Twenty years is a long time on an everyday human scale, but it's a lifetime, if not several lifetimes, in the world of music. One hit wonders come and go every year, with only a few bands managing to maintain any level of fame for more than a couple years at a stretch. There's also the question of the flat out attractiveness of the band's members after years of abusing themselves on the road. Time does not favor rock and roll.
It's amazing, then, that any band can achieve the unrelenting popularity of Japan's Buck-Tick. Not only are they often credited for starting the goth or vis-kei movement in Japan, but their legions of fans have followed them through all of the subsequent shifts in style, from glam to industrial to goth.
Their fifteenth studio album Tenshi no Revolver is yet another shift in style for the aging band. Where the previous album 13kai wa Gekkou was possibly their darkest to-date, Revolver is a bright, shiny, dare I say upbeat affair. It's a little unnerving.
Expectation is always a fool's game. For the rabid fan, a long wait and heightened expectation will almost always result in a let down. The band can never fulfill the dreams of every fan boy and girl, nor should they. Nevertheless it's still a shock when a band does a 180.
Tenshi no Revolver is that 180.
"Mr Darkness and Mrs. Moonlight" starts off the album with the expected dry and dark intro, but it quickly raises its hands to the heavens with a chorus that breaks into an jaunty jog halfway though. "Rendezvous," "Montage" and "Lily" take the ball and run with it, keeping the tempo loose and the spirits soaring. They all have a rock and roll swagger I can only equate with the likes of the Rolling Stones or early new wave rockers like Adam Ant. Beach parties and feathery pillow fights all around.
One thing that makes all of these tracks, and in fact the entire album, stand out, is that the arrangements are all totally stripped down to the basics. There are very few fancy studio effects or synthetic backing tracks which were a staple of just about every other album previous. The songs are all bright and dry, which only adds to the overall "nice" feeling. There are no dark corners, no echoing hallways and no bats in the belfry. Just a few dudes playing music in a posh studio.
The good times continue on through "La Vie En Rose" and "Cream Soda" until "Rain" hits. At first it seems like a return to the good old dour Buck-Tick, but then it turns into a ballad more suited to a 90's hair band like Poison or Warrant. It's horrifying, but in all the wrong ways.
They don't waste any time in getting back to the jaunty rock style, hitting up a host of instantly forgettable songs. It isn't until the second to last track, the truly strange (for them) "Alice in Wonder Underground" that anything resembling a hook can be heard. Again, this is a very happy, upbeat rock song, full of puppy dogs and lollipops and totally not goth, even in an ironic The Cure "Friday I'm In Love" sort of way. It is very catchy though, but marred by a very sour resolution to the chorus, at least in my opinion.
The final title track is the first to showcase the kind of strange experimentation that we've come to expect from Buck-Tick. It's another rocker, but it's full of strange wailing voices and effects and, for the first time, something resembling balls. Singer Atsushi pushes his voice into juicy, jagged territory while Toll bashes through the chugging guitars. In the past this song would have featured huge industrial drums and snarling synth bass lines, but here it's just another rock song.
That's the basic tone of Revolver. It's just your basic rock album. It has its high points, but if you were harboring any expectation for more of the overwhelming gothic darkness and smoke of previous albums, they will be quickly dashed on the rocks outside the castle as Buck-Tick merrily skips off to play in the meadows.
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