MUCC - Shion
Record Label: Fontana International/Spinefarm Records US
Release Date: November 25, 2008
The year was 1997, and perhaps unbeknownst to all of us here in America, Japanese rockers MUCC (pronounced “mook”) were making a splash in their home country. Now, the year is 2009, almost a year after they released their first full-length album of new material in the US entitled Shion. Over the past couple of years, the band has been able to gain recognition from Kevin Lyman who invited them to join the 2008 Rockstar Taste of Chaos international tour. The question is, though, can this record get MUCC (Tatsuro on vocals, Miya on guitar, YUKKE on bass, and SATOchi on drums) more exposure?
My answer: no, but it is a decent first step. The band does show some promise in several songs, but all too often they fall short of having any lasting impact. Basically, the record is all over the place as it attempts to combine heavier rock elements with a more traditional rock styling all while incorporating what I like to call the band’s fifth member: the orchestral strings.
“Suion” is an instrumental number that opens the record in an interesting manner. Tribal drums can be heard throughout along with the previously mentioned strings and even some water drops for added effect. It is not a track that amazes, but it does lead nicely into the first full-band song, “Fukurou No Yurikago.” The song has a solid opening with spacey verses, a good chorus with some impressive vocals, and a solid fist-pumping bridge. However, the song does suffer from having so many effects going on in the tracks behind the music that they become quite distracting from the instruments. “Nuritsubusunara Enji” sees the band exploring their heavier side with some excellent guitar work, especially the solo and the chugging behind it. The vocals, however, do not work as Tatsuro unsuccessfully growls through most of the song. Overall, the song is completely passable as it runs for far too long at 4:09 and cannot decide whether it wants to be heavy metal or punk.
“Fuzz” is very radio-friendly with the synthesizer giving it a dancier feel supplemented by some more good showings on both guitar and vocals. It is so catchy that I can see it on any popular modern radio station and it is certainly one of the album’s highlights. Next up is “Game,” which features choir-like vocals in the verses. The song is very guitar-heavy with hardly any emphasis on the bass and is hindered by a poorly drawn-out breakdown. It does get good again, though, and ends strongly as Tatsuro belts out the lyrics “Sayonara” with palpable emotion. Sixth on the track listing is “Flight,” which shows off some pop-punk stylings. It is a good, catchy song with palm-muted guitars, a good bridge with string accompaniment, and high quality vocals.
The next song seems to be specifically designed to be heard in dance clubs around the world, and it is an enjoyable selection. “Anjelier” features up-stroking guitar work while also displaying Tatsuro’s vocal range as he sings the chorus in a falsetto. Not being able to keep up with the quality of its predecessor, “Chiisana Mado” falls short because it simply takes too long to start getting good. It is bland until the 3:15 mark when the band explores some new territory through the use of an acoustic guitar and a Spanish sonata-style solo. Up next is perhaps the best song on the record, “Semishisure.” The reason it is the best song is simply because it is good from start to finish, and is not too drawn out. The chorus is strong, the bridge is attention-grabbing, the solo is excellent, and the band is just in sync, making it an ear-pleaser.
Since it is the title track, “Shion” should be the one song that encapsulates everything that this record is about. It doesn’t. It features a promising opening riff and a return to the tribal drums from the first track, but it fails to impress. The verses are too experimental, Tatsuro’s screaming and growling just don’t sound right, and it is so drawn out that the only enjoyment it really yields is when it ends. Fortunately, they redeem themselves with the next track, “Sorwasure.” A beautiful string composition plays behind the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar before the good verses and memorable chorus kick in as the song progresses. It is yet another chance for Miya to shine on guitar, and he steps up masterfully to the task. Ultimately, it ends gracefully with that familiar company of the orchestra. “Shiva” starts out hard and heavy, then receives aid from the strings, then turns to a pop-punk style, then turns back to being heavy, then transitions to a pop-punk solo before ending with the strings again. Still with me? Yes, it’s all over the place. Still, though, it is an interesting song that just might be worthy of another listen to go on that musical ride again. Closing the album is “Libra,” with another heavy opening before ultimately breaking down into lackluster verses with poor vocals. The catchy chorus, however, does see Tatsuro showing his vocal chops, and the bridge (though the transition from the chorus is sloppy) is easily the most enjoyable part of the song. Finally, like many of the other selections on this disc, “Libra” fades out nicely with the orchestra’s contribution.
Shion really is all over the place, and that fact is what prevents it from crossing the threshold into being a successful offering. Too many of the songs try to transcend too many genres of rock, and many of them are so drawn out that I found myself wishing that they would end before they crossed from the “good” territory into the “bad.” Essentially, MUCC are a band still trying to discover their full identity, and I honestly believe that they could craft a much better record by abandoning their heavier side entirely for the softer modern rock element. Becoming known internationally is no easy feat, but they have already done so. They also have the talent to become even more well-known. The key, though, is to think long and hard about the direction that they want to go in, and proceed full steam ahead from there.