Observations

In Which I Attempt to Write About Music… Again

I know I’ve written about this before. Hell, I’ve written books. But the release of a new classical piece by Yoshiki (the Golden Globes theme) has once again begged my pen to fill pages.

As I have mentioned before, music is integral to my existence in ways that are difficult to describe. Everything I read, do, and experience has a playlist. My most cherished works of fiction are about rock and roll. Rock shows are practically the extent of my social life. All of my best memories involve concerts.

Here’s the thing, see: Yoshiki is my favorite musician. Ever. He makes pieces of music that I drop everything to listen to.

Most of America knows him as “that Japanese rock guy”, or “the rich dude who plays drums for X Japan”, or “the old rockstar who only releases music every ten years”. He’s not dead; so of course, people are divided on whether to call him a saint or a sellout. Conversations involving Yoshiki would rather debate his use of botox than bass notes. Is he a corporate whore? Is he an alcoholic? Did he have plastic surgery? Is he gay? Is he married? Is he gay AND married?

I hear his new classical piece. And I think, who fucking cares?

Call him brilliant, because he is, but not perfect, because he isn’t. He simply composes music like the notes are all that matter. It’s dramatic and downright cheesy at times; but then, what is music if not emotional exaggeration?

I originally wrote some of these song descriptions back in 2003 or so, before X Japan’s reuinion or the release of ETERNAL MELODY II, so needless to say, things have changed. Still, the soundtrack stays. As Zeppelin have always said… the song remains the same.

Here are fifteen pieces of music by Yoshiki that everyone must hear.

15. ES DUR NO PIANO SEN

Album: Jealousy
Artist: X Japan

“Es Dur” is noteable for many reasons, not the least of which being its length: while most Yoshiki epics run at least six minutes or more, this one clocks in at precisely one minute and 53 seconds. Yet it still manages to sprawl across its time span as majestically as any symphonic movement, creeping slowly upon you and reaching a climax that ends in a dischordant rumble reminiscent of the infamous  “Art of Life” solo. “Es Dur” is a perfect microcosm for the classic Yoshiki composition, in addition to holding its own as a gorgeous little snippet of sorrow.

14. ANNIVERSARY

Album: Eternal Melody II
Artist: Yoshiki and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra

A taste of breath again. A taste of life. This piano concerto composed for the Japanese Emperor was Yoshiki’s first original work since the death of hide, and it’s an emotional journey worthy of Tchiakovsky, or a wedding, or the end of a film in which the main character survives despite supposedly insurmountable odds. When Yoshiki first performed it, he wore a suit and his hair was pulled sharply back, which speaks of the piece’s traditional formality; and yet, the drama is there, in pounding piano arpeggios, moody dips of cello, and by the end, crashing cymbals worthy of any rock song. It’s an intense conglomerate of musical peaks and valleys, and the most life-affirming piece of classical drama you can imagine, even in the wake of tragedy.

13. GOODBYE

Album: hide Tribute – SPIRITS
Artist: Yoshiki

This cover probably carries more emotional weight with it than anything else Yoshiki has ever recorded. For the longest time, I couldn’t even listen to it. I wouldn’t allow myself to; the emotional effect was just too overwhelming. “Goodbye” is a hide song, and a beautiful one. The lyrics, in retrospect, are bittersweet. Yoshiki playing the song is, in effect, almost like he’s saying goodbye to hide. You can hear the melancholy weighing his fingers down as he presses the keys. The string arrangement compliments, but never takes over; it simply croons in the background, exquisite. This piece renders most people speechless. I don’t know how Yoshiki ever got through the recording session.

12. Blue Butterfly

Album: Catacombs Soundtrack
Artist: Violet UK

Violet UK has become sort of pseudo-mythical, in that Yoshiki keeps talking about it but the only things that surface are a song here, a rumor there; a demo here, a sound sample there. But then “Blue Butterfly” happened, and suddenly Yoshiki’s pet project was more than a wisp of intention: it fucking rocked. This song could blow your house down. It doesn’t make any real sense—electronic beats with heavy metal guitar and a breathy female voice? Lyrics about choosing between god and the devil? Crazy programming that sounds like an animal being tortured? Some are hesitant to call Yoshiki a revolutionary, but if the sound of “Blue Butterfly” isn’t a musical revolution, I don’t know what is.

11. Without You (classical)

Album: Eternal Melody II
Artist: Yoshiki and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra

“Without You” now exists, as many know, as a singable ballad performed by X Japan at several reuinion shows. But this instrumental epic, clocking in at 17 minutes, is the first version ever released to the public, and it remains my favorite. I find words hard to grasp in this case. There is a refrain played out by piano, violin, and cello. There is a melody that is capable of being sung, as Toshi can attest to; but it also slides around like a chasm, wordless, echoed. This is not a pop song, or a rock song, or even something popularly credible; rather, it is music in its purest form; mourning and feeling and fermatas set free.

10. BLUE BLOOD

Album: Blue Blood
Artist: X Japan

Doubting this man’s ability to rock? Look no further than the title track of X’s first major label album. Yoshiki’s drumming, for one thing, is absolutely otherworldly. The guitars, for another, could cause major traffic accidents from inciting you to headbang like a crazy person (I speak from experience). The composition is brilliant, keeping you hooked right until the end, and hide’s perfectly placed guitar solo will knock your socks off. The changing tempos and 80s-metal shouts just add to this ingenius mess. A rock song to stand head and shoulders above the rest.

9. I.V.

Album: None, as yet
Artist: X Japan

I was sitting in the movie theater to watch a horror movie for this one. I enjoyed the movie, but what made me throw my arms up in the air were the chords accompanying the credits—the proof that X was an entity beyond myth and memory, that they could still rock with the best of the “black metal” record section, and that one of the best songs they’ve ever recorded happened AFTER the Last Live, AFTER hide died, and AFTER everyone assumed their demise. The alternating crunch and gorgeous melody offer a fantastic, affecting contrast. Give it time, people. If “I.V.” is the kind of rock song we wait for, then it’s worth it. Where’s a mosh pit when you need one?

8. BLACK DIAMOND

Album: Kiss My Ass: Classic KISS Regrooved
Artist: Yoshiki

Another tribute, you say? Oh, but this is no ordinary cover, my friend. Yoshiki has somehow managed to turn a KISS song into a sweeping classical epic that seems more like the soundtrack to a samurai movie than any derivation of rock and roll. The strings are positively gorgeous, and the piece features some of the best piano playing I’ve ever heard from him (you know he’s capable of stuff like this; it’s just too out of place in a rock song). Now I’m curious enough to hear the original, even though I never liked KISS.

7. ROSE OF PAIN

Album: Blue Blood
Artist: X Japan

A twelve minute epic that is so entirely engaging it doesn’t feel like twelve minutes. A true showcase of Yoshiki’s classical influences, “Rose” goes through several different “movements” before culminating in its final, guitar-driven, anthemic ending. The main theme is hauntingly beautiful in itself; to hear it go through several phases is captivating, and often thrilling. X manage to capture the obvious emotion of the song without losing any of their technical excellence. Because that’s what they do.

6. UNFINISHED

Album: Blue Blood
Artist: X Japan

“Unfinished” is my favourite X ballad. The beauty of the opening piano has you catching your breath, and in just over four minutes, this little song grabs you with a melody to die for, lyrics to cry over, and an earnest roughness that makes it that much more tender. Yoshiki’s piano is the standout; it just swallows you whole, then spits you back out on the other side aching and wanting more. Four minutes never went by so quickly, or so gracefully.

5. AMETHYST (classical)

Album: Eternal Melody
Artist: Yoshiki with George Martin and the London Philharmonic Orchestra

This is the single most dramatic piece of music ever. Given lyrics only detract from the experience. It’s a symphonic instrumental that evokes more emotion than words ever could (yeah, I said that). This is the kind of thing you’d want to have played for the opening credits of a Shakespearean tragedy. Each of the melodic entrances by the strings are worthy of spine shivers, and when the final buildup occurs, you almost expect to see fireworks exploding out of your stereo. Music should not be this thrilling. I want to jump up and start waving my hands around like a conductor.

4. TEARS

Album: DAHLIA
Artist: X Japan

What’s to say? Classic is an understatement. “Tears” is simply THE X Japan song. Yoshiki wrote it for his father; then, after hide died, he re-released the song with a new dedication to hide. Its power is unimaginable unless you’ve heard it. The opening strings alone send me into a state of unabashed sentimentality. The guitar solo is as memorable as any Zeppelin lick. The poem Yoshiki recites at the end has the kind of poignant honesty that few are able to achieve. How many songs can keep going for five minutes after the vocals have ended and still hold your attention just as well as the first five? It’s an opus.

3. DAHLIA

Album: DAHLIA
Artist: X Japan

“Dahlia” is the most perfect song ever composed. There’s the opening with Yoshiki’s drumming sounding like a spastic machine; then hide and Pata’s guitars that rip the chords apart, and then Toshi’s ethereal voice hitting each note of a perfect melody on key. It has everything a song could ever want or need: verses, choruses; a slow, spacey section; a dramatic pause with violins and Yoshiki’s whispering voice, and a finish that leaves you fucking hitting your ceiling with the string symphony and speed metal riffing coming together simultaneously. Bloody brilliant. Best rock song ever. I will argue this for eternity.

2. ART OF LIFE

Album: ART OF LIFE
Artist: X Japan

Ah, “Art of Life”. The song that is thirty minutes long, the quintessential rock symphony, the album with only one track on it. When it’s over you feel like you’ve been to the end of the world and back. The lengthy dischordant piano solo aside (it’s all right Yoshiki, I forgive you), this piece is one of the most awesome things that ever happened to rock music. I can’t even rightly call it a “song”; it’s so much more than that. From the opening notes to the speed metal riffing to the harpsichord interlude and onward to, yes, even the gigantic pounding-on-the-keys piano solo, “Art of Life” is truly a force to be reckoned with. When the main guitar theme comes back after 20+ minutes, it’s so goddamn exciting you could cry.

1. FOREVER LOVE (LAST LIVE VERSION)

Album: Forever Love (single)
Artist: X Japan

“Forever Love” goes beyond the emblem of classic. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time. Something about the music seeps into your being. There’s a pervasive sadness to it that’s impossible to escape. It makes more people cry than any other song I know. Some people relate to the lyrics; some like to sing the melody; some just bask in the glory of the guitar solo. But whatever you do, you’re never the same once you hear it. Why the live version? Because it combines the beauty of the acoustic orchestral opening with the triumphant entrance of the guitars. Why the Last Live, specifically? Because you know when Toshi strains his voice, he’s only holding on past the imminent breakup. Because you know when Yoshiki hits the wrong notes and then stops playing, it’s not for lack of precision, but for the fact that he’s sobbing so hard he can barely move his hands.

Advertisements

One thought on “In Which I Attempt to Write About Music… Again

  1. I hear X Japan, and a flood of memories come back from all the nights in the 90’s we sat on the den couch watching/listening to X concerts with you and Mary. One of the albums going non-stop during Mary’s last week was X Japan. Bittersweet but also beautiful – just like the music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s