There’s always been an element of intrigue whenever Shiina Ringo pens songs for someone else. You can never really guess what they’re going to sound like until the final product is revealed- and because she has written for such a variety of artists (from Rie Tomosaka to SMAP), it’s arguably often more surprising to hear the final product than her own solo work.
When she announced she was working with famed voice actress/singer Megumi Hayashibara (for me, I know her most fondly as the voice of Rei Ayanami on Neon Genesis Evangelion), interest was quite high. I admit my personal love affair with Shiina Ringo is waning at this point, after a slew of releases that really did nothing for me- well, except fuel my smarm, but- this release really has reignited some fond memories and brings back some of my favorite elements from earlier Ringo outings. Perhaps to a fault. But I’ll go into that later. First up, lets have a look at the songs themselves:
The main single “Usurai Shinju“, is immediately a blast. It’s great. There’s no denying it. The balance of the composition and frail vocals is impeccable. That kitten-like, sexy sound of the Sanmon Gossip era bursts through in a brazen blast of reds, and it leaves this listener utterly delighted. Instruments play off each other in a way that hasn’t been heard in Ringo tunes in a long while- it’s just plain wonderful to listen to. The abrupt ending at 3:00 only makes it hit all the harder- its such a trademark Shiina Ringo element and it’s truly surprising for me to hear in 2016.
“Wagare wa kuchinashi” instantly reminds of the Hesei Fuzoku era of Ringo. More distinctly- of that album’s “TAMEIKESANNOH” version of “Karisome Otome“, just with a different voice. Infact- it’s almost the same to actually seeming a tad ridiculous. While I truly appreciate the composition here- it’s just waaaay too similar to the point of being distracting. I do admire the stop/start nature of the arrangement though- it’s simultaneously brilliant and weird– and very surprising for a release such as this. The balance of Megumi’s vocals here does not work as well as the first track though, they are a bit too weak and the recording/mastering really just makes them feel like they are barely there. It really does not play to her strengths and unfortunately, it seems almost pointless having Megumi there to begin with.
Nothing, from a Shiina Ringo perspective, is new or next level- BUT, it certainly is a step forward from whatever she pulled out her wig last year. From a Megumi Hayashibara perspective- this is by far the best musical work I have heard her involved in- but that’s likely an unfair assessment, seeing as I haven’t listened to everything she’s done. I’m quite sure the hardcore Shiina Ringo fans are the ones who will get the most out of this one- but those who didn’t like Sanmon Gossip or Hesei Fuzoku are advised to sit it out- because it really does sound like leftovers from either of those albums. It also makes me question how old these songs actually are- but that’s a whole discussion and we will never know for certain.
Oh, and there are two instrumental versions of the songs included with the single, which are nice to listen to if you want to enjoy the compositions here without any vocal distraction. Inessential, but still a cute bonus.
7/10– Megumi Hayashibara’s single is the best Shiina Ringo single in quite a while ;-p