It took a few albums, but Shiina Ringo eventually distinguished her early solo work from her latter-day efforts with Tokyo Jihen. 2007’s Goraku even found her abdicating songwriting duties to her bandmates.
So when Shiina announced the release of her first new original solo album in six years, it was plausible to think the border between Ringo-chan and Tokyo Jihen would be maintained.
The pre-release single "Ariamaru Tomi," a tender rock ballad, hinted as much. It was a shock, then, when Sanmon Gossip turned out to be … a Tokyo Jihen album.
No, Tokyo Jihen is not the house band on the album. (That’s not to say its members don’t show up here and there.) But the rocked-out jazz writing that’s been the band’s trademark is front and center throughout Sanmon Gossip. "Ariamaru Tomi" not withstanding, Shiina by all appearances has left rock behind.
Oh, well. Guess Sequel to Shousou Strip and Sibling of Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana would have to remain pipe dreams.
After I gave it a few listens, Sanmon Gossip began to reveal its charms. The Busby Berkeley excess of "Tsugou no Ii Karada" was love at first play, but the vocal richness of "0 Chiten Kara", the Shaft-funkiness of "Mittei Monogatari", even the garage rock sleaze of "Yokyou" grew more appealing with each spin.
At some point, I must have muttered the blurb for this review: "For a Tokyo Jihen album, it’s really good."
Yeah, that’s it.
Sanmon Gossip is the album I wished Tokyo Jihen would have recorded.
It also made me realize what truly separated Shiina Ringo, solo artist, from Shiina Ringo, group leader — texture.
Tokyo Jihen is all about the band dynamic, focusing on maximizing what the players can do. But Shiina Ringo, solo artist, is all about density. On the surface, the overt jazz of Sanmon Gossip shares little with the rock abandon of Muzai Moratorium or Shousou Strip, but they do share really thick production, perhaps even overproduction.
If it seemed like Tokyo Jihen were missing something, it was the essence of Shiina herself — big fucking music.
That eventually got me on the Sanmon Gossip bandwagon. It really is a Shiina Ringo album — excessive and ultimately tuneful. Just not immediately so.
And that’s why it won’t dislodge her first three albums from immediate memory. It’s a fantastically written and wonderfully performed album, but it’s also a bit distant. Shiina Ringo leaves the hooks off of Sanmon Gossip, forcing listeners to work for their gratification.
I liked it, but as the standard disclaimer states, your mileage …