Shiina Ringo x Saito Neko: Heisei Fuuzoku

I was wondering why orchestral versions of old Shiina Ringo songs seemed like a familiar idea. Then I remembered: Baisho Ecstacy, her concert DVD from 2003.

On that DVD, Shiina performed orchestral rearrangements of her songs, with Saito Neko conducting. My brother called it the closest thing she’s gotten to an MTV Unplugged concert. I was pleasantly surprised by how well her music adapted to new settings.

It’s been a while since I watched Baisho Ecstacy, so I haven’t confirmed whether some of those arrangements found their way into Heisei Fuuzoku. (I suspect not.) Nonetheless, the creative direction Shiina takes on her first solo album since announcing the end of her solo career (to form Tokyo Jihen) isn’t new.

But it’s still nice to hear her take it.

Heisei Fuuzoku is something of a risky proposition. A little more than half of the albums tracks are reworked from her previous albums, most of them from Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana. There are no screaming guitars, and there are no eclectic orchestrations. It’s just Shiina, Saito, an orchestra and mix of old and new material.

But Shiina is a meticulous composer, and even an exercise that could perceived as slacking really isn’t. Heisei Fuuzoku retains its focus, and Shiina still performs at the top of her game.

The album opens with "Gamble", originally a live track from her single boxed set Zecchoshuu. The orchestral reworking suits the song incredibly well. The remaining self-covers are hit-and-miss.

The violin solo that concludes "Meisai" gets more manic, while Shiina and Saito make the song bop harder than the original. The dark reading of "Kuki" fesses up to the song’s noir origin, while Ringo-chan turns in a dramatic performance of the Tokyo Jihen cover "Yume no Ato".

"Poltergeist", on the other hand, pales in comparrison to the original, and "Ishiki" doesn’t really impress. While the mix of "Yokushitsu" and "La salle de bain" is clever, it’s not revelatory.

The new songs are where Heisei Fuuzoku really shines. The processed vocals of "Hatsukoi Shoujo" are riveting, while the strange pre-echo effects of "Oiran" gives an already great song an extra edge. Even "Konoyo no Kagari", the single featuring Shiina’s brother Junpei, makes sense in context of the album.

With each album, including the two by Tokyo Jihen, Shiina allows her jazz roots to show more plainly. They’ve been there since the start, but with Heisei Fuuzoku, she’s essentially recorded a big band album. It would be cool and interesting if she followed in UA’s footsteps and recorded her own version of cure jazz.

For now, Heisei Fuuzoku demonstrates that even when Shiina Ringo retraces her steps, it’s still an enjoyable journey.