There are too many vectors by which to determine the success of this album. How does it compare to other Tokyo Jihen albums? How does it compare to the solo work of Shiina Ringo? Does Tokyo Jihen sound better when Shiina takes complete control of the songwriting? Or do the songwriting contributions of the band’s remaining members give a much-needed jolt to the Ringo enterprise?
Regardless of listener reaction, Goraku comes at an important time in the band’s life. The debut, Kyouiku, served as a transition for Shiina Ringo, solo artist, to become Shiina Ringo, band member. The follow-up, Otona, could be considered Tokyo Jihen’s true debut, with the quintet solidifying its sound and Shiina catering her writing specifically to her cohorts’ strengths.
Goraku, then, finds the band asserting itself as, well, a band, with creative duties spread among its members. By becoming more of a unit, Tokyo Jihen’s members are once again reinventing the whole. It’s the typical career arc of an ensemble in reverse.
But the question remains — is Goraku any good?
And again — the answer depends on how you look at it. Let’s, then, tackle each of the aforementioned questions.
How does it compare to other Tokyo Jihen albums?
Otona, by far, is the strongest of the three Tokyo Jihen albums recorded thus far. Kyouiku is slowly showing its age, and Goraku leaves a nondescript first impression. It’s not an album that seizes your attention the way the work of Shiina Ringo normally would.
Goraku does not pay off immediately — it takes a number of listens, an adjustment period to get a feel for the different writing. But after that adjustment, the album becomes just as enjoyable as Otona.
How does it compare to the solo work of Shiina Ringo?
Tokyo Jihen albums, by comparison, don’t possess the rich excess of Shiina’s solo work. The focus is on the band’s dynamics, so it wouldn’t be fair to compare Goraku to, say, Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana. And yet, the strength of Goraku lies in the fact it stands apart from Shiina’s solo work. The album still contains the mix of jazz, rock and funk essential to Tokyo Jihen, but it’s got a different feel (naturally.)
Fans of Shiina Ringo may find Goraku wanting. Fans of Tokyo Jihen may find it refreshing. And this statement answers the last questions …
Does Tokyo Jihen sound better when Shiina takes complete control of the songwriting? Or do the songwriting contributions of the band’s remaining members give a much-needed jolt to the Ringo enterprise?
The band named this album Goraku, or "variety", for a reason, and the music lives up to the title. The album reaches its apex with its three middle tracks — "OSCA", "Kuronekodou" and "Fukushuu".
"OSCA" is the strangest single I’ve heard all year, while "Kuronekodou" is catchy for its uncompromising breakneck pace. "Fukushuu", on the other hand, features a nice, mean guitar hook.
The latter half of the album can get lightweight, and the vocal contributions of the guys on "Tsukigime-hime" puts Shiina’s singing in bas relief. Sharing songwriting duties is all right. Sharing vocal duties, on the other hand, not so much …
Goraku promises variety, and it offers a lot of experiments. Some work, some don’t. It’s not the most focused album Shiina and company have produced to date, but the band’s willingness to try something new is the source of the album’s charms.