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.

Marty Friedman’s “What is J-POP?”: A response

Preface: I think it’s great that Marty Friedman is so enthusiastic about Japanese pop music. However, for someone who has apparently been living or traveling to Japan for so long and speaks fluent Japanese, it is astonishing how little he understands the full scope of it. And as a musician (former member of Megadeth, current guitar virtuoso), writer, and speaker, it’s even more astonishing how his lecture “What is J-POP? ~Exposing the Myth of Japanese Music Phenomenon” is partly a failure of articulation. Friedman has ideas, they just get tangled and sprout half-formed. His tone borders on less-than-conversational, barely scratching the surface of popular Japanese music, while exposing his biases and the kind of thinking that makes one believe everything off one’s radar doesn’t exist at all. So basically, it might sound like I’m tearing this to pieces, and I guess I am, but since Friedman takes the time to apologize for his tastes several times during the lecture, I guess I can take the time to do it at least once: this lecture just wasn’t my thing. Sorry.

“And the main reason why I want to do this is because now is the time that Japan and its music scene is going to begin to be well-known outside of Japan. I think it’s really beginning now and […] I believe Japan’s music is the future.”

Japanese popular music has pretty much been around as long as its American counterpart, as Friedman himself takes pains to discuss. However, why Friedman thinks that now is the time that Japanese pop will “explode” is unclear. If any country can be predicted to hold the future of the world’s music right now (and I hate that I keep returning here, but it’s inevitable), that would be South Korea. Besides the fact that South Korea is motivated by economic factors (Japanese musicians don’t necessarily need foreign sales to thrive — plus, as mentioned in the lecture, kids will buy three or four copies of a single to collect all the singles or get the trading cards, while the South Korean music market pales in comparison), it also has a brilliant PR campaign the likes of which Japan has yet to utilize. While Japan patrols YouTube like a nark, pulling uploads and refusing to post full-length PVs, South Korea has successfully exploited social media to create viral videos and establish a brand. Many artists are already mingling or collaborating with foreign musicians, itself an easy transition when K-pop sounds like the smartest, hippest pop music upgraded to 11. And unlike Friedman’s lumping of J-pop into one large genre as if AKB48, X Japan (though he does use the term “visual-kei” here — more on that later), and Perfume all have the same sound, K-pop does have the luxury of that label: contemporary Korean pop music and groups are certainly easier to lump together than Japanese pop will ever be.

Later in the lecture, Friedman takes this further by positing that the future is a lot closer than we might anticipate: “all the stuff I introduced to you from Japan is going to make it outside of Japan, and soon. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already. I’m talking this year, or next year something is going to explode because this stuff is too good.” It takes a lot more than a few punk rock secretaries to make a movement, and even with South Korea’s expert marketing campaign, it’s already taken several years of very determined, very aggressive action to gain the sliver of media attention that K-pop has gotten. Japan is already set for failure as there aren’t many record labels and entertainment agencies that care that much about making a name outside Japan. Furthermore, to expect groups like, say, a Johnny & Associates group or the AKB/NMB etc. trend to gain traction in the West without a grasp of context and culture, is unlikely. Where it’s already associated with anime tie-ins and appearances at comic cons, it has already failed miserably by equating music culture with otaku culture, as if the two are never one without the other. It will take much longer to reverse what has already become the mainstream idea of what “Japan” and “Japanese culture” denotes to the average American citizen because of a reluctance to change it and refusal to be militant in doing so. When Friedman says things like “not only because it’s so whacked and so freaking crazy but also so cool, so colorful and so happy,” he’s really not doing Japan any favors, and certainly not changing anyone’s mind regarding stereotypes. Furthermore, in reference to his later championing of visual-kei…it’s been around for decades. Which is a long time. Again, I’m happy he’s so enthusiastic about this, but it’s not going to “explode” in 2012. It’s had the chance to explode for many, many years. And it hasn’t.

After playing Ikimonogakari’s “Arigatou,” Friedman says, “It’s just a gorgeous melody and it’s kind of sad in a different way than “sad” music is in Western music. When I think of sad music in Western music I would think of something like Adele or something like that.” I think the word he’s looking for is “nostalgia” (and possibly the overall theory of musical authenticity). Why the concept of nostalgia would not come to somebody who has apparently been listening to Japanese pop music for so long is strange, as it is an integral part of what constitutes Japanese pop culture. When he says this sound evolved from kayoukyoku music from “maybe 20-30-40 years ago” — well, which is it? Because that’s a huge chunk of time to be playing with, and Japanese pop music from the 80s, 70s, and 60s, all sounds extremely different and could be as easily lumped together as the contemporary styles are today: for Friedman, Japanese pop is no more dynamic than someone’s idea of Japanese culture consisting of geishas, rock gardens, and kabuki masks.

His giant theory of a unified J-pop extends into technical arenas as well, for example when he talks about Perfume’s “POLYRHYTHM.” “This is another thing about Japanese music is they can accept deep technical concepts within the context of ultra pop music.” “POLYRHYTHM” does indeed have some crazy-awesome time signatures going on, and it is arguably one of my favorite pop songs of all time, but using this song as an example of Perfume’s overall musical style is naive, as is calling Perfume’s music “the music of the future.” Technically, this is already the music of the past, as “POLYRHYTHM” was released five years ago. Furthermore, the group is still best known for their single “CHOCOLATE DISCO” which was released in 2007. Producer Yasutaka Nakata has since gone on to write and produce hundreds of songs with several artists, all with a similar, signature sound. That doesn’t diminish how great the music is, but it certainly no longer makes it worthy of being “the music of the future.” Sure, he’s spot on when he says “the main thing about this unit [Perfume] is the producer is a genius.” It’s probably the only 100% accurate statement in this piece. Unfortunately, he then goes on to call the founder of AKB48 a genius, which kind of takes away some of Nakata’s glory, and then basically calls the entire Japanese pop enterprise a genius, so the word loses its meaning and makes J-pop seem infallible, which is the least kind of logical argument someone can make for anything. Nothing is perfect and calling J-pop flawless takes away part of what it makes it so fun to listen to and discuss.

Friedman goes on to make an inadvertent testament to how Japanese pop really works when he moves on to Mr. Children, confirming that it’s “not going to sound like anything new, they’ve been around for at least 10-15 years. But every album is consistently a huge hit due to the quality of their song writing and performance.” Rather, I think Mr. Children’s popularity is due largely to the idea of loyalty that fans have to bands and artists that allow groups like Mr. Children and B’z to continue releasing music simply because there is a ready made audience that will buy the new single and the sort of respect legendary artists accumulate with time. But in the grand scheme of Japanese music, popular or otherwise, I would argue that Mr. Children and B’z have hit their stride years ago and remain faintly relevant, a perennial fixture on the landscape of Japanese pop.

“People in France might know X-Japan, because X-Japan is successful here and they toured outside of Japan, just like Dir en Grey did. But in Japan X-Japan are the ancestors, they brought it to the mainstream first. […] They are the Godfathers. They started it, they set the pattern of it. And now its 2012 and finally its making its way out of Japan.”

Is it though? And if X Japan are the ancestors, why are we still talking about them? Has visual-kei evolved so little that X Japan, who were popular twenty years ago, are still the most relevant example Friedman can offer? He then continues to namedrop more relics and claims visual kei is going through a “big boom” right now. But visual-kei never really went away; it’s not really experiencing a big boom, so much as it’s riding a pretty stable wave. Second of all, if it’s going through a big boom, where are all the great bands that haven’t been around for a decade? MUCC, Dir en grey, L’arc~en~Ciel…these are all bands I remember from when I was getting into Japanese rock fourteen years ago who had already been around for a while. Instead of trying to show how Japanese pop music is a flourishing, diverse enterprise, he’s really just showing how stagnant it’s gotten.

It’s a shame that the questions he received during panel were so thorough, because I don’t think Friedman takes the time to really consider them. For example, the first question asks how the Japanese can avoid falling into the traps of prejudice when trying to export their sound to the West. After talking around the issue, Friedman says, “I think a lot of it has to do with luck, a lot of it has to do with timing, the right person and the right song, I don’t think it’s something you can plan” (this probably coincides with his constant equating of “magic” with Japanese pop music, as if it sprouts from a land of mythical creatures). This doesn’t make any sense: it sounds exactly like the sort of approach that has already been taken and has failed miserably for it. He might as well claim he’s definitely going to win the lottery next year without having to buy a ticket. How much of South Korean pop music’s relative success has been due to “luck” and being in the “right place at the right time”? None of it. South Korean entertainment companies have used smart, consistent advertising techniques, employed expert use of social networks, and have probably had hundreds of meetings where strategies and goals have been calculated and re-calculated. This is not an endeavor that takes luck. It does not take the defeated strategy that you “can’t plan for something outside of your country.” His example is Yuki Saori, a young woman whose song was stumbled upon in a record store and led to her being invited to sing in London. That’s definitely a great way to get noticed outside Japan: hope your record is found in a 50 cent used bin somewhere and hope for the best!

Without offering any practical advice for how Japanese pop music will “explode” in the next year or two, Freidman comes off as a very enthusiastic, very sincere, fan whose obsession has blocked his ability to think rationally. Regarding the language barrier, he says Adele is difficult for Japanese listeners to get into because “they would have to really study the lyrics and have personal relationships that are similar to hers and that is hard because it’s in a different culture.” So how he thinks Japanese pop music can make that incredible leap is uncertain, especially when he later claims that the Japanese do not need to sing songs in English and should stick to their native language. Apparently, the Japanese can’t “get” us, but Americans will be able to “get” them right away.

And also: There is a (possibly unintended, but nonetheless, noteworthy for being so) fixation on female musicians, if not a simply patronizing tone toward females that escalates throughout the duration, none of which has a male counterpart anywhere in the lecture.

  • The fans of visual-kei are “about 90% females. Go figure, females listening to this kind of music.” Women can like metal, too. Go figure! Sometimes they even use the Internet. Go figure! (By the way, he concludes that girls just like the visual aspect, it’s guys who like the music.)
  • American music is “very kind of dull, it’s like subdued. It’s kind of like girls with candles in their room and incense and pillows and it’s not insane.”
  • SCANDAL, a four-member rock group whose schtick is wearing school uniforms would be huge in America because “you never think of cute girls playing rock.”
  • Nirvana was able to see the brilliance of Shonen Knife because “these were three tiny Japanese secretaries playing punk rock.”

Friedman likes cute girls, we get it. That’s not a bad thing. But the fixation on quiet girls with stereotypical quiet professions or lifestyles stops being quirky and starts becoming really condescending. During the panel, he answers a question saying that “in America the image of Japanese or Asian person is smart or brainy. They’re doing the best in school and they have a very good image.” This remark is made as if the image is inevitable and is the reason he “can’t see any Asian girl singer being like Beyonce or something like that, I just don’t see it happening.” Friedman has clearly never met Namie Amuro or Koda Kumi, two of the most popular female singers in Japan, whose attitude and image are nothing like AKB48, and, while probably not too much like Beyonce either, are certainly not what Friedman considers the ideal J-pop spokesgirl, the kind in SCANDAL or Perfume that he believes should be perpetuated in the West without necessarily introducing their dynamic, diverse equals.

By distilling Japanese pop music to the lowest common denominator in every single way, be it in genre, style, technique, or gender, Friedman actually perpetuates the real myth of Japanese pop music — that it is as stereotypical, static, and wacky as an average American might imagine. What he is “exposing” in this lecture is unclear and the myth actually takes on epic proportions as it continues (although I think his “myth” is that Japan doesn’t have it’s own music, let alone in such abundance, but I don’t think the existence of Japanese pop music is a myth anymore, so much as a fact people choose to ignore). Again, I love his enthusiasm for Japanese pop music and his vision of seeing it get more global attention, but these are exactly the type of incomplete ideas you don’t want presented in front of a large group of people meant to build a foundation for their ideas of Japanese pop music. I don’t know what Friedman’s actual knowledge of the history of Japanese pop music is, nor what his knowledge of its contemporary pop music is, but from this lecture, he comes off as the type of guy who recently discovered an AKB48 song, did a little bit of research on Wikipedia or the Oricon charts, casually browsed a major record store for something similar, and tried to find everything in the world that supported his theory that it’s the only type of music Japan does (or should do). Of course, this involves ignoring the multitude of Japanese pop artists and groups, the array of styles and techniques, the dissatisfaction many Japanese have with their own popular music, the very large indie scene, and the struggle many Japanese and Asians face regarding their ethnicity and/or gender. And that is a big deal.

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.

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.

Official Site
Buy I.V.

X, re-mastered and re-united: “Jealousy”/”Blue Blood”

X / Jealousy (Special Edition) / February 14, 2007
♫ 03. Miscast / 07. Stab Me in the Back
04. Voiceless Screaming (Instrumental)

X Japan is pretty much the reason I invested so heavily into Japanese rock and pop music in the first place. In fact, Jealousy was the very first Japanese CD I ever bought, way back in 1999. Up until that point, I had heard plenty about the band from online mailing lists and the like, but I had never heard one song by them except “Crucify My Love” which was a dangerous starting point, considering the genre culminating the bulk of their discography. I was quite startled to find their CD in a downtown, independent music store that I frequented and absolutely loved until it closed down. I left the store without purchasing it, as I found the $40 too much to spend on ten songs but the CD stayed on my mind all day until I decided to buy it on the way back home.

I popped the CD into my player and proceeded to hear the opening strains of a quiet piano solo. It was quite beautiful, or something like it. The next song started up and again, a haunting piano melody came up and I thought, Dear Lord, the whole CD better not be all piano and then boom! the drums kicked in and a saucy little guitar riff and the next 7 minutes and 15 seconds rocked my little world. The next song started up, even better than the one before it. “Miscast” entered with pounding drums accompanied by sweet guitar solos and plenty of nonsensical calls (“Game is over! Game is over! Miscast! You are fired!“) and is probably the best rock song on the album, infact, despite its understated praise. “Desperate Angel,” track number four, was just as good, with an extra 80s glam-band drum intro. “White Wind From Mr. Martin ~Pata’s Nap” was probably the only track I found myself skipping, a listless acoustic guitar solo from the rhythm guitarist du jour of X Japan, the curly haired Pata. “Voiceless Screaming,” another acoustic number, this time with vocals, was also a rather dull listen at first, but the power and intensity of Toshi’s vocals coupled with the understanding of a rather polished Engrish language had me attached to the song in no time.

With track number seven, “Stab Me in the Back,” the whole album proceeded to finish with dizzying triumph. “Stab Me in the Back,” a hide composition, was a short and bad-ass speed metal number worthy of the most nonsensical Engrish lyrics, but coupled with drive, melody, and screaming, lots of screaming, the angst of Toshi all coupled in the repeated shouts of “Stab me in the back!” before the electric guitar came in for more aural assault; definitely a track I overplayed plenty of times in my perceived angst-ridden childhood. “Love Replica,” however, was the song that captured me the most. Another hide composition, it was a simple, eerie, carnivalesque number with a French-speaking female elaborating on the mysticism of mirrors and butterflies and God knows what else. And at the very end of the ten track epic stood “Say Anything,” the only Yoshiki ballad on the entire disc, wrapping up the gift with shiny bells and pretty bows and a beautiful, tear-jerking finish.

Needless to say, I played this album obsessively for the better part of the last stretch of grade school. Without it, I probably would not have gotten into hide’s solo work as much, my greatest gateway drug to other Japanese visual kei artists. Just as T.M.Revolution and Two-Mix bourgeoned my interest in Japanese pop music (Ayumi Hamasaki, Rina Aiuchi, move, etc.), X Japan brought my attention to Dir en grey, Luna Sea, etc. All because of a little album released in 1991.

X / Blue Blood (Special Edition) / February 14, 2007
♫ 05. X / 04. Endless Rain (Instrumental)

Blue Blood captivated my interest slightly less, although considerably more than Vanishing Vision, the X Japan album I’m least interested in (probably the second album I’m most interested in is DAHLIA). Blue Blood contains “Week End,” a slightly less hurried song that culminated in an ecstatic live version during the DAHLIA TOUR 1995. But most importantly, it contains “X” the quintessential X Japan-anthem, as Toshi screams “X!,” a triumphant exclamation that renders fans during the lives completely servile to the jump-up-and-make-an-X-with-your-hands dance. The second most stand out track to me was “Orgasm,” a frenzied four-minute combination of Yoshiki’s unmistakable lightening paced drums and hide’s hurried, erratic guitar screeching, reminiscent of the typical X Japan rock number, morphed into a twenty-four minute live event during the DAHLIA TOUR as the band members jumped around, screamed, riled the crowd up, and Yoshiki pranced through the crowd with a fire extinguisher as fans grappled to savor a mere touch of him; probably the best twenty-four minute “Orgasm” you will ever have. The rest of Blue Blood…meh. Sure, I like it (“Endless Rain,” “Rose of Pain,” “Kurenai””), but Jealousy has always ranked above it, perhaps because of the nostalgia and credit I owe to it.

However, because of their early production, Jealousy being released in 1991 and Blue Blood 1989, the quality was always slightly questionable. However, as of February 2007, you can purchase the re-mastered editions for a limited time; sales stop May 2007. jrocknyc spoke of the lackluster quality brought to the reworked edition, although there is at least a noticeable volume increase and slightly more distinct sound, but altogether nothing amazing. However, there are still other bonuses you can enjoy from the CDs: each comes with an extra disc containing instrumental versions of the songs; good for those karaoke fiends and allowing for a closer inspection of the instrumental masterpieces created by Japan’s most popular rock band pretty much ever.

In other news, on February 11, Toshi, lead vocalist, guy who broke up the band, joined a cult, and shunned his former rock-star life, announced that X Japan would be reuniting to mark the band’s 25th anniversary. I’m still not quite sure how to react to this news. I mean, the dude renounced his former life and ruined a good portion, if not all, of Yoshiki’s musical career (I know since X Japan he has managed to gain a minimal amount of press for Eternal Melody II, Violet UK, (the Chinese Democracy of Japan), and various other small projects, but he has not managed to produce anything of much startling significance because I guess the false promises is how he rolls). Not to mention that, umm, he broke up the band. Sure, sure, they were all pursuing various solo careers, blah blah blah. Choose to believe what you will, the group is reuniting, sans the lead guitarist hide. Because he’s, you know, like…dead and stuff.

Official Site
Buy Special Edition Blue Blood / Jealousy