“With this album, every listener will love different songs and will get into a quarrel with others.”—Chihiro Onitsuka
剣と楓 is another album that is characterized by a wide variety as Chihiro aptly puts it:
While I was making this album, I tried myself. I checked to what extent I can embrace different elements and styles—except for rap and reggae, from which I wish to be excused. I wanted to make an album that would convince people that there would be no other Japanese artist who could be this versatile. (月の破片, p. 238)
If I have a mission, it should be to write and sing songs that will reach as many people as possible—those in their teens, fifties or even sixties. (p. 133)
In my LAS VEGAS review, I referred to the "Onitsuka Department Store," but as it turned out, it was just a warm-up. Meanwhile, she has recently had an experience that will bring a new dimension to her music:
When I visited New York for the first time, I already made up my mind to live in here. Having visited here, I feel my attitude toward music is changing. I started to think seriously how I should be approaching music and what I should do from now on. What I felt in New York has already become my flesh and blood, presenting itself in the form of what I can see. (p. 142)
I believe in no religion. Or if I may say, I'm Buddhist. Probably the god in me is nothing other than myself. In my opinion, every person who is doing music must produce his/her own religion. (pp. 160, 163)
Indeed, 剣と楓 is a multifaceted album that is supported by her brand-new ideas.
Chihiro says this song features 鬼束節 (Onitsuka-bushi), or her original style and taste. Sure it does. The words "As it passes through the sky... / My tears fell / Where on earth is [my] happiness?" do sound familiar to her old fans. But it appears she was not in a good condition when she recorded this track. In fact, she took a very long time to produce this album:
I hate shutting myself up in a studio for short, intensive music making. So I take time to produce each album at my leisure. In fact, the production of 剣と楓 was already started in the month following the release of DOROTHY. (p. 238)
Who wouldn't believe it if someone said this song was written for Chihiro by Yuming? This truly is an example of good old "new music" from which J-pop music stemmed. (Incidentally, For Life Records, the forerunner of For Life Music Entertainment, was at the helm of "new music.") Chihiro appears to have learned how to sing in a more relaxed manner. The words "I will corrupt if it is a sin to love you who may be a dream" also represent 鬼束節.
3. EVER AFTER
This is authentic, superb J-pop—and for Chihiro—with a new positive twist. It was rumored that this number would be released as a single. Chihiro wrote this song by assuming that she was writing it for Arashi, a Japanese idol group, but in fact she intended to sing it for herself from the first (月の破片, p. 238).
This is not the type of music that I usually listen to but as I play it back over and over again, I'm beginning to like it.
Suddenly a reflective atmosphere is introduced by this song. Organ-like sounds are heard but the organist is not credited. According to Chihiro, this is a stalker's song.
6. An Fhideag Airgid
A marvelous performance full of atmosphere! Chihiro fell in love with this Gaelic song about a silver whistle upon hearing it on an album called Celtic Woman. I'm wondering why this tune sounds so sad despite its (at least superficially) happy lyrics.
7. SUNNY ROSE
It was a pleasant surprise to hear how the a cappella performance at the Nine Dirts concert had evolved—a quality marriage of (something that sounds like) early music and contemporary pop. The words are obscure as always. "In a well" and "beast" reminded me of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and other novels by Haruki Murakami and I indulged myself in fanciful speculation but of course they should have nothing to do with each other. According to Chihiro, this song represents a image of Irish people dancing around a torch in the middle of the night.
8. NEW AGE STRANGER
This is the core of this album, as explained by Chihiro. It follows the style of 1980s that she loves. I was totally taken by surprise at first but unexpectedly I'm going in for it. It's mischievously addictive.
9. CANDY GIRL
Just like EVER AFTER, Chihiro wrote this song by making believe that it was for Arashi.
10. 罪の向こう 銀の幕
The words "If the words that I buried in the ground that day / Will ever corner me someday / I don't need any means of escape / If I won't be forgiven for everything after all" are full of implications.
11. WANNA BE A HAPPY WARRIOR
This is a nostalgic and reassuring tune but it isn't quite for me.
A very Chihiro-like song that matches the image on the album cover. As soon as her singing voice slides in, I can do nothing but say, "OK, OK, I give up." The lyrics are also beautiful. She sings: "You clown around telling me you want to be free / Then why do you cry at the sight of sincerity?" These words look so meaningful, don't they?
Chihiro declares that this album starts where she originally set out but will bring her to the next stage of her career. I can see that she made every effort to hang onto her adventurous spirit. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this new album quite at ease as I found 鬼束節 (or her essence) here and there.
(All quotations are given from respective works listed above. Original text copyrighted by Chihiro Onitsuka. Translated and quoted by Folia in compliance with the Japanese Copyright Act. The above translations may be superficial rather than deliberate, and are intended for your information only.)
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