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.
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 katakanizing “laundry”, 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.
“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.