Credits

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.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Senri Oe -- Miseinen (未成年)

Different images spring to mind when envisioning the 80’s, but one of them includes college youth with their modestly styled black hair, thick eyebrows and oversized sweaters strolling through the campus. I may as well include old TV static in my mental image. It’s just one of those fashions I witnessed through doramas and CMs from the time. I found out about Senri Oe (大江千里) while browsing Japanese blogs for names of some singer-songwriters from the decade, and the moment I saw that picture of his face half-tucked into the sweater, I immediately linked him to those earlier recollections. And his music from those days pretty much solidified my impression of him as an adorkable everyman. J-Canuck nailed it on the head in his profile of Oe’s early 90’s hit “Kakko Warui Furarekata”, noting that he'd make for a good buddy of the star heartthrob in a dorama but who himself probably wouldn't be the popular type.

My area of interest in regards to Oe’s music is his collaborative period with the arranger Nobuyuki Shimizu (清水信之) in 1985. It was around that time that general public first took notice of him through the catchy “Juunin Toiro”, making him acquire a moderate following of supporters that helped place his albums into spots within the Top 10 for weekly Oricon sales for a good while until 1996. “Miseinen” (未成年…Underage), his third studio album from March 1985, was the first of those. According to J-Wiki, it peaked at No.5 on Oricon weeklies, though I have no idea how much it sold in total. YMO family member Kenji Omura (大村憲司) used to arrange his songs up to that point, which included some of that oldtechno. However, Shimizu was the first to compliment his voice and style of music to make it sound the way it was intended to: youthful, crisp, and with plenty of hooks.

“Real” opens the album on a serious note with its pounding rhythm and synth effects that resemble a fast hand clap. I didn’t originally perceive it as a technopop piece, but listening carefully to the multilayered synths that Shimizu created convinced me otherwise. It was quite a revelation to me when I first heard it because I had an impression of Oe as a singer of cheerfully upbeat songs or your typical sad romance ballads, so this was different. He displays sensitive maturity through his lyrics about the unsteady emotions that come with early adulthood and the struggle of blending into society. At least that’s what I got out of them. I found this post by a Japanese blogger comparing the lyrics on “Miseinen” to Haruki Murakami’s first novel “Hear the Wind Sing” (風の歌を聴け) which shares some themes with “Real” about Japanese youth. This suggestion makes me wonder if the singer-songwriter read the novel during his college days.

Oh man, the combination of the song title with that video of Oe getting down to the rhythm in his parachute pants makes me chuckle silly. I guess that’s where those Rick Astley comparisons came from. Cheesiness aside, the song itself is infectiously funky. I’m terrible at dancing and even Oe has a better sense of rhythm than I do, but it sure makes me tap my fingers enthusiastically on the table. The whole thing reminds me of EPO, another lively singer with fun music, who actually happens to be a backup singer for “Sexuality”. But the song is definitely Oe’s in terms of personality: an unfashionable fellow trying to impress the ladies, but the best thing he can bring are the unintentional laughs. Or maybe he wasn't serious here. Who knows.

Another singer that I mentioned Oe being compared to by his listeners is Yumi Matsutoya. Well, according to that blog entry I mentioned earlier, it was Kenji Omura who nicknamed Oe the “Male Yuming”, a title that left the bespectacled singer-songwriter a tad confused. The reason for this comparison comes from the lyrics because both artists tend to write about everyday experiences of ordinary people, and in “Mafuyu no Randolie” (真冬のランドリエ) I can hear Oe also channeling Yuming’s music and even vocal delivery a little bit. The comfortable melody with laidback synths and strings make me think of her work from that time period. The morning lake scenery in the video above is very fitting. The song is appropriate for those autumn and winter mornings when you'd walk through the hazy streets as they wake up while nursing a warm cup of coffee in your hands.

By the way, the romaji above has been lifted from album’s booklet, but my intuition tells me that ランドリエ  is just an uncommon way of katakanizinglaundry”, in which case the title translates to “Mid-winter Laundry”.




“Akacha-Iro no Preppie” (赤茶色のプレッピー…A Preppie in Reddish Brown) is the whimsically bouncy tune with an old-fashioned pop vibe that fits the singer to a T. I think the theme here is “students in love”. The music sure trickles with that clumsy joy that people may experience at that age, complete with celebratory trumpets. The sparkly guitar and synths remind me of EPO in some ways, minus the City Pop elements. And hey, that’s her again on the backup vocals. It looks like Shimizu was also arranging songs for EPO at the time, so he invited her to sing a bit with Oe for some fun.

“Poolside” (プールサイド) is a lovely nostalgic ballad featuring the singer’s favorite instrument, the piano. The music and his delivery have that nervous uncertainty that the main subject feels while revisiting the special location and ponders on his sad and happy memories. I really like how Shimizu arranged the piano to sound like water ripples and then heightened the effect with the synths. My favorite bit is the loungy solo halfway through. Oe may not be a sophisticated-looking fella, but he has had an affinity for jazz for a long while and in the recent years he fully embraced the genre.

The song to close the album is “Natural” (ナチュラル), which I see as the introspective relative of “Real”. It starts with a somber melody with a metronome ticking in the background and then builds up towards the dramatic refrains. The lyrics concern finding one’s true self from the past after years of living in an illusion. Could be the midlife crisis. I like Senri in boppy mode, but it’s these pieces where he dissects emotions beyond love through music and words that appeal to me the most for some reason.

Miseinen” also includes the happy-go-lucky “Juunin Toiro” (十人十色), which was one of the two singles from the album along with “Real”. I profiled that one a while back here.


Every singer has an album or two that may be called their definitive work. Well, “Miseinen” is that kind of album for Oe. Mind you, it’s all easily digestible pop music, but the appealing melodies, the variety of moods, and some clever details in the arrangements have made the songs memorable to me. I found myself listening to it quite a bit during my first few months in Japan as I was going through rapid cycles of excitement, confusion, awkwardness, loneliness and peace, so I guess I sort of identified with the music here. It's the kind of album that may click with people on a personal level, hence all the "That's my youth!" remarks that I encountered on the web while reading others' opinions about the songs. That's nostalgia for ya.

2 comments:

  1. Hi, nikala.

    Great writeup on "Miseinen"...I got a very nice impression of the album to the extent that I may actually get the album through my new collaboration of Tower Records/Tenso.com

    Hearing the music and watching the videos had me remembering those old days of the 80s though I was only there only at the beginning and the end of that decade. When I read your remark that he was seen as the male Yuming, I was a bit taken aback but listening to "Mafuyu no Randolie" and "Natural", I could see the comparison...especially with the latter song; the lady herself could have sung it and I wouldn't have known it wasn't one of her tunes.

    As for "Sexuality", man, I hope he was being ironic with that dance routine. It was kinda like Tobey McGuire's Peter Parker when he was possessed by Venom in "Spiderman 3". :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the album. It has some nostalgic value, but I also found the music nicely crafted in that unassuming kind of way.

      When I put the CD in my shopping basket upon spotting it in second-hand media shop, I presumed this would be a guilty pleasure, but then found myself listening attentively to the songs. "Natural" is wistfully beautiful, but even the lighter tracks have a certain spark thanks to their arrangements. And of course, Oe comes through as a likable and entertaining character, even with his questionable dance decisions.

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