As part of my continuing series of Shoko Suzuki album reviews, here is a look at her album Long Long Way Home.
This was Shoko’s fourth album, released on November 21, 1990 — just over eight months after Kaze no Tobira (and also her fourth album in just over 24 months). In the West, this sort of release pattern fell out of favor in the late 1960s, but even today in Japan artists will often release at least an album per year. This fairly hectic release pace, coupled with Shoko’s own tendencies to push herself hard, caused a great deal of stress in her life — kind of like what happened during the sessions for Kaze no Tobira (and would happen again in the sessions for 1993’s RadioGenic). This time, she took a little break before getting back to work.
For the first time, Akira Nishihira does not appear on a Shoko Suzuki record (nor would he ever appear on another). However, Yoshiyuki Sahashi is still around producing and arranging, this time working with Takeshi Fujii (who did some synthesizer programming on Shoko’s previous album). I don’t know if it’s Fujii’s influence or something else, but this record strikes me as being far lighter and a bit cleaner sounding than Shoko’s previous releases. I used to not care for this record very much for that very reason — I like some rough edges present, but here they’re totally smoothed over. However, I have since come around to liking this record; it’s still probably my least favorite Shoko album (which is not the same as saying “this is a bad album”), but I feel I used to be a bit unfairly prejudiced against it because many of the songs are very soft and clean sounding. But I’ve given the record many serious listens since then, and several of the songs are now among my favorite of Shoko’s songs.
However, I’ve encountered people online who hold this as one of their absolute favorite Shoko records, so I guess take my opinion with a grain of salt.
Sahashi and Fujii appear on pretty much every track (the former on guitars, the latter programming), with either Akira Nishimoto or Satoshi Kadokura on keyboards. Bass and drums are handled by a number of different players and, for the first time, Shoko is backed up by a small army of backing vocalists (normally she sings most of her own backing vocals). I must admit that the backing vocalists are a bit distracting at times; I much prefer it when Shoko does her own backing vocals.
Like the previous record, about half of this album is taken up by slower ballads, with most of them grouped together on the second half of the record (which was another reason I used to be a bit ambivalent about the record — I was wanting to hear some upbeat pop music; ironically, now some of those very same ballads are among my favorite songs on the album). There are only a couple of songs that might be classified as “pop/rock,” with the rest of the non-ballads falling squarely into a more general light pop category.
For the first time, Masumi Kawamura does not provide lyrics for any songs, while Shoko is the sole credited songwriter (i.e. lyrics and music) on half of the record. New lyricists include Qujira leader Yasuo Sugibayashi, Saeko Nishio (who has written lyrics for songs by artists like Yuna Ito, Crystal Kay and Sowelu), Masami Tozawa (who has written lyrics for songs by artists such as Arashi, Kinki Kids and SMAP) and singer-songwriter Taeko Onuki. Only Sugibayashi would ever write for Shoko again after this album, as Shoko would handle most of her own lyrics from here on out (except on RadioGenic, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it).
Elsewhere on the songwriting front, Shoko was tapped to write a single for Seiko Matsuda, one of the most successful performers ever in Japan. The resulting single, We Are Love — which was composed by Shoko and featured lyrics by Seiko — peaked at #16 on the singles chart; it stayed on the chart for 9 weeks. Coincidentally, it was released on the same day as Long Long Way Home.
The record was a decent success for Shoko, reaching a ranking of #33 on the Oricon charts, though it only charted for a total of two weeks. As far as I can tell, the album’s single did not chart.
THE SONGS: (Click on a title to hear a sample)
NOTE: Like on Shoko’s last album, the songs here often have both a Japanese and English title.
Hikari no Eki / Station of Light
A fine way to start the record — with a solid, uptempo pop-rock song. However, it is only one of a couple such songs on the record, if that’s your sort of thing. Like the rest of the album, this song has a polished, clean production. Regardless, this is one of my favorite songs on the album.
A cute pop song – with similarly cute-sounding backing vocals – featuring a bouncy horn section. Definitely a happy, uptempo number that sounds like it might actually be powered by pure sunshine and rainbows. Everything in my musical tastes says I shouldn’t like this song, but I admit that I find it cute and catchy. It’s not an absolute favorite of mine, but I always find myself tapping my foot and singing along with it whenever it comes on.
The album’s single, featuring a really light and airy production, with similarly light backing vocals and instrumentation…kind of like “Swallow” part 2 (though not quite as sparse sounding as that song). Another track that’s on a ton of Shoko compilations.
BONUS: Little Love PV (as far as I can tell, this is Shoko’s first honest-to-goodness music video). This PV is available on the SHO-CO-SONGS collection 1 bonus DVD.
Mizu no Naka no Tsuki / The Moon in the Water
Another good light pop-rock song with a great chorus. One of Shoko’s limited instrumental contributions is here: she plays a hi-hat on the song (oooooh). B-side of “Little Love.”
Down by the River
A pretty good mid-tempo pop song with a prominent keyboard part, and a surprisingly McCartney-like bass line (at the beginning, at least). The backing vocals at times tend to sound too slick (like on some of the album’s other songs), but on the whole I like this song.
Natsu no Maboroshi / Vision of Summer
This is a very pretty piano ballad. The sparse production is a nice constrast to the super polished production on the rest of the record. Actually, this song wouldn’t sound out of place on some of Shoko’s later records, and would fit in well when Shoko does her solo vocal + piano live performances.
This track was later covered by singer Akiko Yano on her 1995 album Piano Nightly.
Ano Sora ni Kaerou / On the Way Back Home
A catchy, mid-tempo pop song, again featuring prominent backing vocals. I like this song, especially the chorus (again).
Chinese pop star Faye Wong recorded a cover of this song (with new lyrics, and retitled “Hoeng Sau”) on her 1995 album, Di-Dar.
Aoi Sora no Onpu / Note for the Blue Sky
Another delicate-sounding pop ballad, with a subdued yet charming backing that starts to build up with swelling orchestration in the second half of the song. Shoko’s vocals (along with the instrumentation itself, in fact) have a sort of youthful innocence which endears them to me. Features a couple of nice guitar solos from Yoshiyuki Sahashi.
Kamome / Sea Gull
The third ballad in a four-song stretch. The arrangment and vocal melody remind me a bit of “Yashashii Ame” — which actually wouldn’t be written or recorded for another three years, so maybe I should say that song reminds me of this one. Features a delicate acoustic guitar & string quartet backing.
Dokonimo Kaeranai / Going Back Nowhere
The record ends with an uptempo pop number showcasing a lot of mandolin and ukelele. It’s very upbeat, and interpolates the whistling solo from Sukiyaki (to date, still the only Japanese-language song to reach #1 in America) into the middle of the song before ending with a lengthy singalong fadeout. The backing vocals (mostly harmonies) sound much more natural here than on other songs elsewhere on the record. Another favorite. Was released as the B-side of “Happiness” the next year.
This song also appears on the 2007 compilation SHO-CO-JOURNEY; according to the liner notes it’s an edited version of this song, but it appears to be the full version (unless it’s a very small edit; regardless, the track length is exactly the same).
MISCELLANEOUS: (Live performances, TV apperances, etc.)
A live TV performance of “Natsu wa Doko e Itta” and “Mizu no Kanmuri” from 1990. The latter performance is cut off, but it’s still a nice live document (and note that the date on the YouTube title is wrong; the performance is not from 1999; also, it probably should have been listed in the Kaze no Tobira review, but whatever).
A live performance of “Station Wagon” from March, 1991. Kinda self explanatory.
Like the previous three albums reviewed, this album is out of print, but available on SHO-CO-SONGS collection 1.
Oddball Verdict: Not the best, but still enjoyable.
OTHER SHOKO SUZUKI REVIEWS:
Mizu no Kanmuri (1989)
Kaze no Tobira (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)