カバークレイジー

I’d never thought I would say this. I’d probably die if I knew at 16 or 20 that I was going to sound like my parents. "Music just isn’t what it is anymore …", they would lament to the "innovative" sounds of Faye Wong, who brought on a new generation of breathy singing. "You are just a "traditionalist" that can’t keep up with the times", I used to think.

Japanese music has really moved on from the traditional enka to 70’s pop which still had a very distinctive Japanese flavour to 80’s bubblegum pop, 90’s R & B infused pop to today’s hip hop and rap generation. Where have all the good songwriters gone? Have they run of ideas or inspiration, or just that their melodic songs are no longer being heard because they feel that they have to conform to today’s trends?

Today’s popular Japanese music is heavily Western influenced and rarely do we all agree on a good melody because there simply isn’t one anymore. It’s all about hooks and all 5 seconds of it, repeating itself throughout the songs. The rest of the songs become fillers around this hook. I’m not complaining about all of them, and I am not sure if it is because I have grown older that I don’t feel like humming/singing to those songs anymore. The new generation move their bodies to the beat like waves hitting the shores, as they close in their little worlds with their iPods. then, my music transported me to a new fantasy land, and I sing to the entire song, with as much belief, even if I couldn’t understand what they were singing. That probably helped a lot too because then I could plan my own magic carpet ride …

Is this why we are seeing a growing trend of cover albums by singers that we have grown up with in the 80s and 90s? That they share the sentiment that there are not many good songs that they really feel are worthy or is it a project that they take on, in hope of good sales so that they can move projects that they really want to embark on?

Akina is slowly gaining more recognition amongst the younger generation as a "cover artist" because her cover albums sell a lot more than her originals. Not surprising since more marketing is dedicated to it, but are we, as a generation who have started listening to Japanese music in the 80s and 90s, unable to move on, and prefer to hang on to our melodies and memories?

What constitutes a good cover album? A good selection of songs or good sales? Is it a singer who is able to make the compositions theirs and move you to a new level or one that inclines you to pick out the originals and immerse yourself in those bitter sweet memories again? Where does Akina lie?

For me, Akina likes to pick more obscure songs, with the exception of Zero. It is always a gamble to challenge an original especially if the singer who popularised it is synonymous with the song. It is going to invite comparison but it is a good selling/talking point as well. It takes a lot of courage to do so and walk away with it victorious. Overall, I believe that Akina is good singer and is able to inject her own life into their songs. I don’t particularly feel that I have a desire to go listen to the originals to relive my memories. I can still walk that road with Akina. Another singer that I feel I can do is with is 福山雅治, whose cover album "The Golden Oldies" is the best selling cover album of all time and deservedly so. He is able to transcend the originals and make a song his, even if the original is a female singer. I haven’t listened to any of 岩崎宏美’s 「Dear Friends」 series, but she is a good singer, so I think she will fall into the "good covers" category.

Not so successful is 工藤静香 whose cover album is not as interesting, though it may be because she covered plenty of obscure material to me. Many people may also say that she has a rather unique voice which is not soothing, and the cover albums tend to be more "stripped to the basics", with a band or orchestra, creating that jazzy, easy breezy listening style that is unintrusive . However that said, she did lead me to the discovery of the song 「かもめはかもめ」 which I love. It is also one of the "quieter" songs in that album though.

Another singer that I have a hard time debating myself over is 徳永英明, who 乱火さん adores. His 「Vocalist」 series have been huge hits and I have always been cynical because I think it has more to do with the song selection that anything else. He can hit all the higher notes alright, but to me, he sounds monotonous, and I yearn for the originals to let them wash over me like tsunamis, not ripples that he sends.

While 「艶華-Enka-」 keeps its daily ranking of 28th for the second day, I noticed yesterday that 徳永英明’s 「Vocalist」 and 「Vocalist2」 re-entered the daily charts from nowhere to No. 9 and No. 6 respectively. Fuelled probably by the release of his new cover single 「恋におちて -Fall in Love-」 this week, it has invigorated sales of his two previous cover albums, in anticipation of his cover release due 15th August. Out of curiosity, I played his two 「Vocalist」  albums this morning, and in my "semi-conscious" state, I found them rather enjoyable, in an unintrusive sort of way, like BGM. Maybe I can now understand  how 乱火さん feels. I think it is also a quiet evening album of loneliness, and his voice projects that. I sing along, but in my head, the voice of the originals floats, and my voice seem to channel them instead of him. I wonder why …

According to the AN Fun Site, the songlist for his new 「Vocalist 3」 has been released together with the news that another singer that I like, 杏里 is also releasing a new cover album to celebrate her joining the Universal Japan family. These are the tracklists for both albums:

徳永英明「VOCALIST3」
2007年8月15日発売

【収録曲】
01. PRIDE (今井美樹)
02. まちぶせ (original: 三木聖子written by 荒井由実 and popularised by 石川ひとみ in 1981. 松任谷由実 self covered it to higher heights in 1996)
03. ENDLESS STORY (伊藤由奈)
04. 桃色吐息 (高橋真子)
05. CAN YOU CELEBRATE? (安室奈美恵)
06. やさしいキスをして (Dreams Come True)
07. わかれうた (中島みゆき)
08. 迷い道 (渡辺真知子)
09. たそがれマイ・ラヴ (大橋純子)
10. 恋におちて-Fall in Love- (小林明子)
11. Time goes by
12. 月のしずく (Rui: 柴咲コウ)
13. 元気を出して (薬師丸ひろ子,written and covered by 竹内まりや)

 杏里「tears of anri」
2007年9月12日発売

【収録曲】(予定)
悲しみがとまらない(杏里)
やさしいキスをして(DREAMS COME TRUE)
夜空ノムコウ(川村結花)
雨音はショパンの調べ(小林麻美)
会いたい(沢田知可子)
優しい雨(小泉今日子)
あなたのキスを数えましょう~You were mine(小柳 ゆき)
探偵物語(薬師丸ひろ子)
聖母たちのララバイ(岩崎宏美)
雨(森高千里)
LOVE IS ALL~愛を聴かせて~(椎名恵)

I am still happy to listen to 「VOCALIST3」 but I am looking forward to Anri’s cover album more. Maybe it is novelty but if Anri released an original album and this cover album, I think I would be more inclined to buy the latter. I wonder if I am now a laggard, someone who does not follow the buying trend as quickly as the younger generation would, or I just enjoy my music the way it used to be.

I don’t know if I ever want Akina to stop singing covers, because I think she would release a grea
t jazz influenced original album, or a cover album of 山口百恵 songs. I would also like to see her cover/sing a 中島みゆき and 松任谷由実 composition (魔法の鏡 is from her 荒井由実 years) in my lifetime because I think she has the experience now to cover them to satisfaction. Just like 「いい日旅立ち」, I think she covered it well. I don’t want to compare it with the original because Mome sang it when she was 19 and she is synonymous with the song, but I think Akina interpreted it well.

dannybunny

Akina fanboy since 14. Still undecided which are his top ten favourite Akina tracks as it's mission impossible. Digs "Everlasting Love" a whole lot more than the average Akina fan.

7 thoughts on “カバークレイジー

  1. Hmm, well I don’t think the modern day music scene is that bad in Japan – you just need to know where to look. I’m not a fan of the western sexy beat hiphop culture either but I’m not that fond of Japan’s 80’s stuff either for example. A lot of it sounds pretty much the same. A few days ago I watched a "The 80’s Top 100" and there were very few occurrences where I found myself saying that this sounds pretty cool (the #1 was terrible and Akina wasn’t even near the top 10). But I’m not saying the older music is bad. One of the things the modern day music isn’t able to capture in my opinion is the warmth and innocence – it sounds a lot more manufactured today. This is one of the things that I truly enjoy in songs like Galaxy Express 999 which I used to hear as child. Momoe Yamaguchi’s music also has this kind of sound. I should probably try the 70’s music more since that sounds more nostalgic to me.

    Although it’s common to say that today’s pop music is just crap I think the range of different styles that we today have makes up for that. The likes of Koda Kumi might be taking it to extreme what is acceptable and not but in my opinion it shows that a lot more things are possible to do than it was like in the 70’s. Imagine a black metal band trying to get a record deal in that time. Be it good or not nothing is worse than having everything sound the same.

    So Hideaki Tokunaga’s really making a career out of covering other people? Hmm, although I find his voice very interesting the thing that disappoints me the most about him is that he seems to be a bit too much of a minimalist when it comes to arrangements. Too many of his songs are the same rather quiet midtempo ballady stuff. Wish he would incorporate some of his 80’s style back. "Hong Kong night" is still my favorite track by him (though I haven’t listened to him that extensively). He seems quite old looking for his age (isn’t he only a few years older than Akina?).

  2. Jamez, thanks for the personal vivisection. i also subscribe to your opinion of the current J-pop offerings losing their almost instantaneous (yet very lasting) melodies. i find myself very rarely excited about a song these days. except for Mecca Holiday. hahaha.

    Hideaki Tokunaga’s covers sound okay if you listen to each song as a standalone, or perhaps with a 10 min break in between. i challenge anyone to listen to his 3 albums back to back, and then do the same with Akina’s Uta Hime series. it all becomes very apparent.

    as much as the singer’s performance constitutes a good cover album, the arrangement is equally important. it can give an old song new life, make it sound radically different, elevate it to a new world. and isn’t it all about making it better than the original? Hideaki’s approach seems to be stripping everything down to the bare minimal. Akina’s approach is allways lush.

    and finally, Anri covering Yasashii Ame! YAY!

  3. Hi Jamez, thank you for your article. I share a lot of thinking just like yours. Two things I would like to add: (1) a lot of singers from the older generation (including Akina) are doing cover albums and this could be also a strategy for the record company. The budget will be less (buying copyright of the old songs rather than hiring song writers to produce new songs). (2) It would be more difficult to market a more mature artist like Akina to the very a hugh number of young fans. Therefore, instead of putting these artists to do rap/hip hop songs, it is wiser to go for the old songs. The core audiences for these artists tend to grow up with those songs and it is easy to understand why a record company would sign these artists for that market.
    I could be completely wrong here but I thought I would like to share my points from a commercial point of view. After all, the record companies release these albums for money, not simply for supporting the artists.
    Many thanks for this wonderful site BTW.

  4. Jamez – I’m sure you are not alone. Many people of our generation felt the same way and I think that creates a chicken and egg situation for the 80s-90s artists. Since their cover album sales better, they and record company tend to want or approve to release cover album more. Recently, I listened to the same topic in US radio. A music critic mentioned that music now is more concentrate on the BEAT and Rhythm versus melody. This is an influence from HIP HOP, which gained popular. Now, I have to search for my own new music and ignore the popular. I like to recommend my current new favorite albums/single.

    1.Mika – Life in Cartoon Motion
    2.コブクロ Kobukuro – 蕾 Tsubomi
    3.Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars
    4.Fayray (I just found this artist and love several albums of her)

    Danny – 🙂 I do play 徳永英明’s Vocalist 1 and 2 together through Ipod. I love that his Vocalist is about the melody of the songs. I don’t mean that it’s better than Utahime. I love Utahime series for the beautiful music arrangement.

  5. Jamez, I know what you are talking about. It is a bit odd that I am gravitating towards seventeenth century spanish classical while my mother still listens to 50’s pop.

    On the songs surrounding a 5 second hook, I dare you to say you and your friends never exceeded the speed limit while driving drunk and listenting to Radar Love by Golden Earing.

    It is a wonder I made it past 25.

  6. I think my appreciation for music that I never understood in my teens (i.e. Japanese) gave me a wonderful perspective on never restricting the music that I listen to. I think English music is one of the blandest in terms of emotion because the French like Piaf bring out the romantic in me, and the Spanish the dancer.

    The Japanese will always bring out the teenager in me and I am looking forward to breezing in Danny Bunny’s fast car one day if I get the chance singing to silly 80s J-Pop.

    I can truly say that my friends and I never exceeded the speed limit while driving drunk and listenting to Radar Love by Golden Earing, because I don’t have any idea what it is. But what I can admit to is being on a train in Tokyo with Danny, Ranbi and Tien, singing Yoshie "春なのに" and ended up taking the wrong train. We ended up somewhere so far the other direction, we had to jump out, and try to act like really ignorant tourists, so that the train operators would allow us to access the other platform without paying extra.

    Actually, it was just Danny singing, Ranbi and Tien hiding, me laughing my guts out, and everyone else who is Japanese on the train bewildered. Does that even count? Ha! Ha!

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