Review Summary: A gorgeous collection of traditional J-pop and rock tracks which are an essential listen for all fans of Japanese music.
There are very few moments in my life where I have been left completely speechless after listening to an album. And yet, the day I listened to Momoe Yamaguchi’s ‘Dramatic’, I had no words. I couldn’t comprehend what I had just listened to. The music was nothing flashy, just a collection of kayokyoku tracks which most people wouldn’t even bat and eye at. But there I was, dumbfounded at the beauty I had just experienced. I knew there was something special about this album, something deserving of the title of ‘classic’. But what was it that made this record such a joy to listen to? Was it the song writing? Or the varied instrumentals? Or maybe it was gorgeous vocals performed by one of the original Japanese pop idols to make a mark on the J-music scene? If anything, I was sure of one thing: this album is an essential listen for any fan of Japanese music.
Most people who live outside of Japan will not be familiar with Momoe Yamaguchi’s work, and for good reason: she only produced music for eight years before completely leaving the music industry and the view of the public eye to get married to a frequent collaborator of hers, Tomokazu Miura in 1980. Although her time producing music was short, Yamaguchi still managed to release a staggering twenty-two studio albums, finishing her career with the release of her final single ‘Ichie’ on November 19th, 1980. Somehow, even with the insane number of albums Yamaguchi released throughout her career, most of her releases are incredibly solid, and needless to say, there is a reason she is considered a seminal figure in the world of J-pop.
One may consider Yamaguchi’s releases in her final year as a pop singer to be her best, such as the concept albums ‘Fushichou Densetsu’ and ‘Mobius Game’, although in my humblest of opinions, I believe Dramatic to be her greatest accomplishment. With a great variety of tracks that safely tread the line between rock’n’roll and traditional pop, Dramatic is a very consistent record that never feels like it trying to throw you for a loop, yet also never bores you with any monotony. In addition to its beautiful and catchy arrangements, Dramatic places a great deal of instruments on display, ranging from classical instruments such as violin and trumpet to modern instruments like electric guitar and rock-centric drums.
The opening track, ‘Santa Maria no Atsui Kaze’ immediately strikes the listener with the sound of a dramatic (no pun intended) string section as a trumpet blares a sorrowful tune, acting as an introduction to a biting chorus, powerfully sung by Yamaguchi. This track perfectly encapsulates the variety and feel of ‘Dramatic’. The vocals evoke a feeling of sadness and melancholy, a feeling which is put on display throughout much of the records forty-minute-long runtime.
Other highlights on the record include ‘Mizu Kagami’, ‘Hi-Ro-I-N’, ‘Utsusemi’, 'Playback Part 2' and ‘Last Song’, the last of which acts as the albums emotional climax and is one of the greatest pop ballads I have ever had the pleasure of listening to, period. If I were able to comment on the lyrics, I would, but since I don’t speak a lick of Japanese, I am unable to give proper criticism to their contents. Regardless, Yamaguchi’s vocals are incredibly emotive, and no matter if you can understand what she says or not, one cannot deny her ability to beautifully convey feeling with her voice.
This record is an absolute must listen for anyone and everyone with even a passing interest in Japanese music. If you consider yourself a fan of Japanese music and you haven’t heard anything by Momoe Yamaguchi, you need to do yourself a favour and give this album a listen.
All of them.