It's already been four years.... Imagine that being said in the low, husky voice of Ryoko Kinomiya (来宮良子).
Okay, it may be a tad dramatic to want to have sentence read by the late "Enka no Hanamichi" narrator, but that was what came to mind the moment I saw that ASKA was making a comeback after said period of time.
Actually, I was a lot more subdued than I thought I'd be at first, considering the fact that I used to be nuts over this half of the popular duo. Remember some of those nutso Mae-Kiyo or Hiroshi Tachi/Itsuki articles I wrote? Yeah, it was pretty much on the same caliber. But I guess with me shifting most of my attention to other artistes and falling down the enka-yo watering hole, it's probably no wonder my reaction to the singer-songwriter's anticipated return was more on par with encountering and then greeting a long lost acquaintance with a little smile, albeit a happily surprised one. I wonder if it's also due in part to that slight underlying paranoia I have that history might repeat itself and he'd end up in even more trouble than what had happened 4 years back. I really, really hope that he's turned over a new leaf, and will remain more stable now.
That, however, didn't stop my excitement levels from going through the roof when I finally retrieved "Too many people", as well as a Haruo Minami (三波春夫) twin-pack, from the post office after my vacation in June.
Here's the track list for "Too many people":
2. Be Free
3. Rehearsal (リハーサル)
4. Tokyo (東京)
6. Sore de Iin da Ima wa (それでいいんだ今は)
7. Too many people
8. To, Iu Hanashi sa (と，いう話さ)
9. Genki ka Jibun (元気か自分)
10. Toori Ame (通り雨)
11. Shinjiru Koto ga Raku sa (信じることが楽さ)
12. Mirai no Kunsho (未来の勲章)
13. Shabon (しゃぼん)
On a whole, I find that the tracks in "Too many people" very listenable and a whole lot more exciting than those in his previous original album,"SCRAMBLE", as they incorporate more of ASKA's different musical styles over his career rather than just being too 'one note', if you know what I mean. I've also noticed that the lyrics he penned for most of the songs seem to highlight his road to recovery and possibly giving reassurance to fans that he's fine now.
Moving on to the notable tracks, the first tune I'd like to talk about is track no.7, "To, Iu Hanashi sa".
"To, Iu Hanashi sa" was the first of ASKA's recent works I came across a few months ago after what seemed like an eternity. Admittedly, there was a hint of trepidation mixed into the eagerness when I saw the unfamiliar thumbnail and title, probably because of what I mentioned at the start of the article, but that disappeared as I watched the MV. Cool would be the word I'd use to describe "To, Iu Hanashi sa" and its monochrome MV featuring the guitar-wielding ASKA and his band. I don't know what's being sung, but I do love the way how each verse is being growled out with the boisterous beat of the drums. The piano in the back during the intense electric and acoustic guitar-filled instrumental portions is also a great addition, as it provides a mellowness to a very brash-sounding tune. That bit reminds me of the arrangement of his self-cover of C&A's past hit, "Meguriai" (めぐり逢い). Overall, this was a pretty good way to bring ASKA back into my radar - yeah, he kinda fell out for a while...
After "To, Iu Hanashi sa", I discovered more of the other tracks in "Too many people" through other MVs and a medley of the album, and the one I came to like the most was "Tokyo".
This one is ASKA's ode to the metropolis that is Tokyo. It's melody is bright and catchy, but the cherry on the cake here is the tolling of the bells, which are reminiscent of "YAH YAH YAH" or "Senten wo Homeru nara Yugure wo Mate (晴天を誉めるなら夕暮れを待て), and gives an airiness that are in most songs I easily gravitate to. This makes it quite the contrast to its album counterpart, "FUKUOKA", a soft and heartfelt ballad. I'm guessing it's because the latter is directed at his home prefecture, hence the nostalgia and sentimentality, whereas the former is where there were new experiences and when things kicked into high gear for him (maybe too high... Sorry, no pun intended...), hence the fun atmosphere.
Another song that's grown to be one of my favourites is "Mirai no Kunsho". I'm not able to find the original at the moment, so I've put up a pretty solid cover instead. My reason for liking it is similar to that of "Tokyo" in that it's jaunty and easy on the ears, plus there's this hint of hopefulness in it. I don't watch much anime, but I can imagine "Mirai no Kunsho" being an opening theme for one like "Natsume Yuujincho" (夏目友人帳).
Up to this point, I've largely been talking about the uptempo tunes, so I'd like to shine the spotlight on the slower paced pieces, starting with "Toori Ame", which sounds like it came right out from his 1998 album, "kicks". "Toori Ame" is a laid back and feel-good ballad with a nice acoustic guitar solo that's got a certain coziness to it, like when watching the downpour from the warmth and safety of your home.
Next is "X1" (pronounced as cross-one). I wouldn't consider this R&B-inspired song a favourite of mine, but I thought the title was interesting. Initially, I had no idea what a name like "X1" had got to do with anything, but considering how the lyrics have got to do with a friend (s) helping one through a rough patch (again with ASKA's own experience) and how the "X1" is incorporated into it, I have an inkling that "X1" is sort of a homophone for "close one". If my hypothesis is right, objectively speaking, that's an ingenious play on words... or sounds.
Finally, out of all the the works in "Too many people", the one that I found the strangest and the one where ASKA sounded the most... distant, for want of a better word, was the one the album was named after. I don't exactly know what's going on in "Too many people", the song, either, somehow I feel that it lacks the warmth the other tracks have... Eh, maybe it's just me. You can sample the first bit of it in the medley above, and the rest of it pretty much sounds the same, just more fleshed out with the drums and bass joining the piano. It is pretty amusing to hear ASKA spitting out a whole string of words as fast as Minami in "Jan Naito Jan" though.
To round things up, here's some information about ASKA's 8th original album: It was released early this year on 22nd February 2017, and did well on the Oricon charts, peaking at 7th place on the Weeklies and selling around 22 000 copies within the first week it came out. If I recall correctly, there was an article on the Oricon site that mentioned ASKA planning to do an Asian tour, with Singapore included on the list. Oh geez, I hope that happens in the near future. Tom Jones and Rimi Natsukawa (夏川りみ) were great, but I'd like to see an artiste I love on stage here.
Well, I'll leave things off here for now. I might talk about the songs individually some other time, or maybe not, depending on whether I have the time.
In spite of that uneasy feeling, I'm still glad he's finally back.