Half Japanese – Hear the Lions Roar (Fire Records)
It doesn’t feel like we’ve needed art and punk rock this much since the 1980s. Jad Fair has been at the helm of Half Japanese since 1975. In that time he must have seen things come and go and then go again. Now they are coming back.
This is a beautiful album, full of tight three minute tracks. It has the sixties’ sound of The 13th Floor Elevators but with humour and fun. It doesn’t sound old, it sounds right. There are plenty of rackety guitars and keyboards as well as Gilles-Vincent Rieder’s reliable and assertive drumming. Fair also has the voice of a far younger man, a youthful Michael Stipe.
There’s some classic Half Japanese ‘love and monsters’ songs on Hear the Lions Roar. ‘Attack of the Giant Leeches’ is War of the Worlds and The Blob. This time the threat is from bloodthirsty worms “from Hell“. They are “forty feet long and no one is safe.” The cymbals crash behind and the guitars swoop like deranged seagulls, a modern ‘Monster Mash’. ‘The Preventers’ tells the tale of “zombie hippies without a lick of sense” and we are urged to “stop them in their tracks“. This one is melancholic and could even be allegorical. The guitars and drums are mesmeric.
The love songs are perfect. There is a set of them nestled one after the other in the second half of the album. They are ageless in their expression of love and the power of two. ‘Do It Now’, ‘On Top’ and ‘It’s Our Time’ evoke sunny days, acceptance of each other and invincibility because, after all, “Our love has super power.” Admittedly, it’s a place where love isn’t complicated and the keyboards plink like sunbeams. Wear your matching jumpers here.
Other pieces benefit from percussion and the delicate orchestral background provided by Lydia Fischer and Sophie Bernadou who guest on this album. They appear on tracks such as ‘This Is What I Know’ which offers advice from middle age. It’s cool and confident. The extended instrumental sections on this track add soaring optimism and, dare I say it, romance.
The final track, ‘Super Power’, is close to six minutes long. It has a teasing bassline and the gradual introduction of just about all the instruments in the studio. It is the song that has everyone on the dancefloor at the end of the party, the song that leaves everyone feeling full of energy even if it is three in the morning. The lyrics and music are life-affirming and uplifting, “Your life is like a flower“. You’ll sing it all the way home, arm in arm with your best friend.
Sometimes there’s just no substitute for age and experience.
Here the Lions Roar will be released on 13th January 2017 through Fire Records.
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