Shiina Ringo: Watashi to Houden

Let me get the fanboy stuff out of the way. For a better listening experience of the first disc of Shiina Ringo’s b-side collection Watashi to Houden, rearrange the track listing in the following order.

  1. Σ
  2. Tokyo no Hito (The kanji spells onna, but the furigana says hito. Confusing.)
  3. Unconditional Love
  4. Remote Controller
  5. Suberidai
  6. Memai
  7. 17
  8. Rinne Highlight
  9. Aozora
  10. Kimi no Hitomi ni Koishiteru
  11. Toki ga Bousou Suru
  12. Jitsuroku ni Shinjuku (optional since it’s not even in the collection)

EMI Japan took a chronological order for the first disc of this two-disc collection, which doesn’t quite highlight the strength of the material on the whole. As Shiina got more sophisticated with programming her releases, the material on the second disc could not lend itself to such a chronology.

So that brings up my main criticism of an otherwise good retrospective: why not apply the same kind of sequencing of the second disc to the first? Of course, the order listed above is my personal choice on how to sequence the tracks. YMMV. Still, any effort would have made the collection feel less miscellaneous.

Fanboy stuff complete. Now what about the songs themselves?

Shiina’s first three albums are incredible works on their own, but the strength of the coupling tracks on her singles is almost criminal. Many artists tend to treat B-sides as flotsam and jetsam, while other artists put some of their best material on b-sides. (I’m looking at you, Duran Duran.)

None of Shiina’s coupling tracks could have substituted anything on her albums, but as a body of work, they constitute something of a hidden album between Shouso Strip and Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana.

The MUZAK sound of "Aozora" and "Rinne Highlight" are the only real anomalies among the 11 tracks of disc one, but "Σ", "Remote Controller" and "Tokyo no Hito" rock every bit as hard as anything on Muzai Moratorium or Shouso Strip. "Σ" is particularly noisy.

"17" and "Suberdai" shows off Shiina’s more soulful side, while "Memai" ranks as one of her most beautiful songs.

With the release of the 3-disc single set Zecchoushuu, Shiina’s singles became as ambitious as her albums. The second disc of Zecchoushuu starts off the second disc of Watashi to Houden, while the third disc rounds it out as the last three unlisted tracks.

To accomodate some of those singles’ idiosyncrasies, the songs are sequenced with a bit more care. It’s odd hearing "Aisaika no Choushoku" come before "SID to Hakuchuumu" after years of listening to it the other way around. The same kind of flip-flop was required of "Mesai" and "Ishiki" from the "Kuki ~STEM~" single, due to the white noise which bookend the songs.

Given the diversity of Shiina’s latter day output — from tango to swing to post-grunge rock — the second disc of Watashi to Houden can’t help but feel miscellaneous, despite a more deliberate attempt to corral the material. So what results is one disc that could have benefited from more creative sequencing, and another disc where creative sequencing doesn’t quite help.

Two b-sides are missing, however: "Jitsuroku ni Shinjuku", which is just a fake street performance of "Marunoichi no Sadistic" and "Kabuki-chou no Jyoou", and "Ringo Catalog", a mash-up of her singles. Neither track is really missed, though.

Nitpicking aside, Watashi to Houden is a valuable release for frugal Shiina fans who don’t pick up every single when they’re released. The early coupling tracks are every bit as strong as her albums, and the later tracks demonstrate Shiina’s versatility as a writer.

For fans who already own these singles, the compilation conveniently gathers them into a nice, compact set.