibly be to scale down a band who, up until 1989, had released nineteen original albums? Probably if most of the albums weren’t all that great. In the 60s, Golden Earring (known as The Golden Earrings) sounded like  any other British band, except nobody really cared about a little band from The Hague, except maybe people in the Hague. In the early 70s, Golden Earring, like many bands, re-focused their style and released “Radar Love,” a song you may recognize from classic rock stations or the second Wayne’s World movie. It wouldn’t be until 1983 that they released their first U.S. #1 with “Twilight Zone” a very rich, very long, rock epic that has become something of a musical swan song (very sad for the “oldest rock band in the world“), aptly noted by its inclusion as the last track on the CD and not the first. The Continuing Story of Radar Love isn’t necessarily the ultimate collection of Golden Earring songs (again nineteen albums; twelve songs) but it does offer a broad representation of their sound (rock with an honest, sometimes pop, sensibility in its melodies), encompasses two of their most beloved songs, and by omitting any mention of ‘greatest hits’ or ‘definitive collection,’ even purports an answer to Vincentelli’s point that compilations are the end, and not the beginning.

T.M.Revolution: UNDER:COVER (2006)

What’s so great about this greatest hits compilation is that it’s not even technically a greatest hits compilation; instead, Takanori Nishikawa, the main man behind the name, re-sung, re-arranged, and re-mixed fourteen songs in his catalog. While the choices aren’t all that great, the new versions of each of the tracks are. T.M.R’s style hasn’t really changed significantly, though Nishikawa’s other band abingdon boys school, probably had an influence on making the songs heavier, faster and more electric. There is no in between on UNDER:COVER: tracks like “THUNDERBIRD” have been restrained and taken down to the barest essentials, while “Twinkle Million Rendezvous” has a full orchestra. It may not be the best place to lead someone unfamiliar with the band’s work, but it certainly makes it worth purchasing for long-time fans.

Blondie: The Best of Blondie (1981)

Nobody will deny Blondie’s contribution to music history; however, though the studio efforts may have be more important, they’re certainly not as fun. It also says a lot that despite more than half a dozen more compilations following its release, 1981’s The Best of Blondie still has every single track that made Blondie so enjoyable. From the disco-inspired “Heart of Glass” to the punk-smeared “Hanging on the Telephone” the best of Blondie really does have every popular and well-loved Blondie song, in all its evolutionary glory.

Tommy heavenly6: Gothic Melting Ice Cream’s Darkness Nightmare (2009)

This album is almost farcical considering Tomoko Kawase only released two albums under this moniker (and she released a greatest hits for her Tommy february6 persona that same day). I think this compilation was meant to be a sort of end in a musical perspective (and one in a very poor direction, I was to learn). However, this compilation really does encapsulate the best of the two discs she did manage to release. Sure, it might be missing those really cool B-side acoustic versions of “Lost my pieces” and “+gothic Pink+” but it includes both singles and good album-cuts (“fell in love with you”/”2Bfree”) without being bogged down by too many fictitiously good B-sides. Though it may seem redundant to ardent fans of Tommy heavenly6’s work, it trumps the worst aspects of the sometimes filler-tracked self-titled Tommy heavenly6 and Heavy Starry Heavenly.

Whitesnake: The Definitive Collection (2006)

I’m not sure most 80’s rock bands weren’t sewn for greatest hits; most people remember Def Leppard, Skid Row, and Poison for a handful of singles, schmaltz, and not much else. But while a lot of commercial-oriented bands took themselves too seriously (Bon Jovi) or not seriously enough (Motley Crue), Whitesnake kind of fell in between. They had David Coverdale, a glam-ham by any other name, and his girlfriend, but they also had a classic rock upbringing (at least initially) that influenced what would later amount to a really hard-sell of commercial rock. You could argue that Whitesnake’s Greatest Hits released in 1994 gets the job done, but I prefer the sequencing of The Definitive Collection for a few reasons: 1) it opens with more blues-rock pieces that says something about the band’s origins, 2) it chooses songs from more than just three albums (as good as they were), and 3) um, why not a few extra tracks? While 2008’s 30th Anniversary Collection took things a bit too far (3 discs? really?), The Definitive Collection remains…a definitive collection of really great Whitesnake tunes that doesn’t make you feel excessively bad for liking something so perversely wonderful.

B’z: The Best “ULTRA” Pleasure (2008)

Speaking of excess, there’s a difference between too much and just enough; sometimes less really is more, at least in the case of B’z. For a band that has been around twenty-one years, owning all sixteen of their albums is quite unnecessary. This 2-disc compilation contains some of the best singles of the band’s career, all remastered to perfection (and I really mean that; some remasters just make things louder or less fuzzy, but these songs really sound phenomenal with a good pair of headphones), trumping 1998’s single-disc The Best Pleasure, while including some of the band’s later work on disc 2.

Nanase Aikawa: ID (1999)

Nanase Aikawa’s first hits compilation features all of her best songs with a few notable exceptions from 2000’s Foxtrot (for obvious reasons), but it hardly matters much; Aikawa’s style was already changing with the new millennium and ID chronicles her short, but fruitful career as an 80’s metal-influenced 90’s alterna-chick. Since I was never interested in her post-90’s output, it only makes sense that ID says everything good about Aikawa without eluding to what would later become subdued, restrained pop rock.

Stevie Nicks: Timespace: The Best of Stevie Nicks (1991)

I had two choices: I could pick Crystal Visions or Timespace, and without hesitation, I chose Timespace; Crystal Visions is bogged down by not enough great songs and too many live cuts (though I do really like the live version of “Rhiannon,” it’s not even a Stevie Nicks song, belonging to the Fleetwood Mac canon). Timespace, on the other hand, contains everything good and wonderful about the mystical “Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll” that not even multi-platinum albums like Bella Donna and The Wild Heart could do. It features some of her best collaborations (with Tom Petty, Bon Jovi, and Prince – yes, that’s him playing synth on “Stand Back”), along with the surrealist mix of rock and magic that has made her so entertaining (both musically and personally). Fleetwood Mac may have been more pure in its genre, but Nicks challenges the foundations of that trade through her unique vocals, bluesy swagger and mystical inspiration. I’ll always enjoy Nicks more for her most successful tunes than the albums that comprised them.

Pet Shop Boys: Discography: The Complete Singles Collection (1991)

If ABBA threw their arms around the flighty, four minute pop song, the Pet Shop Boys carried the dropped torch into the 80s. Nobody is going to deny that the Pet Shop Boys wrote some excellent albums, all which contained great songs – but the Pet Shop Boys will be most remembered for their mastery over what would be the singles’ last flourishing decade. Discography, released right before the start of their most disappointing albums, is the epitome of all things quick and consumable about pop music, tinged with a misty aura of italo disco; everybody knows these songs are unmistakably from one of the gluttonous decades that would later result in both backlash and an endless revival. But Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant never tried to do anything but make really fun music and they accomplished just that with an elegant pride. With an injection of wit, sarcasm, and intelligence, every single song on this compilation is more than an ode to the great theme of pop (love and all its permutations), it’s also an ode to the ennui of suburbs, religious guilt, making money (or trying to), loving someone (because he/she pays your rent), and political headlines (though in a somewhat pointedly disaffected way). ABBA may have made it look easy, but the Pet Shop Boys made it look appealing.

Journey: The Essential Journey (2001)

This might be a bit far-fetched; The Essential Journey doesn’t have any songs from their first three albums (a real pity, as I find them genuinely interesting and meritable classic rock); but what it lacks in musical self-awareness, it makes up for in personal self-awareness: Steve Perry’s vocals put Journey on the map and the band kind of knows that. The Essential Journey caters to the lowest common denominator by compiling really great singles from a band that not everyone will admit to liking, but whose songs have become staples of American rock (I imagine “Don’t Stop Believin'” might be one of the most definitive American rock songs, but that’s debatable and I’m still working through the counter-arguments – for one, that Journey sure isn’t an indestructible band, being marred by a few poor records that have driven them and their fans into a closet, and two, that their very inclusion on this list is something of a double-edged sword that denies their right to that privilege; clearly, I believe a greatest hits collection is better than any one of their original albums, putting the issue of single-bands versus album-bands at odds all over again). Journey was never an album-oriented band, though their albums as a whole were huge sellers, particularly from 1978 to 1983. There are some strange choices that mar disc 2 (“Chain Reaction” is a good song off of Frontiers, but “Troubled Child” is much more powerful), but that’s even if you get that far – disc 1 is really all you need, and the only reason I didn’t pick 1988’s Greatest Hits is for its exclusion of “After the Fall.” There’s nothing really essential about most essential compilations (especially those with more than one disc) – except for this one.

Do you think the ‘greatest hits’ compilation has any true merit? Which artists do you think flourish in the greatest hits format – and which don’t?

Friday night Oricon (May 25, 2009)

An every Friday in a while look at the weekly Oricon Top Twenty Singles Chart.

If I were a Morning Musume fan, I might enjoy the banality of “Shouganai Yume Oibito” (#1), but since I’m not, the appears-approved track of the week is Mika Nakashima’s “Over Load” (#8); not because it’s particularly good, but because my diligent observation of the charts for the past six weeks has indicated how poor songs on the chart actually are; to personally rate a song higher than three on a five scale has become cause for joy. Increasingly, I’m becoming sensitive to rating within context: this song is less bad than that other bad song.

Kaela Kimura and her giant sweater-clad back-up dancers spend their second week in the top twenty with BANZAI (#18), a cute, late 90’s rocker grrrl track. THE ALFEE prove they are (barely) still alive! with single Sakura no Mi no Jukusuru Toki (#6); their appearance on May 8’s Music Station was like a sadly unironic aping of The Darkness (I’m referring to the glass-guitar wielding, pink-bell-bottom wearing, auburn-tressed vocalist) that was equal parts disturbing as it was embarassing. w-inds.’s are #2 with Rain Is Fallin’, a combination of pop, 80’s nostalgia, and Hammer time! fashion. JUJU’s low-key piano duet Ashita ga Kurunara is still in the top ten for the third week (and finally growing on me), which includes a cover of “The Rose.” Other covers include Hyde of L’arc~en~ciel’s side project VAMPS attempting Bowie’s “Life on Mars” on EVANESCENT (#4) and Kiyoharu’s “HELLO, I LOVE YOU” on Kurutta Kajitsu (#10) . All covers are, if not terrible, unnecessary.

Mika Nakashima’s single Over Load is the most entertaining of the singles this week, mostly because it’s surprising; from her role in the feature film Nana, to every pedestrian single she has released since 2001, Nakashima has been the shoulder to cry on when insomnia strikes. On her first number one single she says, “I was really surprised at first, but I assumed that that was the way it is, because I really knew nothing at all.” Which says nothing about anything. Just like this single, that I didn’t instantly hate. Again, I’m learning to judge within the system. It’s not easy.

From weak to WTF: a triumvirate of bad choreography

On one hand, I understand the need to take music videos to the next level, to stand out, to be different; the music video has always been a kind of odd creation. Is it advertising? Is it art? Nevertheless, it seems PVs have been increasingly less about promoting artists and more about promoting concepts. But moving from Big Personas to Big Ideas has created some really poor choices, among them setting, effects, and choreography. Notable are the following recent promotional videos for Mitsuki Aira’s “BARBiE BARBiE,” MEG’s “SKIN,” and Chihiro Onitsuka’s “X,” which commit the heinous crime of making you remind yourself that not only is the choreography suspect, it was meant to be like that.

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X Japan’s “I.V.”

X Japan / I.V. / January 23, 2007

Remember last year in February when two early X Japan albums were remastered for a limited time and rumors began circlulating that the band would reunite and then nothing happened for a long time, following in the tradition of every other thing Yoshiki has ever said, but then stuff actually happened and I couldn’t muster even an ounce of excitement over it, even after once being, like, the biggest X Japan fan of all timez, mostly because I couldn’t think X Japan reuniting was a good thing without hide and wasn’t Toshi in a cult?, and then the song was released and I whipped up this quick post just so I could brag about liking X Japan before Yoshiki became even more arrogant?

I wouldn’t have been so opposed to this reunion except:

  1. Yoshiki, circa 1998: “I will never play drums again.” Yoshiki, circa 2008: Cue panned shot of Yoshiki playing drums.

  2. hide is still, um, dead and has been replaced in the music video with a guitar, a plush doll, and shots of him on a giant television screen. ‘Nough said.

  3. Pata is still superfluous and Heath looks…exactly the same as he did 15 years go.

  4. Goth Yoshiki. What exactly does this accomplish? (I find rhetorical questions the weakest argument tactic and thus, encourage speculation. Plus I’d really like to know.)

  5. Toshi, circa 1998, pointing to a picture of himself as X Japan’s lead-vocalist: “That is not me. I don’t recognize myself.” Toshi, circa 2008: Cue panned shot of rocker-like wailing into microphone.

  6. This song says Yoshiki all over it and little of any other band member. Fast drums, piano interludes, minor chords… Oh. Toshi laid some voc tracks.

  7. Singing “endless rain” in the midst of fake rain. Verrrry clever.

  8. The lyrics are like Yoshiki’s pre-teen poetry: “I’m calling you, dear / Can’t you see me standing right here?” Haven’t I made it clear? / I will do anything to rhyme, don’t you fear.

I don’t hate the song. It’s very hard to hate a song that relies heavily on nostalgia over originality, a song that demands you remember the days when X Japan weren’t relevent, they just were. And I’m not sure how much potential this song has to bring in new fans. Let’s ask Yoshiki’s pretentious glass piano. Standing in the (fake) rain. Ugh. So dramatic.

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