I have to admit, Jay Chou is pretty rad – and it’s not just “fanboyism” talking here. His persona (or at least the persona that I can best comprehend) has the unmistakable essence of pure artistic genius, being constantly passed off as being the voice of all that is serene, sincere, and compassionate, while still never straying from an ever unchanging face of sheer somberness. On one hand, this has obvious appeal in his niche, being the de facto staple of male beauty in Asia, his face plastered all over various consumer products in Taiwan and China. And among those of this niche who live outside of its understood boundaries, Jay Chou is still the teen idol standard. But looking into a different aspect of his persona, a much less superficial one, his character is one that inspires mystery. Perhaps his music is heavily favored by barrages of superficial, screaming, love-lusted fans, but his face suggests a much deeper and complex rift in his style – something beyond just mere mindless pop, but actually something with substance. It’s in this way that I believe that Jay’s image as a musical intellectual is fairly successful. Obviously in Western societies it’s not very commercially successful, but as a way of at least rooting himself among a few curious listeners, it’s a hit.
Jay’s fifth album, 七里香, otherwise known as Common Jasmin Orange, is fair testimony to this perceived character he portrays. Common Jasmin Orange is a rather complex album to grapple. While individually, the songs are quite accessible, the album as a whole is rather intriguing. Now, while I don’t pretend to understand a thing Jay Chou says, as for the most part the entire album is labeled and performed in his native language, the general consensus I have regarding it is that it revolves around war: the cover art depicts Jay in a military uniform, throughout the album, some war related sounds, such as helicopters, can be heard, and a few of the song titles give further hint to this. But then, as most of the translations I’ve found for this seem very unreliable (the last track is labeled on three different services as “Wounds of War”, “Casualties of Stopping War”, and “The Youth that Ends War”). As is the case, I find it much easier to simply listen to Jay Chou’s music without the aid of readymade translations.
Jay Chou has a well crafted skill in conveying his message and emotion, even in cases such as these, where one who knows nothing of how to speak his language. Ranging from the peaceful, to the melancholy, to songs with just overall pure conviction, Jay’s music wears its emotion on its sleeve. This is accomplished very well with his eclectic use of different styles, which, while for the most part very distant of each other musically, Jay manages to string together fairly well. Unlike my previous Jay Chou review of Yei Hui Mei, the diversity on Common Jasmin Orange is much better thought out, and the album has a very nice overall flow to it.
However, unlike Yei Hui Mei, Common Jasmin Orange is less successful in generating those more emotionally intense moments, opting more for a more balanced approach. Common Jasmin Orange has fewer low points, but at the same time, the high points aren’t as high as they could be if they were otherwise complemented by a lower end. That’s not to say, however, that Common Jasmin Orange is completely devoid of highs, it’s just not as great as it would have been if the album was a bit more polarized, not necessarily by songs of lesser quality, but of songs that help emphasize the highlights of the album, while themselves are tossed aside the realm of favoritism. Though, this rift in songwriting is partially circumvented in Jay’s integration of multiple styles.
One thing that truly shines about Jay Chou is his inability to conform entirely to Asian stereotypes as many others in the region do. While his music does draw heavily from their influence, the incorporation of Western styles of music is also prevalent on the album. “Duel of Trapped Beasts” flows with the aura of Southern rock, mixed in with a grungy, early nineties alternative style. The use of an orchestrated string section, very reminiscent of old Disney soundtracks, is used on songs such as “My Territory”. Probably the most utilized technique is his hip-hop and R&B style. While very resembling of Western artists, Jay manages to add his own unique style, concomitantly complementing both the technique and the music.
Overall, perhaps my favorite aspect of the album is Jay’s piano playing. Consolidating the somber mood of the album, Jay’s shining point on the album lies in “Wounds of War.” Beginning with the chilling piece played casually, yet briskly on the piano, “Wounds of War” evolves quickly into the piano-driven, emotion-laden masterpiece of Common Jasmin Orange. Aside from the dominant use of piano, what makes “Wound of War” so successful is Jay’s incorporation of so many of his strong points. Included is his beautifully poetic music, his harsh and convicting rapping, and his finely tuned singing voice, all of which are complimented with a well thought dynamic structure for the song.
After all is done, Common Jasmin Orange is still a wonderful addition to the persona portrayed by Jay Chou. While a household name, with his face branded across all sorts of commercial products in Asia, and with all the screaming, obsessed fans, who’ll eat up all these products, Jay still has a strong, intriguing composure about him, which begs you to wonder, what does he really have to say that’s so great?
Common Jasmin Orange is your answer. Jay doesn’t divulge himself into the inanely mindless pop culture that dominates the rest of Asia; Jay carves out his own, unique, intelligent style, and in this case, it’s paid off fairly well for him.
I give this album a four out of five rating.