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"Hourglass" Album Cover

SHO-CO-REVIEW 5: Hourglass

"Hourglass" Album Cover
Hourglass Album Cover
Hourglass, released on December 1, 1991, is a fairly important record in Shoko Suzuki’s career. First and foremost, it is the first record where she collaborated with Hiroaki Sugawara, who would play a key role in Shoko’s musical development over the next several years — eventually helping Shoko move away from the ballad/light pop style of her early work into a more ’60s pop/rock-based sound. There are traces of this future musical direction in spots on this album — for example, the new arrangment of “Happiness” (the original version of this song was the album’s first single) wouldn’t sound too out of place on an album like Snapshots. Also, “Love Child” sports an light R&B arrangement, which Shoko had never really attempted before.

Even Shoko’s usual ballads sound a bit different here — more sparse, a bit more somber in tone, and often piano-heavy…not unlike 2006’s Suzuki Syoko, in fact (“Todokukashira,” for instance, would fit in well on that CD). And after fully writing half of the last album, Shoko is solely responsible for seven of this album’s ten tracks — though it’s also interesting to note that this album has the first released song recorded by Shoko that she didn’t write at all (the aforementioned “Love Child”).

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Ad for Hourglass
Sugawara is responsible for arranging seven of the songs on the album, with former My Little Lover member/producer Takeshi Kobayashi arranging two songs, and Masato Nagahata responsible for arranging the one remaining song. Yoshiyuki Sahashi, who was largely responsible for producing and arranging Shoko’s first four albums, is around in an extremely limited role — he plays guitar on two songs. Mostly, though, Shoko and Hiroaki Sugawara tackle much of the album’s instrumentation — Shoko drums on about half the record and plays a bunch of piano (for the first time), while Sugawara is responsible for keyboard and bass work (and also drums on “Love Child”). A few other players (including the aforementioned Masato Nagahata and future Puffy sideman Takamune Negishi) handle some keyboard, bass and drum work, with Hirokazu Ogura playing guitar on almost half the record as well. But clearly, the main focus is on the working relationship between Shoko and Sugawara.

In fact, the working relationship between Shoko and Hiroaki soon became something more than that. Shoko writes that she was in awe of Sugawara — she says her view of him was akin to looking upon a true rock star (an example uses is someone like Jimi Hendrix). Clearly he felt something for her as well, as on Christmas Eve, 1991, Shoko Suzuki and Hiroaki Sugawara entered into the family registry as man and wife, with the wedding ceremony taking place early the next year.

Kyoko Koizumi's "afropia"
Kyoko Koizumi's afropia
Right around the time this album was being recorded, Shoko appeared as a backing vocalist (on two songs) on Akiko Yano’s album Love Life (which also featured some programming by Hiroaki Sugawara). Additionally, Shoko composed (and co-arranged) a song for idol Kyoko Koizumi — who was an artist Shoko had backed on tour before signing her recording contract. The track, “Anata ga ita Kisetsu” (with lyrics by Koizumi) appeared on Koizumi’s afropia album, which peaked at #1 in July of 1991. This would not be the last time Shoko and Kyoko’s paths would cross — the next time Shoko composed a song for Kyoko Koizumi, it became the most successful and well-known track Shoko has written to date.

However, despite Shoko’s personal and artistic growth — she still seems to regard this period highly — Hourglass wasn’t such a hot seller. It barely scraped into the Top 50, whereas her previous few albums charted in the Top 40. Shoko’s growing musical freedom would suffer a brief setback after this album, when Epic Sony (her record label) apparently decided they didn’t like the direction she was taking her music, and essentially forced her to make more accessible, upbeat pop music…which would lead to great success, but also near disaster.

As I noted, the album barely reached the Top 50 on the Oricon charts — it peaked at #50, in fact. Neither of the singles did anything, either.

THE SONGS: (Click on a title to hear a sample)
Sweet Thing
Shoko goes power ballad on this, the second single from the album. Shoko plays a nice drum part (and piano, too) as Yoshiyuki Sahashi plays guitar hero over the soaring strings in the background.

A midtempo song with a kind of odd, lilting rhythmic pattern; it makes me think of a wind-up toy for some reason. This was later issued as the B-side to “Anata wo Shitte Irukara” the following year.

Little Wing
A pretty ballad, probably the closest to the style of pop ballad Shoko recorded on her previous records — slower verses building up to a more uptempo chorus (and a fairly rocking bridge, I feel compelled to add), as a wailing guitar line plays in the background.

Takamune Negishi — later to play bass for Tamio Okuda and Puffy, among others — plays bass on this track.

Also, this is obviously not a cover of the Jimi Hendrix song.

Happiness (New Arrangement)
Reworked version of the album’s first single. Unlike the original, this version is carried by a prominent piano line (played by Shoko, who also drums), lots of percussion bits, and a nice bass line from Hiroaki Sugawara. This was actually one of the first Shoko songs that I really got into (back when my collection consisted of one or two compilation CDs).

On 2005’s Shoko Suzuki Best Collection, this song is present in a slightly edited form — it’s about 25 seconds shorter than the version here, made entirely possible by shortening the coda.

A slower, very sparse piano ballad. It’s pretty, and I like Shoko’s vocal quite a bit.

A more traditional-sounding Shoko ballad, even though there’s only keyboards, a cello, and some short backing vocals behind Shoko’s lead vocal.

A wonderful piano-based track, and one of my favorite songs on the record (it reminds me somewhat of a few songs from Shoko’s 2006 self-titled album). The slight touches of guitar, bass and drums really add to the track, giving it a bit more of a pop/rock edge. B-side of “Sweet Thing.”

An edited version of this song — essentially, the song was faded out early — was released on 2007’s SHO-CO-JOURNEY (though the fact the song was slightly edited was not made known in the CD’s packaging).

Love Child
This bouncy R&B track seems a little bit out of place, interrupting what would have otherwise been five straight slower-paced songs. Features drum parts from both Shoko and Hiroaki Sugawara, apparently playing in tandem (though Shoko would be the primary drummer, I suppose, as the fills in certain parts sound a lot like her style).

Also, obviously not a cover of the Supremes hit.

Silent Dream
Another slower, ethereal-sounding number from Shoko, the kind that perhaps would have been the closing track on her previous albums. Also, this is Shoko’s first track to exceed six minutes — and actually runs for nearly seven (and is thus one of the longest songs in Shoko’s catalogue).

Farewell Song
My mind often mixes up these final two tracks on the album, as this is another slower number with a military-style snare drum roll going on at various points in the background. But this song has a bit of a fuller arrangment, with a saxophone and steel drum in the background, among other things; it’s also a slightly more upbeat song than “Silent Dream” (and, uh, nearly three minutes shorter).

BONUS TRACKS: (B-sides, rarities, etc.)
Happiness (single version)
The original version of this song, which has a bit more of a (very) light R&B/funk sound to it (showcasing a Hammond organ line throughout the song), and also a completely different coda. While the album version has the “give me a reason why…” backing vocals sung over and over until the song comes to an end, this version has a slightly different repeated chant (“I’ve got to know, I’ve got to know, ooh ooh ooh…”) sung over and over until the song fades out.

I prefer the re-recording, but this version is pretty good, too.

BONUS: The Happiness PV. This PV is available on the bonus DVD in the SHO-CO-SONGS collection 2 set.

Lovin' You
An outtake from the Hourglass sessions, not released until SHO-CO-SONGS collection 2 in 2008. It is a cover of Minnie Riperton’s 1975 hit single, and was arranged by Takeshi Kobayashi.

"Harvest" Album Cover
Harvest Album Cover

Anata wo Shitte Irukara
Shoko didn’t release a new album in 1992; instead, Epic Sony put out a retrospective (Harvest: The Very Best of Shoko Suzuki) that featured two new songs — and the new remix of “Ai wa Istumo” mentioned in the Kaze no Tobira review — among various Shoko A-sides and album cuts. Instead of giving that compiliation its own article (which would have been silly), I decided to lump the two “new” songs from that album in this review, as Harvest came out almost exactly in-between this album and RadioGenic, Shoko’s next original album.

Anyway, “Anata wo Shitte Irukara” was the single released in advance of Harvest, and in a first for Shoko, it charted on Oricon’s Singles Chart — #92 for one week. The track itself is a nice midtempo pop offering from Shoko…though it’s interesting to note that, until 2008, the song had never been re-released on any compilation (sort of odd for Shoko’s first charting single).

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Ad for Harvest

BONUS: Live performance of Anata wo Shitte Irukara on TV, 1992.

Kaze ni Orenai Hana
The second new track on Harvest, and honestly, I prefer this one. It’s a great upbeat pop number with a really good vocal from Shoko (and an excellent chorus). Oddly, while “Anata wo Shitte Irukara” was never put on any compilations or anything, this track has constantly popped up on compilations despite not being a single.

Shoko still performs this song live in concert, generally with just her and an electric piano (an example of which will be covered in a future review!).

If you’re interested, this was the full track listing of Harvest:

1. Swallow (from Mizu no Kanmuri )
2. Station Wagon (from Kaze no Tobira)
3. Mizu no Kanmuri (from Mizu no Kamuri)
4. Ai wa Itsumo (Remix) (original from Kaze no Tobira)
5. Sunday Bazaar (from Mizu no Kanmuri)
6. Sweet Sweet Baby (from Kaze no Tobira)
7. Anata wo Shitte Irukara (new song)
8. Natsu wa Doko e Itta (from Viridian)
9. Dokonimo Kaeranai (from Long Long Way Home)
10. Little Love (from Long Long Way Home)
11. Kamome (from Long Long Way Home)
12. Kaze ni Orenai Hana (new song)

Hourglass is out of print. However, like Shoko’s other Sony-era albums, it has been reissued — it is currently available on the SHO-CO-SONGS collection 2 set, along with RadioGenic and Shoko Suzuki Sings Bacharach & David. Harvest is also out of print, but all of its tracks are available across SHO-CO-SONGS collections 1 and 2. The single version of “Happiness” is currently only available on SHO-CO-SONGS collection 2.

Tune in next time, when Shoko’s career grinds to a halt and, despite releasing the most successful record of her career, she’s adamant about retiring from the music business…

Oddball Verdict: A very good record.

Viridian (1988)
Mizu no Kanmuri (1989)
Kaze no Tobira (1990)
Long Long Way Home (1990)
RadioGenic (1993)
Sings Bacharach & David (1994)
Snapshots (1995)
Candy Apple Red (1997)
Shishousetsu (1998)
Atarashii Ai no Uta (1999)
Love, painful love (2000)
I Was There, I’m Here (2003)
Suzuki Syoko (2006)
Sweet Serenity (2008)
Romances sans paroles~bande originale du film~ (2009)