Review Summary: It's not complacency… it's just… OK, it's complacency.
Surely the joy of performing, the joy of writing and the joy of music itself is to know you are appreciated, safe in the knowledge you're not selling out. Granted, those artists routinely 'pushing boundaries' are somewhat fickly allocated more leeway than the rest; their music could end up being historically important, don't you know!
There are those once-great giants that release a record that comes across like they're just not trying any more, and there are the auteurs of innovative composition that disappear up their own asses and we, the listeners, end up being the ones not giving a toss. But what is one left with once a cult
band effectively alienates its own following? Would they disappear or would the fanbase keep the faith? A record label's worst nightmare, Zazen Boys III
almost gave Mukai Shutoku the answer.
Riding out the intense underground success of releasing both Zazen Boys I
and Zazen Boys II
in the space of a few months, the band seemed reluctant to head back into the studio for almost two years to fully utilise more of that same angular guitars and distorted hyperactivity that served them so well previously. Hoping they could cap off the trilogy with the style and aplomb of the preceding albums, the patient public were instead flippantly treated to the worryingly average Zazen Boys III
. Committing a musical sin above all others, it wasn't an album to hate, it wasn't an album to love; it was an album that could conjour up only one response – 'meh'
– leading the listener into a minefield of endless jam sessions, minimal passion and little to no complexity in comparison with the rest of the Zazen catalogue. In all honesty, the worry is all but gone – the band returned to a reformed version of their classic sound for Zazen IV
– but one must wonder what the driving force was behind this, an album that sounds like it has a distinct lack of driving force; only This is Noranenko
and the positively thunderous Riff Man
were blessed with anywhere near that same carefully constructed recklessness as is custom for the four-piece. Where once there were explosive stop-starts and mindbending time signatures, there is suddenly total metronomic sterility with the likes of Take Off
and Friday Night
, each about as effective and grabbing as listening to a clock tick for five minutes. Frustratingly, Mukai Shutoku also reigns it all in for swathes of the record, his voice subdued and flimsy; a far cry from that rip-roaring pseudo-scream we've conditioned ourselves to love. And what the hell is Pink Heart
? A drunken warm-up session? Every resemblance of rhythm and tonality dies a death before it starts, so why even include this on an album? Well, maybe we can let this one slip, after all, it's only two minutes long. Oh wait! It turns out that Pink Heart
isn't even the pinnacle of III
's sheer laziness. Nope, that title goes emphatically to Lemon Heart
, which, really, is the biggest kick in the face the album packs; a metered, regulated jam session which starts promisingly until it dawns on the listener that it contains almost no musical structure whatsoever. Four minutes of no hooks, no harmony, no interplay and no point
As any other Zazen Boys album, III
has moments of joy, moments of vehemence and moments of 'how did they think of that?!
Thus it is such an infuriating shame that the fragments of near-beautiful madness on this album are either gone in the blink of an eye (Sugar Man
) or dragged out to near-hypnotic extremes (Metal Fiction
). Musically and stylistically, III
is poorly thought-through, messy and uninteresting. This is Zazen Boys for the seriously patient, ardent fans; to the uninitiated, I cannot stress strongly enough how much I believe Zazen Boys will be your next obsession, but only if you don't start here.