Review Summary: Shiina Ringo's most aggressive offering doubles as one of the most overlooked releases in her discography.
Shiina Ringo has proven herself as one of the most versatile musicians in Japan. Her success is almost exclusive; you'll be hard-pressed to find many outside of her native country that know of her. This is more shocking when you consider that Ringo has sold over 10 million albums in the past 20 years, which is pretty impressive for Japanese standards. 2000 was the year where she found the most success. After her very successful 1999 debut album Muzai Moratorium
, she followed it up with the even more successful masterpiece Shōso Strip
, which would go on to sell over 2 million copies and pretty much solidified her as one of the best solo artists in Japan. So after these two very successful albums, she decided to go an entirely different route and release a triple-single, consisting of three separate mini-CDs - each featuring a different backing band. It mainly features live material, but almost every track here is a previously unreleased song. It would see Ringo explore much harsher musical territory.
definitely has a large post-grunge influence. The guitar tone, riffs and vocal delivery on some of the songs will remind you of such artists as Alanis Morrisette, but the album as a whole has a pop presence. Shōso Strip
on the other hand still has elements of rock, but in less capacity than the debut, focusing more on lush musical landscapes and slightly experimental ideas. You'd think that Ringo would go further down the avant-pop route that SS was hinting at, and she would with her third full-length, but Ze-Chyou Shuu, or ZCS, takes a step back and focuses on some of the harsher sounds that the debut had in places. This is ever present on the second disc in songs like Unhappy Pride
, with the crushing guitar tone and raspy, angry vocals pushing Ringo closer to Grunge than ever before. This disc is the only one which was recorded in the studio, so the heaviness is more pronounced compared to the other discs. So Cold
follows the same route; Shiina's delivery is harsh and reminiscent of someone like Courtney Love. It's a shame that she doesn't bring out one of those fry screams from Identity
, because it would work so well here.
Going back to the first disc; it features Gyakutai Gurikogen
taken as a snippet of Ringo's Gekokujō Xstasy
live. Fans of Kalk Samen
will immediately be struck with a sense of deja vu. Indeed, the first track is an early rendition of Rush Job
. The production in this song is far from grandiose like the KSK
version, but lyrically and melodically it is very much the same song. It's only three minutes long, but the track intensifies and quickly builds up before bursting into a soulful final chorus, where Ringo's vocals burst with passion. She has a lot of control, and compared to the studio version of the song, it is much more powerful. If you listen to all three discs in the correct order, it does wonders as an opener. One could only wish that the song transitions on this disc are more subdued though; as this is merely a short compilation of tracks from the full performance, each track builds into another before fading out and picking up in a completely different place. It is slightly jarring but far from a deal breaker, and it only occurs on this disc.
are extremely similar. Both are quite long, slow and have very spacey compositions. The lead riffs in both tracks are almost identical too, with quite a traditional post-grunge palette. It's not a problem, because they are both on separate discs and vocally they couldn't be more different, but the extended length and aforementioned similarities may disgruntle some (especially those listening to the digital version). Gamble is the superior track though simply due to the emotion in Ringo's vocals. She has a knack for bringing the power of her songs out a lot more live, and this couldn't be any less true for returning favourite Onaji Yoru
. This is simply Shiina Ringo's best vocal performance to date, bar none. She has so much control, and there are a couple of moments here that make her a contender for best Japanese singer. It's quite jaw-dropping, especially if you're more used to the 'cute' vocals from her debut.
The final disc is the most unique. The lo-fi production provokes an atmosphere of Ringo performing at some secret underground bar that no one has ever heard of. It's reminiscent of a lost garage rock demo found in a basement years after it was recorded. It's a far cry from the lavish production found on Shōso Strip
, but it works well for what it's trying to achieve. The guitar is pushed quite far into the background, but the deep, thick bass and thumping drums are colourful, and the lack of clarity is traded for a warmth that is hard to explain in words. The bass in particular is of note; in Photosynthesis
, it is reminiscent of Green Day's Dookie
. Though each track is short, all three have some fantastic vocal melodies, and the choruses are simple, catchy and fun. Some desire studio recordings of this disc, but the trade-off of more clarity and highs would probably hurt it more. It's a very pleasant disc with addictive melodies and a great feel. It's worth it for that unique feeling alone.
Whilst being all over the place, if you think about each mini disc as its own EP, then you'll find something to like about each one. Put them together though, and you are presented with a varied and unique collection of Shiina Ringo's heaviest, most powerful songs. If you do want to hunt down a physical copy, then go ahead; it is presented like a medicine box and is packaged quite nicely. The mini-CD format is more than dated, but you have to give Ringo props for trying something different (as she does with a lot of her CD packaging). Regardless of how you experience it, Ze-Chyou Shuu is essential. It's far from a good place to start for newcomers, but fans will find a lot to like here, especially if you liked the grunge-leaning tracks on Muzai Moratorium
. For what it is, this box-set is more than worth your time.