Review Summary: Buck-Tick's rawest, most psychological album to date, Six/Nine cuts to the bone.
If the title of Darker Than Darkness
led you to believe that was Buck-Tick's sombrest album, I present to you its follow up, Six/Nine
. After a series of critically and commercially successful albums - the magnetic Aku no Hana
(named after Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal
), the fiery Kurutta Taiyou
) and the dreamy, nocturnal Darker Than Darkness -Style93-
- Buck-Tick had a reputation to keep. However, they were never a band to play by someone's expectations. Guitarist and songwriter Imai Hisashi was already experimenting with the electronic sound that would become more prominent in the band's subsequent albums, culminating in 2003's Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE
. Meanwhile, vocalist and primary lyricist Sakurai Atsushi seemed to be struggling with his fame and his pretty-boy image, looking for ways to be taken more seriously as an artist.
It is no wonder then that Six/Nine
is an ambitious album, even by Buck-Tick's standards. Always on the lighter, pop side of the rock spectrum, despite Sakurai's obvious taste for psychological lyrics, this time the band opted to go for a harder rock sound. There are many reasons why Six/Nine
could have come off as overblown and pretentious. Length over one hour" Check. Songs with ridiculously long titles" Check. Spoken word introduction and interlude" Check. But it doesn't. In fact, one of the striking things about Six/Nine
is how classy and stripped-down it feels in comparison to other Buck-Tick albums. Each song needs a couple of listens to really shine - none two are alike, and there is no filler. A closer look reveals how they are tied together by the recurring themes of alienation and search for meaning, death and rebirth.
is a lot more structured than the mercurial Darker Than Darkness
, and parallels and contrasts abound in the songs. Musically and lyrically, repetition seems to be a theme. Many songs are built over recurring riffs, which makes for a hypnotic atmosphere. While not strictly minimalistic, this approach to songwriting adds focus and bite to the songs. It is also reflected in Sakurai's lyrics, which are one of the album's strongest points. It speaks of his greater maturity that he abandons the flowery language so prevalent in Japanese rock, carefully choosing every word and relying on parallelism and the smallest breaks of symmetry to impress on the mind of the listener. The images he paints are sharp and often painful, and he delivers some of the most personal lyrics in his career. But it is Imai who steals the show with his deliciously tongue-in-cheek "Aikawarazu no “Are” no Katamari ga Nosabaru Hedo no Soko no Fukidamari" (is it about a school of fish, or society, or ejaculation, or the cycle of death and rebirth")
Much of the music in Six/Nine
is harder rock than typical for Buck-Tick, reflecting the themes of the songs. "Kagirinaku Nezumi" looms intimidatingly with distorted guitars and Sakurai's low vocals, and paranoia is to the max on "Detarame Yarou". "love letter", penned by Imai, is a nonsensical melange of English phrases set to some seriously cool industrial-sounding samples, lyrics delivered by Sakurai with just the right amount of sarcasm. On "Uta" existential angst crashes with the will to live and love, resulting in a passionate, deranged, yet disturbingly relatable song that makes you want to sing along, even if you don't know a word in Japanese.
However, the more restrained, contemplative songs are where Six/Nine
really shines, proving the expressive power of understatement. "Mienai Mono wo Miyou to Suru Gokai Subete Gokai da" and "Kick (Daichi wo Keru Otoko)" are two of the most beautiful songs Buck-Tick have recorded. They echo the shadowy dream soundscape of Darker Than Darkness
, only this time the music and lyrics cut to the bone. "Kodou" and "Misshitsu" provide for a moment of gentleness. Other songs that expand the musical palette are the mystical "Rakuen (Inori Negai)", the pornographic "Kimi no Vanilla" and "Aikawarazu...", which almost goes into rap territory. Art-rocker Issay of Der Zibet makes a guest appearance on "Itoshii no Rock Star", his voice almost indistinguishable from Sakurai's but for the bitter laughter easily felt underneath his words. The album is framed by "Loop" - a poem focusing on reincarnation and the desire to escape with a loved one to a better place - and the instrumental "Loop Mark II", with the spoken word interlude "Somewhere/Nowhere" punctuating the middle.
is unique among Buck-Tick's albums and definitely worth a careful listen. If your preference is for smart, poignant, no-nonsense songs, it may well turn into your favorite album by this versatile band that has done anything from pop to goth to "cyberpunk" music. I know it is mine.