Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Happy to oblige a request from Blogspot user "theillmasta," Kenji Omura's third solo album Spring is Nearly Here 春がいっぱい from 1981. Fusion-master and YMO's touring guitarist, Omura sadly passed in 1998 of liver failure at the age of 49. Omura's earlier albums are more fusion-specific, but with this record Omura adapts more of an Technopop style, recruiting all of YMO (and associates) for an album more in-line with the Alfa Records sound.
Omura's pals from Yellow Magic Orchestra serve as his backing band, with Takahashi and Sakamoto helping with production and writing on select tracks. YMO/YEN friends Akiko Yano, Toru Okada, Hideki Matsutake (Logic System), Shinya Hayama, and Kazuhiko Kato contribute as well. Mainstay Chris Mosdell provides lyrics.
The album's style rests somewhere between gentle fusion and Technopop, with relaxed, deliberate instrumentation and scattered, textural vocals. Tracks one and three, "Intensive Love Course" and "Seiko Is Always On Time" present fusion whimsy up front with nevertheless still, deliberate synthesizer, with Sakamoto co-producing "Seiko". The second jam, "Under Heavy Hands And Hammers", is more melancholy, with grand, stately vocals and a mild guitar solo (both from Omura). This is the first of several moments that isn't completely successful, risking maudlin over-statement.
The two covers on the album are low-points as well, Omura & co. tackling George Harrison's "Far East Man" and The Shadows' "Spring is Nearly Here" (an odd track to name the album after). To me Omura's cover of Harrison and Ron Wood's "Far East Man" is an unadventurous version of a song I already don't like. This track really communicates the worst of Omura's fusion background, actually sounding like tedious 70s soft rock. Lyrically, it's hard to say if the selection is ironic, given the "white man's burden" message hidden beneath Harrison's good intentions. I'm no Beatles scholar, so if anybody knows more about what Harrison is getting at with this track, let me know. Nice backing vocals from Akiko Yano anyway. Two tracks away is a surprise Shadows cover, morphing the 60s British pop group's proto-surf song into a half-finished sounding jam, nevertheless displaying the same level of underwater stasis as much of Spring is Nearly Here.
"Knife Life" brings the listener back to a proggy, fusion place, but is ultimately all tension and no release, plodding along to its unsatisfying fade-out. "The Prince of Shaba" is more successful, an assertive signature-Omura instrumental. This jam resolves itself nicely, with a lot of reverby, surfy "island-sounds" guitar, whimsical synth chirps and added percussion from Shinya Hayama.
Still, the highlights of the album are the two Takahashi-written tracks, "The Defector" and "Maps" (an YMO original). "Defector" is very Alfa, with Takahashi's signature driving yet pensive rhythm arrangement and decorative, trilling synths and guitar flourishes. Interesting that Peter Barakan wrote the lyrics to this song and not Mosdell. "Maps" is wild, a heavy marriage between Omura's fusion guitar and the YEN/Alfa aesthetic. These two jams have assertive vocals, Omura even doing his best David Byrne impersonation on "Maps".
While I can't give this album a ringing endorsement, there are enough solid jams here to warrant a listen, for sure. Certainly, this fills a gap in the YMO/YEN/Alfa story, and in Omura's more fusion-centric discography, as his most Technopop solo material. Enjoy!
01. Intensive Love Course
02. Under Heavy Hands And Hammers
03. Seiko Is Always On Time
04. Far East Man (George Harrison cover)
05. Knife Life
06. 春がいっぱい (Spring Is Nearly Here) (Shadows cover)
07. The Defector
10. The Prince Of Shaba
CREDITS (from Discogs)
Music - Kenji Omura (tracks 01, 02, 03, 05, 08, 10)
- Yukihiro Takahashi (tracks 07, 09)
- Ryuichi Sakamoto (track 03)
Lyrics - Chris Mosdell, Peter Barakan (track 07)
Backing Vocals – Akiko Yano (track 04), Yukihiro Takahashi (track 07)
Bass – Haruomi Hosono
Drums – Yukihiro Takahashi
Guitar – Kazuhiko Kato (track 04), Kenji Omura
Keyboards – Ryuichi Sakamoto, Toru Okada
Percussion – Shinya Hayama (track 10)
Piano – Akiko Yano
Programmed By – Hideki Matsutake
Vocals – Kenji Omura
Track 04 lyrics and music - Ron Wood, George Harrison
Track 06 music by - Brian Bennett, Bruce Welch
Label: Alfa Records