It’s time for the second part of my epic Shoko Suzuki review-a-thon! Last time out, I briefly covered Shoko’s life before she became a musician, after which I delved into her first album (Viridian). This time out it’s her second album, Mizu no Kanmuri, released April 21, 1989.
This is probably my favorite early-period Shoko Suzuki record, and probably not coincidentally, it’s probably the most upbeat sounding. There are still a few ballads, but much of the record is taken up by ultra-catchy pop songs. Better yet, this album marks the first time Shoko gets to extensively show off her talents on the drums — she’s behind the kit for all but two songs (and one of those has a programmed drum track).
During the recording sessions for this album, Shoko’s ultra-hard working nature came to the fore (not for the last time during her career): she wrote that her extreme work ethic, along with the regular pressures of writing and recording, caused her weight to fall to 39 kilograms (about 86 pounds) — though thankfully I don’t think she suffered any long-term ill effects. Despite these hardships, Shoko reached a major achievement with this record: her first major song tie-in (that I know of) — “Saigo no First Kiss” was used as the ending theme to the 13-episode Shin Captain Tsubasa anime series. Also, between the release of this album and the next, Shoko would finally start writing songs for other artists (an avenue that would eventually see her writing for some of the biggest names in Japanese pop).
As with the last album, the songs are all composed by Shoko, with lyrics courtesy of Masumi Kawamura. Yoshiyuki Sahashi and Akira Nishihira are back producing, arranging, and providing instrumental backing (though the two share arranging duties only on “Sunday Bazaar”; otherwise it’s one or the other doing the arrangements by himself). The backing band is pretty much the same as last time, too, with the exception of Shoko tackling most of the drumming. Despite all this, though, the album is more than just Viridian Part 2; as noted above, the ballads are generally scaled back in favor of faster-paced, poppier fare. On the other hand, there are no real “rock” songs to be found on this album outside of “Sunday Bazaar” (which is more heavy acoustic rock, anyway).
Generally, though, the overall production is similar to the last album — it’s instantly identifiable as a product of the 1980s; this is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, though…in fact, the album sounds an awful lot like it could be an anime soundtrack. Also note that, despite this being a full album (as compared to the “7-songs album” that was Viridian), there are only nine tracks on the record. Even today, Shoko’s albums rarely have more than 9-11 songs on them (despite nowadays having a sizeable backlog of awesome, yet so far unrecorded — in a studio setting, anyway — tunes).
Unlike Shoko’s first album, Mizu no Kanmuri is listed in Oricon’s online database (though its singles aren’t). However, there is no listing of the album charting at all; if indeed it didn’t chart, it’s interesting to note that the two albums that followed both solidly dented the Top 40, and it would be odd to go from not charting at all to suddenly having Top 40 records (also, there are other albums from that time period that seem to have missing chart data as well, so it’s likely the record charted somewhere).
THE SONGS: (Click on a title to hear a sample)
Shoko’s third single, and another gentle, mellow ballad. Considered one of Shoko’s “big” songs, as it’s available on practically every Shoko compilation out there. It’s a pretty song, but I think there were other, better choices for a single (this is probably why I am not a record executive, though).
Shoko’s second single, and the lead single for this album. In contrast to “Swallow,” I unabashedly love this song. It’s so unlike the rest of the album, and most of Shoko’s other early singles in general. The opening guitar chord is just so ominous sounding, and the song as a whole has a slightly heavy, sinister sound that’s unlike Shoko’s pop and ballad offerings elsewhere on the record.
Mizu no Kanmuri
A very bright pop song; like several other songs that appear later on this album, it sounds like it would fit in well in an anime of some sort.
Also note the drum fill Shoko uses at the 26 to 28 second mark of the sample; you can often tell when Shoko is doing the drumming on a track, because she uses a similar kind of fill on songs throughout her career. Not that it makes her a lesser drummer or anything…I just thought it was interesting to note.
Another slower ballad, and the one track with live drums that Shoko doesn’t play on. Musically it somewhat reminds me of “Nami no Fossil” from the previous album, but with more of a beat to it. A nice song, and one of my favorite ballads on the album.
A great folk-pop song, driven by an absolutely wonderful Shoko drum part (there’s an awesome drum break where she goes wild on the cymbals and toms) and superb backing vocals and harmonies (also courtesy of Shoko). Along with “Sunday Bazaar,” one of my absolute favorite songs on the record. Also: obviously not a cover of The Beatles song (though Shoko has not been above covering the Beatles in concert during her career).
Note in the sample — at about 19 seconds in — Shoko uses a similar fill to the one she used on “Mizu no Kanmuri.” I suppose, for my own sanity, I should just refer to this as the “Shoko fill” — a la “The Barry Wom Ending,” as Chief Oddball and I used to refer to back in the day when we listened to “With a Girl Like You” and “Between Us” by The Rutles (which both end with the exact same drum pattern) — as similar fills will be cropping up from time to time in Shoko’s future records, and it might be interesting to note when Shoko uses it.
Also, a slightly edited version of this song (the drum break was cut down by a few seconds) appears on the 2007 compilation SHO-CO-JOURNEY.
Saigo no First Kiss
Another upbeat pop song, one that mixes then-current pop production with a ’60s girl group sound. As noted above, it was the ending theme to the Shin Captain Tsubasa OAV in 1989 (not the last time a Shoko song would be used in an anime OAV). Also another favorite of mine, since I love old school ’80s anime songs.
This song was also the B-side to “Swallow.”
Tsuki no Ashioto
The programmed drum track on this slower number reminds me of a preset found on old Casio keyboards. Another track that sounds like it could have potentially been featured on an anime soundtrack.
Yet another bright, peppy pop song with anime soundtrack qualities; my mind sometimes confuses this with “Saigo no First Kiss” for some reason. Regardless, I love this song too; it never fails to lift my spirits, and I’m not afraid to proclaim that.
Also note that this song uses the “Shoko fill” as well. 🙂
Moon Dance Diner de
The record ends with a slower piano-based ballad (with some patented ’80s-style saxophone wailing in the background). As an album closer, I think it’s better than “Nami no Fossil,” and I do like the chorus a lot. It would seem that Shoko has a fondness for this song, as it’s been in her live set lists on and off to this day.
Like Viridian, this album is out of print, but available on SHO-CO-SONGS collection 1.
Lastly, I apologize for the lack of images in these reviews so far; that should change starting with the next review. The CD booklets for Shoko’s first two albums have next to no photos of her in them, and trying to track down old photos of her on the interwebz is…not that easy.
Oddball Verdict: The best early-period Shoko Suzuki album.
OTHER SHOKO SUZUKI REVIEWS:
Kaze no Tobira (1990)
Long Long Way Home (1990)
Sings Bacharach & David (1994)
Candy Apple Red (1997)
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)