Review Summary: The result of Luna Sea staring at their own bright light for too long.
Luna Sea were, not to say that to some extent they still aren’t, right at the top of Japanese rock music. Alongside their Godfathers X Japan and other legendary groups such as the enormously popular gothic post punk group BUCK-TICK and symphonic titans Malice Mizer, they pioneered the Visual-Kei scene; a movement where bands dress up in flamboyant costumes and sport flashy hairstyles. As a simple generalisation, it was Japan making up for missing out on the glam rock scene that took the western world by storm. Luna Sea released a string of highly influential and critically acclaimed albums in the early 90s. From the power, energy and artistic precision of IMAGE which represented their “in your face” attire amazingly to the J-rock classic Mother; Luna Sea would go on to help inspire an entire generation of Japanese music. Their bright and dazzling career at the top was almost flawless… emphasis on almost. They had a little hiccup after they hit their zenith with Mother, an album that they were inevitably going to struggle to match ever again. They toned down their visual appeal significantly, a welcome change that would encourage fans to focus more on the bands actual music. Only, they took a change of direction in the music department as well, both for better and for worse unfortunately. The music slowed down and became much more progressive, on paper this sounds perfect, but in practice it yielded mixed results.
Shine’s title is rather ironic, in that amongst everything else that Luna Sea had done up until that point, it did not shine at all. While Style was admirable for being a welcome enough entry into the bands eclectic discography, Shine ignores what was good about Style and instead focuses on being accessible and digestible. Although to be fair, the main problem with its predecessor was that it was difficult to absorb, Shine only serves to prove that this was in fact what allowed Style to remain interesting to listen to. What is immediately apparent from the first two tracks “Time Has Come” and “Storm” is that they’re much softer sonically than previous Luna Sea releases. There’s no punch from the guitars, the exhilarating rhythm has been replaced with a tempo that feels a lot more comfortable and Ryuichi Kawamura’s vocals have no edge to them. So basically, Luna Sea is missing; they’ve taken themselves completely out of the equation.
The album isn’t anything experimental either. It wasn’t like they were trying to push any boundaries with their music like they attempted to do with Style, they were toning it down. Instead of trying to compete with Mother, they were planning to just cruise along until they felt like they could try again. Shine knows what works and it copies it; Shine is guilty of just being rock music. The band don’t show off what makes them special here, they just play because they needed an album out. “Another” is one of the worst offenders on the album, a song that is guilty for shamelessly copying Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” It is also worth noting that the track “Storm” is strikingly similar to their own hit single “Rosier” in a lot of ways. It speaks a thousand words that Luna Sea felt the need to copy themselves in order to remain interesting even though Style saw them treading new ground in a way that was engaging and interesting rather than trying to be Mother again.
Something that could possibly have worked in Shine’s favour, if only a little, would be if it just passed by; in and out of your ears. But no, they couldn’t even manage that. Shine drags and drags and drags and drags and drags on for 70 bland and colourless minutes. Occasionally, there are enjoyable moments like the song “Millennium” that provide small pockets of interest. Had Luna Sea instead opted to release these select few tracks on an EP instead of in an overindulgent LP, perhaps it would have, indeed, shone. As you reach the middle of the second half of the album, it’s pretty plain to see that the obvious flaws in the first two tracks are never addressed. Sugizo never excites the listener with a blistering guitar solo like he did in the past, instead he just chugs his way through songs like “Broken” while Ryuichi croons over the slow, meandering tracks as if that was how they’d always done it. Sugizo's soothing violin breaks are redundant as well, considering the album is littered with unnecessary string arrangements that act as filler in the background. The album doesn’t sound like the band is forcing themselves to be more radio friendly and consumable, it sounds like they are comfortable doing it. While in the past “Up to You” would have been a fitting closing track like “Mother” was an epic closing track to the album of the same name, but on Shine it’s just another slow, pseudo-ballad following a chain of similar songs. While “Up to You” does have more punch to it than the rest of Shine, when you consider the capabilities of the band, gods of their element, it seems pretty negligible.
Shine is stagnant and lazy, the single missed step in an otherwise flawless career. Shamelessly self-indulgent and effortless, Shine isn’t the bright light that it masquerades as in its title and album art. Rather with a few great songs and a collection of bland radio tracks, Shine is more like that point at twilight when you can see a couple of stars, but the sun is still setting in the sky and they’re not as dazzling as they could be without all of the light pollution. Luna Sea never impress here in the way that Luna Sea are impressive. No edge, no flair, no energy, no Luna Sea that legions of young Japanese music fans and musicians alike had come to adore. Shine is a humble reminder to any one getting a little too big for their boots that sometimes even the gods forget how to use their power, or that they even have it in the first place.