I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Akina Nakamori -- NEW AKINA Etranger (NEW AKINA エトランゼ)

Where do I begin here? From what angle do I approach this?

Well, let's see...the very first Akina Nakamori(中森明菜)song that I heard was "Kinku"(禁区)on the 1983 Kohaku Utagassen and then came a number of her early hits on broadcasts of "Sounds of Japan" followed by my first purchases of her albums "Bitter and Sweet" and "D404ME" when she was already hitting superstardom. And then, I just had to buy her BEST compilation of those first few years of her still young career. So I basically got my grounding for Akina-chan, pre and post vocal change.

Then somewhere down the line, I ended up borrowing a video tape titled "NEW AKINA Etranger - Akina Nakamori in Europe" which had the bonny lass taking a nice little trip through France. Some of that video is right up at the top there with the young aidoru of my memories traipsing around Paris with that big hair, crinkly eyes and winning smile. Of course, the music from her just-released album was also playing in the background.

It took a couple of years but during my time in Gunma Prefecture, I finally bought that album, "NEW AKINA Etranger" which was originally released in August 1983 as her 4th album. According to the write-up on J-Wiki, it was touted as somewhat of a reboot for the singer with the catchphrase being:

"Recording and filming in Europe, and encountering new songwriters. The second history of Akina begins here."

Pretty bold words. Aside from her early singles, I don't have anything to represent her first 3 albums so I can't really make any comparison about Stage 1 Akina and Stage 2 Akina....with the exception of that high voice that she once had at the beginning.

(cover version)

Not sure why there was a need for a re-launch of Akina since my assumption was that she was already going fairly well as an aidoru. My only guess is that the powers-that-be that hovered over and around her felt that their client was someone who was ready to take that next leap up. As I said, I bought "Etranger" about a quarter of a century ago but it hasn't been until recently that I actually started to appreciate what this album has (nothing like a blog on kayo kyoku to focus one). After listening to it a couple of times through, it's got quite the potpourri of styles thanks to those different and famous songwriters and I think the album overall reflected Akina's past, present and future at that time whether or not that was ever the intention.

Track No. 1 above is "Sayonara ne"(さよならね...Goodbye). With a dramatic blast of electric guitars by Tsuyoshi Kon and Fujimal Yoshino(今剛・吉野藤丸), Takao Kisugi (来生たかお)pushes forth a strutting melody of strings and guitars that is reminiscent of what Akina's style was like at the time. His sister, Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ), further emphasizes the aidoru's ol' bad-girl image through her lyrics that have the heroine rejecting anything that sniffs of good-guy nobility. Being the full geek that I am, I have been watching the first season of "Gotham", the prequel program of sorts for the Batman mythology, and the awkward relationship between the future Catwoman and the future Batman (as uncomfortable teens) just leaped to mind as I was listening to "Sayonara ne".

(cover version)

The next three tracks on the album rather emphasized all the talk about Nakamori being the next Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵). "Venus Tanjo"(ヴィーナス誕生...Birth of Venus)is this really ethereal ballad with the inclusion of an electric guitar solo that had me thinking of one of Momoe's last songs "Sayonara no Mukou Gawa" (a song that I'll have to tackle one of these days). The lyricist for both songs was Yoko Aki (阿木燿子)with Kazuo Zaitsu(財津和夫)of Tulip fame providing the heavenly music for "Venus Tanjo". This is just one of two songs from the album that I still remember hearing on the video of Akina's travels through France, and it was appropriately used to finish the proceedings.

(cover version)

"Sukoshi Dake Scandal"(少しだけスキャンダル...Just A Little Scandal)is a song that reminded me of Momoe's latter period when she was singing all those singles dealing with jaded women and the men they treat like toys. However, instead of Yoko Aki and hubby Ryudo Uzaki(宇崎竜童)penning this one, the songwriter here was Sho(翔)of the rock band Yokohama Ginbae(横浜銀蝿). I've yet to provide an article on those guys but I saw one of their videos, and they definitely have that teen delinquent image. 

As soon as I heard that rolling piano, I was pretty sure that was Shinji Tanimura(谷村新司) behind "Kansho Kiko"(感傷紀行...Sentimental Travelogue). Tanimura was also behind Yamaguchi's wonderful "Ii Hi Tabidachi"(いい日旅立ち), and I could imagine Momoe tackling this one as well if she had decided to continue on with her career into the 80s. I'm not sure if Akina had used the same style in her earlier albums, but with this song, she has that breathy delivery that I would also hear later in "Bitter & Sweet".

(cover version)

Haruomi Hosono and Masao Urino (細野晴臣・売野雅勇)were also two of the new songwriters on the album who also took care of the aforementioned "Kinku", Akina's 6th single in the same year that "Etranger" came out. Hosono still had that technopop in his veins, so he and Urino came up with "Mon Amour - Glass ni Hanbun no Tasogare"(モナムール (グラスに半分の黄昏)...Half-Glass Twilight), which was also the only other song that I remember popping up in the video. Hosono provided the only instruments in "Mon Amour" in the form of an electric bass, a Prophet 5 and some Linn drums. Lyrically, it's about a woman who has just said goodbye to her paramour in Paris while the melody takes on a tone that seems to hearken to a toy soldier theme song filtered through synthesizers. Hosono and Urino also provided another song for the album, "Renaissance", but I just wanted to go with "Mon Amour" since it has the more technopoppy sound.

My final track for this article is "Stripe" which literally knocked me back. The intro was also fairly techno kayo but it wasn't Hosono behind this one this time. Instead it was again the Kisugi siblings who took care of it and the song quickly took on that typical 80s aidoru lilt with the strings coming to the fore and the keyboards settling down. However what took me for the loop was Akina's voice which returned to her 1982 high tones. After hearing the first several songs where the singer was evolving her vocal cords to that familiar huskiness, it was surprising to suddenly hear her voice coming out like that again.

"Etranger", Akina's re-launch was a hit. It reached No. 1 on the Oricon weeklies and ended up as the 10th-ranked album of 1983. It also earned a Japan Record Award. My favorite album of hers will still be "Bitter & Sweet", but "Etranger" has come out as a revelation since it seems that the producers and Akina were willing and able to experiment a bit with her sound through this album. And I think it was interesting that no official singles were included...perhaps everyone involved wanted to make sure that the project was its own entity without any influence of any 45" that might provide too easy a familiarity. Not sure if my last statement makes sense but hopefully the readers will understand.

New Akina Etranger

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