Weclome back to my ongoing series of Shoko Suzuki album reviews!
This article concerns Shoko Suzuki’s third album, Kaze no Tobira, released March 1, 1990. Shoko’s previous album, Mizu no Kanmuri, featured a song that was used as an anime tie-in, which undoubtedly brought Shoko’s music to a wider audience; her profile would be further boosted with this album’s first single, “Station Wagon,” which was used as the theme music to the 1989 film adaptation of Banana Yoshimoto’s novel, Kitchen. Additionally, the period just before this album was released saw the first Shoko-penned song to be recorded by another artist: Mune ga Ippai, the 11th single by idol (and former Onyanko Club member) Marina Watanabe. The track wasn’t a huge success (especially in comparison to Watanabe’s former top ten singles), but the song did manage to reach #31 on the Oricon singles chart. Much greater songwriting success was to come for Shoko.
Musically – and production-wise – this record continues in the same tightly-produced pop vein as the previous two records, though there’s more of an emphasis on slower ballads than on the last album. Yoshiyuki Sasashi and Akira Nishihira are back once again as producers, with Sasashi handling all of the arranging duties. Again, Sahashi and Nishihira form the core of the backing band, which is slightly expanded from the lineup featured on the previous two albums (two bassists, four drummers – not including Shoko – and a handful of others). Takeshi Fujii – who would co-produce Shoko’s next album – is one of the synthesizer programmers present on the record. Additionally, singer/songwriter Mimori Yusa — who debuted at the same time as Shoko, (on the same record label, even), who performs a similar type of pop music as Shoko, and who I’ve read is also Shoko’s friend — appears as a backing vocalist on the album’s final track.
However, after playing most of the drums on the previous album, Shoko’s instrumental contributions on Kaze no Tobira are limited: she plays drums on “Station Wagon” and “Yuki no Yoru ni,” piano on “Sweet Sweet Baby,” and Wurlitzer on “Yume no Iwa de” (making this, oddly enough, the first time Shoko had played piano — her initial instrument — on record). Also, for the first time, Masumi Kawamura is not the sole lyricist (though she is credited on six of the album’s ten songs). Indeed, Shoko herself gets her first lyric-writing credits ever, on both the title track and the album’s final song, “Yuki no Yoru ni.”
As mentioned earlier, the record has a far greater emphasis on ballads than Mizu no Kanmuri did. Indeed, roughly half the album is, if not outright ballads, then definitely slower-paced pop songs (as in the case of “Station Wagon”). Also, the title track has a bit of a light jazz influence, showing that Shoko was already expanding her musical stylings at this early stage of her career — though, admittedly, none of the rest of the record ventures very far from the contemporary pop style of her previous two records. But even if you’re not a big fan of Shoko’s slower material, there’s a nice amount of upbeat pop and rock to keep you satisfied, with songs like “Ai wa Istumo” and “Yume no Iwa de”…and also “Circle Game,” I suppose — though I wish whomever was in charge of choosing songs for the album had used the original version of the song.
This record was a success for Shoko, peaking at #36 on the Oricon album charts, and staying on said chart for 3 weeks. Both this album and the next one were Top 40 albums; however, Shoko’s growing success with her bright pop music (and ballads) would end up having unforeseen consequences when she tried to expand herself further and mature as an artist in the coming years…
THE SONGS: (Click on a title to hear a sample)
Note — starting with this album, Shoko will sometimes have a Japanese and English title for songs on her albums, and the English is not always a direct translation of the Japanese title. Japanese titles will come first, and English titles (if applicable) will be afterward.
Kaze no Tobira / The Gate of Wind
Notable for being the first song on a Shoko Suzuki record with lyrics written by Shoko herself. There’s a definite jazz influence present in parts of the song, thought it’s more like smooth jazz (hello, soprano saxophone). Shoko’s first song to break five minutes, but nearly half the songs on the record break that mark, so it’s not that big of a deal.
Ai wa Itsumo / Love is Always...
The record’s second single, and a solid ’80s-style pop-rock number with a very uplifting chorus (some nice guitar and harmony vocals in particular). One of my favorite songs on the album.
For Shoko’s 1992 best album, Harvest: The Very Best of Shoko Suzuki, this track was featured in a remixed form; however, the only real difference between the two versions is that the backing vocals were mixed out of the song’s coda for the Harvest version (to be fair, they are somewhat distracting, and the song was probably improved by their removal). It was this remixed version that was also included on 2005’s Shoko Suzuki Best Collection CD (which would seem to indicate the remix may be Shoko’s preferred version of the song, as I believe she helped choose the songs for that particular compilation).
BONUS: A live TV performance of this song from 1990.
Sweet Sweet Baby
A lovely piano pop ballad that verges on the edge of rocking out (in a power ballad sort of way) in the bridge, though some of the production sounds a little too smooth at times (in particular, with some of the backing vocals). B-side of “Ai wa Itsumo.”
The album’s first single; and, as mentioned, it was used as the theme to the movie adaptation of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. Despite this tie-in, the single did not chart (nor did “Ai wa Itsumo”).
This song is pretty much a Shoko standard. It’s been featured on all of her Sony-released compilations, and also a handful of various artists compilations that Shoko has appeared on. There’s also a really great, slightly re-arranged live performance of this song on the SHO-CO-SONGS collection 3 bonus DVD.
Sasayaka na Kiseki / A Little Miracle
A midtempo pop song, with a slightly dated-sounding programmed percussion track. Another song with mellow verses that flow into a more upbeat chorus.
Yume no Iwa de / In the Field of Dream
Probably my favorite song on the record. A bouncy pop number dominated by Fairlight synthesized strings, and which owes an obvious influence to ELO and — in the instrumental break — “I Am the Walrus” by the Beatles (the swirling strings and backing vocals shouting “wooooo!” kind of gives it away). The programmed drums here sound much more natural and real than those on the previous track, too. Also, there is no bass guitar on the song.
Circle Game (Folkish rock version)
This is a slightly different version of the song that was released as the B-side of “Station Wagon” (hence the “Folkish rock version” tag). In particular, the thunderous drum track was completely removed — a minus, in my opinion. The original version is one of my favorite early Shoko rockers, and to take the drum track away entirely leaves the song empty sounding to my ears; the drums are definitely missed.
However, it’s still a good song, even in its altered state; I just like the original version more.
Abunai Hashi / A Bridge Hard to Cross
A very sparse ballad, with only an acoustic guitar backing Shoko’s vocal. This particular track has never left much of an impression on me; I don’t dislike it, but it never really sticks with me. Still, it’s a very pretty (albeit very short) song.
Hitoribocchi no Chorus / My Lonely Chorus
A solid midtempo pop song with heavy ’80s synths and echo-y guitars. The verses are good, but I absolutely adore the bridge — the way the electric guitars, soaring backing vocals and Shoko’s lead vocal converge and build up is amazing to my ears. One of my favorite tracks.
Yuki no Yoru ni / Snowy Nights
Another ethereal ballad to close out a Shoko album. Features backing vocals by Mimori Yusa.
BONUS TRACKS: (B-sides, rarities, etc.)
Circle Game (single version)
The B-side of “Station Wagon.” As I noted above, this is my preferred version of this song. I love the drums (played by future Unicorn/Tamio Okuda and Puffy backing drummer Takeshi Furuta), and the whole rock production. Shoko refers to this as the “hard rock” version of the song in the liner notes to the SHO-CO-JOURNEY compilation.
MISCELLANEOUS: (Other live performances, TV apperances, etc.)
TV Talk + live performance of “Swallow,” 1990. I believe this is from the same performance that the “Ai wa Itsumo” performance linked above, done as promotion for Kaze no Tobira. There is a very short clip from what appears to be this same concert on Shoko’s Life,/Music&Love DVD where she’s performing “Yume no Iwa de”…I’d love to see that full performance someday.
Like the previous two albums, this album is out of print, but available on SHO-CO-SONGS collection 1. The single version of “Circle Game” is available on SHO-CO-SONGS collection 2 (as there was no room for it on 1, where it logically fits) and the two-disc SHO-CO-JOURNEY album.
Oddball Verdict: Worth it for the high points alone.
OTHER SHOKO SUZUKI REVIEWS:
Mizu no Kanmuri (1989)
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)