(Before we start, I apologize in advance for any butchered Romaji in this review- I am no pro by any means :-p)
Urbangarde have been a group I’ve known about for a long, long time, but have never really had the desire to explore further for whatever reason. SHOWA 90 has turned this impression on its head for me- as I fall deeper and deeper into it’s spell. It rocks, rolls, bops and pops throughout it’s entire run-time, and its well worth the short amount of your day it takes to sit down and listen to. Definitely one of the most surprising releases (and so late into the year) of 2015, let’s have a quick look at what makes it demand your attention:
Other than being immediately wild and throat-grabbing, there’s definitely a sense of things being awfully tongue-in-cheek throughout the entire albums run-time. Delivered with a real bite, its easy to get caught up in the whole thing. As one person has pointed out to me, the theme of this album is a play on “what if the Showa era style was still around in 2015?”- (if it was, 2015 would be the 90th year of the Showa era). There are clearly themes of despair, death and what it means to be pure. It’s all done with a sense of deep parody. Because of this, I feel you would get even more from it if you were Japanese- I however, can only judge it on the music and delivery itself for the most part, but it nice to have that little bit of background when going into it.
The pairing of male and female vocals really, REALLY works in this album. It’s like listening to a gigantic opera or play. I oddly am reminded of the great Jun Togawa and Koji Ueno project Guernica in many parts- there’s definitely a sense of the militaristic; further strengthened by the video for the lead single “Kuchibaru Demokurashi.” And lets talk about that lead single and opening track- so potent, so poignant. It’s hard to not be reminded of Togawa’s own “Virgin Blues” (perhaps not surprisingly from her own album Showa Kyonen– also with its tributes to the Showa era) with its chorus. The song is so good at setting the tone and theme of the album up that I doubt that Urbangarde could have chosen a better opener. Love it.
From there the album provides a delightful blend of sparkly jpop, VK (Visual Kei for those wondering) style metal and traditional Eastern flavors. Major higlights include the delightful “Shinjuku Monamuru” with it’s mix of bubbly idol style pop and traditional Japanese instruments, the groovy, male led “Shijin Kari“, the bonkers “Hako Otoko ni Kike” with it’s ridiculous over-the-top guitar work. Needless to say, the brilliant, moody theatrical centrepiece “Showa Kyu ju nen Junigatsu” must be mentioned, and finally, my personal favorite, the beautiful ballad track (and also single) “Hesei Shibo Yugi“, which for whatever reason even reminds me of the better works of Ayumi Hamasaki.
There are bits of the album that do feel a bit strenuous and fatiguing, and it by no means is easy listening. It’s loud and in your face. Hell, it may be a little “too much” for some people at times, but for those who dig music being a little bit more on the ‘extreme’ side of things- this is your caffeine and sugar powered dose for December.
Urbangarde keep getting more and more interesting with their work. From what I’ve heard this is probably their most ‘tight’ and consistent work I’ve experienced. I have no complaints in the running time department and there’s no real dull moments to speak of. While it’s not something I see myself coming back to very frequently after the initial hype has died down, I’m really enjoying it right now and it does have some gems on it that reach truly mighty heights.
7/10 Urbangarde’s latest is a hearty dose of “weird Japan” that often at times teeters into levels of pure genius. Highly recommended for your December fix.