Chara: Union

Long ago and far away, I happened upon a Livejournal writer who really, really couldn’t stand my reviews of Chara. So much so, she wished a pox on me. (Yup, fangirl.) Her valid criticism was that I didn’t listen to the lyrics, which I generally don’t for anyone. Judging by the music alone, Chara’s more recent albums didn’t really impress me, and her catalog is deep enough that exploring it would be a major undertaking.

I’m still not listening to Chara’s lyrics, but the music on Union, her first new studio album in five years, grabbed my attention. (I’m not really counting 2004’s A scenery of me.) The singles leading up to the release of Union certainly bade well.

"Sekai" found Chara really rocking out, while the electronic flourishes on "Crazy for you" made a spectacular backdrop for her unique voice. Similar to the singles leading up to Utada Hikaru’s Ultra Blue, a sense of creative clarity could be heard in Chara’s pre-release work.

And that clarity pays off on Union.

Chara’s previous two albums, Madrigal and Yoake Mae, tended to get mired in a lot of introspection. As fascinating as her child-like voice can be, the force of it would get lost in the whisper of that introspection. Of course, I wasn’t listening to the lyrics, so maybe I missed the point.

Union, by contrast, shows Chara in a refreshingly extroverted mode. She doesn’t completely abandon her quieter moments, but they are broken up by faster songs.

"Tear drop" builds in a start-stop manner before the backbeat kicks in for the chorus. Chara indulges in an ’80s vibe on "Boy" without sounding like a Duran Duran throwback. "Fantasy" and the title track bring her back to the ’70s-style songwriting of her previous work.

Even when she does slow down, she doesn’t get swallowed in sparsity. "o-ri-on" begins quietly before the rest of the band makes a dramatic entrance. The slow, heavy chug that opens "Back" reflects the slow, heavy course of the song. "Amai Amai" doesn’t really rise above a whisper, but enough happens in the background to keep the song interesting.

When Chara finally does draw inward, it feels like a welcome break. "This is my car" makes for a nice prelude for "Sekai", while "Niji wo Wataru Heiwa ga Kita" concludes the album on a nice note.

Union is a terrific return from Chara, who ended a tenure with Sony Entertainment in 2004 to sign with Universal Music in 2006. She sings with some real confidence on this album, while the music is some of her most wonderfully realized. I still have no comment on the lyrics, but I’ll leave that assessment to the fanboys and fangirls.