It’s a bit funny when you think about how, when separated by oceans, two cultures can successfully manage to keep to themselves. Maybe in the classical days this might have been less surprising, but now, in the age of technology, with all our bullet trains, supersonic jets, internet connections, and international trade, we have still somehow managed to favor ourselves.
So with this said, it’s not surprising that Taiwan native, Jay Chou, is not in the least bit popular in Western culture, yet on the contrary, he’s had massive success in many parts of Asia, including China, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. Generally speaking, if you were living in America, the only way you’d really know about Jay Chou is through one of your friends, as I came to know him.
Now, I’ve heard a lot of Asian pop, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, in terms of quality, Chinese pop is low on the scale, with its clichéd repetitiveness, and its cheesy themes. However, Jay Chou is quite the exception to this. Much unlike many other mainstream Chinese artists, Jay Chou is quite diverse. Specializing in R&B and hip-hop, Jay Chou incorporates different elements into his music. In the first track of Ye Hui Mei alone, elements of classical music and opera can be found alongside synthesized melodies, hip-hop, and traditional sounding Chinese music.
Jay Chou’s Ye Hui Mei is a triumph over most other Chinese works and even many other Asian works. In terms of Western music (and by this, I’m referring to American), Jay Chou is much more sophisticated and environmental with his work. In many of the songs on Ye Hui Mei, Jay successfully managers to entrap the listening in a field of sound, complete with beautiful imagery and feelings of well being. Jay Chou’s music is both moving and insightful, and occasionally loud and aggressive.
As mentioned earlier, Jay Chou utilizes many different styles on Ye Hui Mei. “In the Name of the Father”, the first track of the album, is the most unique on the album, with no other track having much resemblance to it. The other tracks have at least one other counterpart reprising the style, but in a different way. For example, the second track, “Coward”, is succeeded by “Double Sabre”. Both tracks appeal to a more rock orientated audience, and are easily the “heaviest” songs on the album. “Coward” opens with a simple guitar piece with some synthetic effect in the background. It quickly jumps into a heavier, faster riff, though still very simple. As the music in the song is very simple, “Coward” derives much of its appeal through its use of dynamics. It goes into a chorus, into a keyboard interlude, and is followed by another verse, but this time around it’s sung by a kid. The approach that Jay Chou takes at this style on “Double Sabre” is very obviously different. While both songs start off slowly, the music in “Double Sabre” is more complexly layered. The guitar is heavier, and the vocals are more fitting to the song. The song also incorporates a few other elements that “Coward” does not. For example, “Double Sabre” uses more of the traditional Chinese feel and more classical elements.
Other songs, like “Third Year Class Two” contain a more obvious attempt at the traditional Chinese style than the rest do. Layered with hip-hop beats, and even the tapping of a ping pong ball, “Third Year Class Two” is another example of how Jay Chou can take otherwise unrelated styles and masterfully layer them together to fit as one unit. “Same Kind of Tune” is yet another track which utilizes the traditional Chinese style more then others. However, unlike “Third Year Class Two”, “Same Kind of Tune” is more hip-hop driven, and much more fast paced than its counterpart. Toward the middle of the song, the music breaks down into what sounds a lot like something heard in Eastern Europe.
Jay’s music also emphasizes traditional pop. Songs like, “Fine day” are ones that dwell on the styling of Chinese pop and Western pop. With its lightly distorted guitar parts, “Fine Day” also incorporates some elements of soft, alternative rock to it.
However, with such a diverse range of styles, Ye Hui Mei is not exactly a very coherent album. There is no general mood to the album, and songs just seem to mostly be thrown about randomly in any order. Jay Chou is more talented in writing singles than he is in writing entire albums, and Ye Hui Mei is a good example of this.
In addition to the lack of coherency of Ye Hui Mei, at some times, the album does seem to drag a bit. Not to the point of exhaustion, but some songs are slow enough to breed boredom for some. And on the opposite side of the spectrum, some songs are fast enough to just not agree with some listeners.
A lot of people may be turned off by the fact that the album is sung and titled entirely in Chinese, though, as Jay has limited English skills, this is hardly surprising. In the entire packing of the album, there’s probably only a few lines written in English, and even then, it’s only in the issue of copyright violations (sort of ironic, coming from something from the region). While there are websites that offer translations for Jay’s lyrics and song titles, since they are originally written in Chinese, their translations are jumbled with grammatically incorrect fragments that sound awkward and rushed. And in addendum to the amount of Chinese on Ye Hui Mei, some people just might find the sounds of the songs amusing, as some Westerners find Chinese to be an amusing language. However, Jay Chou, who is in the process of trying to expand his music into Northern America, argues that music, especially his own, is quite universal, and that language is not important in these matters.
I agree with Jay Chou. Music should not be discriminated against simply based on it region of origin or the language which it is presented in. For all those looking for something different, I’d highly recommend this album. Even as it’s neither Jay Chou’s most commercially nor critically successful album, it’s a wonderful eye opener to what’s really beyond the scope of mainstream, Western hip-hop and R&B.
I’d rate this album as a 3.9, but since Sputnik’s rating system is based on .5, I’ll round it to a 4.