Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sensuous Days (Cornelius)

For at least a week, Cornelius' Sensuous was the best-selling Japanese music CD at the huge Tower Records Shibuya store. When he did a free gig at the Apple Store in Ginza, people started lining up in the morning for a 7PM event, and the line was closed at 4PM. His show at the Ebisu Liquid Room, one of Tokyo's biggest venues, is already sold out, even though it's in March. The new album was a constant topic of conversation among musicians here, before and after its release.

In short, the release of Cornelius' first album in five years has been a genuine Event in Tokyo's music scene, the likes of which haven't been seen for some time. It makes me proud to be a Tokyoite--even considering Cornelius' fame, musical track record (extending to Flipper's Guitar days) and his long sabbatical, it's remarkable that so many people have embraced an album like Sensuous, which isn't very commercially minded (none of its 12 tracks ever had a chance of landing on the Top 40 hit charts) and is instead innovative in a risk-taking way.

I've read a number of mixed to negative English reviews of Sensuous (for example, here, here and here), which, in summary, say that the album's songs are too repetitive, dry, self-absorbed; long for the Cornelius of Fantasma days; but conclude Sensuous is still worth listening to because Cornelius is Cornelius.

On this, I'm a contrarian--I think Sensuous is the best Japanese album of 2006. From the first listen, I've been struck by its gentle, emotional quality. There's a fatherly feel to some of its compositions--a judgment that is probably influenced by reports that Keigo Oyamada (a.k.a. Cornelius) is a devoted dad in real life. The bittersweet chord progressions of a guitar in the title track, for example, evoke for me the way time flows in a different way when you are bringing up a young child--moments are loaded with both hope and sadness about the passage of time. That might not be what was on Cornelius' mind as he composed this, or he might have been thinking purely in terms of how notes fit together--the point, I think, is that this is a composition that can make you visualize, which isn't all that common a thing. This song in itself makes Sensuous a good album.

Some songs in the album do develop slowly through repeated phrases, and that might not make this the perfect soundtrack to, say, a midnight drive (the songs 'Fit Song', 'Breezin'', and 'Wataridori', for instance). But, as a whole, Sensuous holds together well--the energetic rock of 'Gum' follows the hypnotic 'Wataridori', for example, and the final three song sequence, starting with the Eno-like synth sound and goofy bells of 'Like a Rolling Stone', followed by the catchy single 'Music', and brought to a close with a sweet cover of 'Sleep Warm', is a brilliant finale to the album. It also sounds spectacular--it's a true treat for the ears.

I sometimes question Japanese musical tastes when I listen to the most popular acts, but not this time--give us more like this!


By the way, Happy New Year!

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