The members of L’Arc~en~Ciel don’t like the public to refer to them by anything other than their stage names: Hyde the singer, Ken the guitarist, Tetsu the bassist, and Yukihiro on drums. I’m gleefully sympathetic to artistic affectations, so this desire of theirs tickles me and I’ll gladly go along with it. It reminds me, oddly enough, of a Japanese shop named Mother Goose no Mori where they like to sell stuffed animals wearing disguises. There are seals dressed as whales, whales dressed as seals, and the specialty of the house, rabbits dressed as strawberries. Japan is full of disguises and layers, beautiful packaging, cunning pathways in tiny landscapes, dress-ups, elaborate toys hidden in plastic vending machine bubbles, and other objects that are enclosed, re-named, externally altered, decorated with phrases in foreign languages. After a while the whole country begins to resemble a present wrapped over and over again, like an onion, hiding a secret core that might as well, in the end, turn out to be nothing at all if anyone ever finds it.
I am overcome with pleasure just remembering these things.
Kiss is pleasurable as well. It’s all about pleasure. It’s that kind of album. This is pop-rock pushed to a point of such lush and serious melodrama that it almost tips over into camp. It wouldn’t say no to a pair of tight black leather pants. Every song comes with at least one arching stadium crescendo. There are power ballads. Guitars soar. Hyde sings in dramatic parabolas. Sometimes he seems to be on the brink of clenching one fist at his brow and sobbing with emotion, at other times he’s as happy as a sports star who has just won an important medal. Most of the time he sings in Japanese, with a few words of English thrown in. “Please! Don’t be shy! / Pretty girl pretty girl! Yeah!” he sings in “Pretty Girl.” If you ‘re not used to Japanese pop, then these sudden bursts of English give the songs an unconventional inscrutability. What does “My heart draws a dream” mean? In “Seventh Heaven” he promises us “the answer in a minute thirty-one,” but what was the question?
A guitar riff in “Sunadokei” suggests that U2 has had an influence on the group, specifically Joshua Tree, specifically “Pride.” The whole album gives off the triumphant quality of “Pride”, even during the songs that don’t use that riff.
“Seventh Heaven” is especially triumphant, and so is “Daybreak’s Bell”, which is doing duty as the title song on the latest series of Mobile Suit Gundam. It sounds exactly like the sort of song that would feature on a show about battle robots on other planets. It suggests joy and determination and speed and spaceships and cool shiny technology. It suggests men with sunglasses flying very fast while animated sunlight does that scintillating k-shing! dazzle off their wingtips.
Kiss wants to pump you up and leave you on an emotional high, and it would succeed if it didn’t finish with “Hurry Xmas”, a song that feels like a holiday single thrown in as a treat for the fans. In fact it felt so much like a holiday single that I decided to look it up, and the feeling turned out to be right. It was. The single was released in Japan late last year along with a B-side called “I Wish 2007”. A special edition came with a photograph of the band and a Christmas ornament. The sound of Hyde singing, “Come on music!” followed by a widdling guitar is one of Kiss‘s camp high points, maybe topped at the end of the song when he croons, “Thank you Jesus,” as if Jesus is a particularly sweet aunt who gives extra-large presents when her nephew is nice to her. “Hurry Xmas” will be welcomed by L’Arc~En~Ciel enthusiasts who weren’t able to buy it when it came out, but it throws off the end of the album. We close with misplaced festive accordions when we should have had Hyde at his most rock-sincere on “Yuki no Ashiato”, bowing us graciously out of his life over a sweep of violins.