Review Summary: A damn near perfect debut album from one of Japan's biggest stars.
If you know you're Japanese pop culture, then you obviously know of Gackt. The 38-going-on-39-year-old singer made a mark for himself in the music industry with his smooth singing style, and his sheer musical talent (he's known to play guitar, piano, bass, drums, trombone, etc). He got his first break as the second vocalist in the legendary visual kei band, Malice Mizer, before embarking on his own solo career. Since then, he released 7 critically acclaimed records, a few dozen singles, and became one of Japan's signature solo stars. In 2000, right when he was first becoming a huge phenomenon, Gackt released his debut album, "Mars", which is one of his most critically acclaimed and successful albums to date. And with the diversity of the album, it's not hard to see why various listeners enjoyed it so much.
The album starts off with the spacey track, "Asrun Dream", which features Gackt's signature vocals as the main drive, with various progressions inside the track. A damn good introduction track that introduces the overall style of the album to the listener head-on. The next track is the gloomy, yet inspiring track, "Emu ~For My Dear~", which is one of two tracks dedicated to the singer's fallen friend, Kami, of Malice Mizer. The track's a great memorial to an equally talented musician, and to a deceased friend overall. A moving track, indeed. The next track, "U+K", is the final memorial to Kami, and is a lot more of an upbeat track. Another very good track that works as a great opposite for the more serious "Emu" track, and closes the memorial tracks for Kami. The next track, "Vanilla", is a pop track that is done superbly well, with a bizarre and unique salsa-ska-pop mixture. A unique mainstream track that is approached and executed perfectly. The next two tracks, "Freesia", are ambient like tracks that put the listeners in a dreamlike state, and mostly work as an extended introduction for the next full track, "Illness Illusion". A very effective interlude, and works very well with "Illness Illusion".
"Illness Illusion", itself, however, is a bizarre track that some would even say is a drawback to Malice Mizer's style of Victorian gothic music, and starts off with Gackt's voice being made to be high pitched, as it slowly evolves to its normal powerful tone. Probably the most anti-pop track on the album, and it is a nice breakaway track from the rather mainstream feel of the album. The next track, "Mirror", brings the album back to mainstream grounds, but is arguably one of the most addictive and effective tracks on the album. It features a powerful, Celtic-like sound, and is just an overall solid piece of mainstream music executed perfectly, similar to "Vanilla". The next track, "Dears", is a track that is centered around a fairy tale like sound, with a dreamy and child-like aura attached to it. "Oasis" is arguably the most powerful track on the album, as it features an intergalactic sound that is both anti and pro mainstream. The strong vocals by Gackt are made as evident on this single track than anywhere else on the album. The album then closes with "Kono Daremo Inai Heya de", which is a rather touching track that focuses entirely on a progressive pop sound, with the signature "Mars" rock bite still attached to it. A fitting closing for such a legendary debut.
Overall, the album manages to create a type of environment that is both spacey and experimental (to some extent). The only thing keeping the album from absolute perfection is the fact that the album, for the most part, bleeds mainstream pop rock. It doesn't make the album an unpleasant experience by any means (rather, the exact opposite), it just makes the album a bit stale after a few listens. However, with the powerful voice of Gackt, and the superb layout of many tracks, the album is far from being a complete bore of a listen. So, if you are a fan of rock that has sort of a theme to it and experiments with various styles, without losing its collective focus as an album, then check this out. Highly recommended to listeners of all ages.