I haven’t written about Shiina Ringo, my favorite Japanese female artist in a while. There wasn’t that much going on around her, and the recent years showed that cashing in on CM music is the thing she’s focused on the most. And that’s coming from a guy who thinks that Sunny (Hi Izuro Tokoro) was a decent album, Nippon is corny, but acceptable, and Ringo Expo ’14 was an enjoyable hot concert recording (a bit of a mess at times, but a hot one). 逆輸入 ～港湾局～ (Gyakuyunyū: Kōwankyoku, ‘Reimport: Ports and Harbours Bureau’), the self-covers CD, which came in 2014 was pretty cool as well. Finally, three years since the aforementioned Reimport and Sunny albums, we got a new record this December – and guess what, it’s the vol. 2 of Reimport.
Should I be surprised that it’s not new music? Probably not. I wasn’t exactly itching to play this CD either.
逆輸入 〜航空局〜 (Gyakuyunyū: Kōkūkyoku), or ‘Reimport vol.2 Civil Aviation Bureau’, consists of 11 songs originally penned by Ringo for different artists. So we get the tunes she’s written for the likes of Sayuri Ishikawa, SMAP, Chiaki Kuriyama, or Rie Tomosaka. I’ve only heard around half of those tracks (I guess I’m not a true zealous fan), so I had to go ahead and check out the original versions as well.
Jinsei wa Yume Darake), (first done by Mitsuki Takahata) the leading track of the album, was actually a jingle for a life insurance company ad I think, and it’s the boring Ringo at its best. The waltz-like melody, she’s done over and over again solo and with Jihen, makes me sigh. It doesn’t make me rage, but it doesn’t thrill me either. Forgettable. 6/10
Chiaki Kuriyama’s おいしい季節 (Oishii Kisetsu), is unfortunately another dull song – I dislike Kuriyama’s version, but quite possibly Ringo’s is worse – what’s more she actually fucking released it in October as a digital single and the tune found its place in a CM for chocolate. Ehhh. Was it bearable in Bon Voyage? Maybe, but not anymore. 4/10
少女ロボット (Shōjo Robot) was the great hit for Rie Tomosaka. There was so much to look forward to. Ringo-chan actually performed the song live before – it appears on Zazen Xstasy DVD (recorded in 2000), and then with Tokyo Jihen on Just Can’t Help It. Both instances fairly resembled the original. On Reimport vol. 2, Ringo for some reason decided to mellow Shōjo Robot down, JazzRingofy it, making this great track lose all the fierceness and originality. I’d much rather prefer if she went for some crazy arrangement instead of this snoozfest. 5/10
Sayuri Ishikawa’s 暗夜の心中立て (Anya no Shinjuudate) – the singer evokes enka-like vocals, and I guess it’s fine overall. 6/10
薄ら氷心中 (Usurahi Shinjuu) (Megumi Hayashibara) is another show tune Ringo, which means more blandness and repetition. 5/10
Then there’s 重金属製の女 (The Heavy Metallic Girl) – originally by Eri Fukatsu (Ichigo Ichie), and it’s finally a song I like. Rocking Ringo is the best Ringo. Sitar is a neat addition to the sound. 7.5/10
おとなの掟 (Otona no okite)… bad English, grating sounds of strings, this song is plain annoying, no thanks. 3/10
Another Ishikawa track, 名うての泥棒猫 (Naute no Dorōboneko) is fine, (performed by Ringo before) and reminds me of good old Mayonaka no Junketsu a bit. It’s placed between two weak tunes, which makes it even better. 7/10
SMAP’s 華麗なる逆襲 (Karei Naru Gyakushuu) – dance music with bad English again and the autotune which completely disqualifies it in my eyes. Having said that, it’s still slightly better than Otona… 4/10
Before I got my hands on the album myself I’ve read how the two last tracks are really good, while I may as well trash the rest of the Reimport vol. 2 – I strongly believed it cannot be that bad. 9 tracks in, things aren’t looking too brightly.
Thankfully, 10. 野性の同盟 (Yasei no dōmei) stands proudly as the best song off the album. Originally by Kou Shibasaki, Ringo’s version brings back the nostalgic noisy grunge sound. 依存症 (Izonshou) anyone? That’s the vibe I’m getting, and this is the track I will definitely keep returning to. While listening to it, I’m seeing Ringo with the mic and the guitar, and not flashy costume changes and back-up dancers. 9/10
It segues into 最果てが見たい (Saihate ga Mitai). Shiina has already performed the song live during EXPO ’14 but Reimport features a stripped down ballad version, with some intriguing dissonant guitar sounds in the background, which add a bit of a depth. Satisfactory album closer – 8/10
In the end, Reimport vol. 1 was a bit better. You might skip it, if you’re not a fan. You might skip if you’re a fan, too, save for 3-4 tracks.
I dislike おとなの掟 (Otona no okite) the most, but it’s definitely not at the level of the infamous Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri (長く短い祭), a song that gives creeps (Guns n’ Roses have My World, Metallica guys have Purify, and Ringo has the Coca-Cola tune).
Ringo performed Otona and Jinsei wa Yume on FNS Music Festival (Fuji TV) on December 6. Both sounded a bit better live than on the album, though I’m still not buyin’ the first one.
Earlier this year the DVD/Blu-ray entitled 椎名林檎と彼奴等がゆく 百鬼夜行2015 (Shiina Ringo to Kyatsura ga Yuku Hyakkiyakou 2015), and it’s this one 2015 live concert (later on aired by WOWOW) that I was hoping would get released someday. The discs includes songs omitted from the broadcast (great 虚言症 (Kyogenshou) and sweet きらきら武士 (Kirakira Bushi), and feature another goodie – a 2016 live session recording from Kanagawa Hall. Awesome stuff.
In April, 目抜き通り (Menukidoori – The Main Street) – a jingle for Ginza Six mall CM came out. She did the song with Tortoise Matsumoto (Ulfuls). Not much to say about it – the tune certainly fits a particular aesthetic.Ringo and Matsumoto…
Finally, last year Utada Hikaru came back with Fantôme, a new album after several years long hiatus period. Shiina did guest vocals on one of the songs, 二時間だけのバカンス (Nijikan Dake no Vacance, A Two Hour Vacation). I’ve never been particularly fond of Hikaru, despite her being quite a prominent figure in Japanese pop music. Nonetheless, the duet song is alright. Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a decent pop tune.
There’s a new tour announced for 2018, so I’m pretty sure there will be a DVD/Blu-ray, too. Hopefully next year will be better. Make Shiina Ringo great again!