If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what then are song covers?
I am of the mind that song covers are more than just attempts at copying an already existing song, and are themselves a unique expression that doesn’t necessarily aim to out do or be better than the original it’s based off of… but I digress, as I’m sure a whole lot of you are asking why am I even talking about all this in the first place (XD)
Rest assured, and as the title to this post would imply, this is indeed yet another installment of the J-Music Exchange/Rate! The Exchange/Rate, as some of you might already know, is the tandem album review series between myself and my good friend Al (from Omunibasu.Blog), where each month we pitch each other albums from our own respective Japanese music libraries for the other to talk about and review on their blog. In line with that, Al and I also go back and forth with choosing specific themes that would then determine what albums by which artists we’d end up picking out.
The theme for this month (as decided by Al) were albums by bands/artists who we discovered through covers of their songs. I said as much before when I talked about my favorite Japanese cover artists, but covers for me have always been one of my favorite ways of looking for and finding new songs to listen to. In that regard (and after discovering a good number of bands/artists since), I’ve started seeing the act of covering the popular songs from any given point in time to be somewhat of a transcendent practice of cultural preservation, in how it ultimately serves as a bridge that allows people to have an appreciation of artistry across generations.
This time around Al thought to give me Love Story by back number who, quite fittingly enough, is a band that has (and continues to have) enjoyed reknown over the still-ongoing course of their storied careers spanning well over a decade by now. I, in turn, had opted to trade the 2020 EP Shitsuren Scrap by the ever-mysterious AcoGui standout koresawa (check out Al’s review of it here!)
back number derives their name from lead vocalist/guitarist Shimizu Iori’s experiences in high school; being left by his then-girlfriend for another “bandman”, in turn labelling himself as “a back number” to her, and subsequently resolving to make a cooler band than the person’s band. He is joined by bassist and childhood friend Kojima Kazuya, and drummer Kurihara Hisashi.
＜Ｌｏｖｅ Ｓｔｏｒｙ (ラブストーリー)＞
（＊Spotify link to the full album)
０１・聖者の行進/seija no koushin
０２・繋いだ手から/tsunaida te kara
０５・光の街/hikari no machi
０６・高嶺の花子さん/takane no hanako-san
０８・君がドアを閉めた後/kimi ga door wo shimeta ato
１１・頬を濡らす雨のように/hoho wo nurasu ame no you ni
１２・世田谷ラブストーリー/setagaya love story
Ａ ｌ : If you’re an avid Japanese music fan, I’m sure you’ve heard of the group, Goose house. While their original music is great on its own, most people probably know them for their spectacular covers and the unique way they perform. Goose house’s covers are so good that there have been times where I actually got to discover new artists and albums because of them, including the album I gave Leap, “Love Story” by back number.
I’ve heard of that band before but GH’s cover of “Takane no Hanako-san” was pretty much a sign for me to listen to more back number. “Love Story” was a pretty pleasant album to listen to. I really enjoyed the low-key nature of this album; even though it’s categorized as a rock album, it wasn’t too loud and felt like something I could just put on to help me unwind. The emphasis on the acoustic guitar and Shizumu Iyori’s gloomy vocals really helped convey the overall atmosphere of these love songs, as there definitely were some times when I felt a bit sad while listening to some of these tracks (I would assume that that’s what they were trying to go for lol). Even the songs that had a more high energy, traditional rock sound to them, like “003” and “MOTTO”, were great and fit well in the song lineup.
Overall, “Love Story” is a really solid collection of songs from a rather unique rock band. If you’re looking for some sentimental love songs with a rock vibe to them, this might be an album to check out.
＜Ｓｏｎｇｓ ｏｆ Ｉｎｔｅｒｅｓｔ＞
０２ 繋いだ手から/tsunaida te kara
If I were to describe back number’s overall sound (at least with regard to how they sound for the entirety of Love Story here) in as few words as I can, I would say that the band is primarily one that enjoys their soft and emotion-driven Balladic Pop/Rock. Now of course, one would think that the album opener Seija no Koushin might beg to differ with its more aggressive Indie Rock vibe and markedly faster rhythm in comparison, but the song does find itself being in the minorty for the most part given how the rest of the songs in this album are instead much more similar in tone and nature to that of this second track here Tsunaida Te Kara.
It’s interesting how we’re yet again seeing a semblance of an omote and ura dynamic with how they sound (something we’ve talked about in previous album reviews), albeit one that’s quite heavily skewed towards one sound over the other… but I’m getting ahead of myself as this does tie into my thoughts on the album as a whole, which we’ll get to later. For now though, something to note is that lead vocalist and guitarist Shimizu Iori does credit Tsunaida Te Kara as being the song that holds the most meaning for him out of all the tracks in Love Story, as being a song that he believes to be as good as the song he was most proud of at the time.
The specific song in question is actually coming in as this here fourth track of the album, fish, which Shimizu notes as being a song that he had written back in the early days of the band. With that being said, I don’t think it’d too much of a stretch of the imagination to say that fish sort of embodies what we can consider this core prototypical sound that back number has, as we mentioned earlier. Largely present again is the Balladic Pop/Rock that the band does predominantly employ, and after having heard Tsunaida Te Kara prior you should now also be familiar with the more key aspects of back number’s instrumentation, chief among them being their use of the acoustic guitar.
Arguably Love Story‘s most heartful-sounding track, the acoustic guitar really does help flesh out a good deal of the emotion that fish brings with it, as it near forcefully makes memories of one’s past resurface as you listen. In that sense back number’s songs do generally seem to possess a sort of nostalgic quality to them in the way they sing about these otherwise perfectly relateable real-life scenarios. fish, for instance, talks about the aftermath of a break-up. The Japanese have taken to calling this particular trait as being “toushindai“, literally meaning “life-sized”, but we can also take the word to mean something along the lines of “that which is true to life”.
０６ 高嶺の花子さん/takane no hanako-san
In the songs leading up to this sixth track of Love Story, back number actually does a good job of reminding you every now and again that they do have some speed to them too, and that they’re not by all means *just* a band that sings Rock Ballads. I’ve been mentioning the album opener Seija no Koushin since we started this review, and the third track of the album (aptly named 003) also harkens to a more Indies/Alternative Rock sound akin to some of their contemporaries as is the likes of suneohair and Asian Kung-Fu Generation who, as was discussed in our review of Sakanaction’s Shin-Shiro, would be the better known names of the genre at the time.
While not a complete departure from the band’s usual offerings thus far, the “shift” from Balladic Pop/Rock to Alternative Rock should be noticeable enough once you start to realize that the acoustic guitar has been taken out of the picture, and that sweeping electric guitar riffs have since taken its place. Something that I thought was neat in regard to that is that when I first listened to Takane no Hanako–san, I almost immediately likened the hook as being Chinese-inspired for some reason or another (it’s a very distinct sound that I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly but I definitely hear it, lol), and lo and behold the PV actually takes place in China Town!
In an album that is mostly made up of Rock Ballads, MOTTO sticks out like a sore thumb by its being anything *but* a Rock Ballad in the slightest (XD), and while a song standing out like that would’ve been enough for me to want to talk about it on any other album (as I’ve done so for previous albums reviews), I figured its placement in Love Story here is about as good as any for me to go back to what I talked about earlier in back number having that sort of omote and ura dynamic to their sound. I mean, I feel like if I happened upon this song prior to doing this review, I honestly think there’s a good chance I would’ve thought that this song was sung by a different band altogether.
Although Shimizu is very vocal about his preference for Rock Ballads, back number does collectively find their roots in Punk Rock. Specifically the members were fans of “Seishun Punk” (literally “Youth Punk) as is the likes of MONGOL800 and Hi-STANDARD, and even Western Punk Rock such as Green Day. While being fans of these bands don’t necessarily mean they’d influence how their band would sound (especially since these would be bands that they liked while they were still kids), MOTTO still comes across as a bit of a product of the times. If anything else, this song makes it very clear that if back number really wanted to, they *can* sing faster, more upbeat songs.
＜Ｗｈａｔ Ｉ ｔｈｉｎｋ ｏｆ Ｌｏｖｅ Ｓｔｏｒｙ＞
As I was reading up on back number in preparation for this album review, something that caught my attention was the supposed backlash that the band had started receiving sometime around 2014~2015 (which would’ve been right around when Love Story was released). In particular, it was around this point in time that back number had started gaining a very specific notoriety as being one of the go-to bands to be singing the theme songs for Japanese TV drama shows, in large part due to how the sentimental “toushindai” (as we discussed earlier) of their Balladic Pop/Rock sound tend to fit nicely with the emotional themes and storylines of the shows they sang for.
Now, back when we discussed Sakanaction’s Shin-Shiro we ended up talking about bands having to evolve to meet the changing times. Taken positively, it could be taken as a show of a band’s willingness to grow and improve, but under a more negative light it can be seen as a band opting to change their sound to something more Pop-oriented as a means of catering to the general audience. The latter appears to have been what back number was accused of doing, though after listening to Love Story for a decent amount of time (and subsequently having read about the band’s origins thereafter), I would argue that that might not entirely be the case.
Though I mentioned the band having omote and ura at the start of this review, the supposed ura of back number (that being their faster Indie/Alternative Rock sound) is few and far between to call a sound that the band would much rather perform. Rather, it’s very clear that the band has absolutely no qualms singing Rock Ballads, given how many of them there are in this album (amounting to nine of the twelve overall tracks). I mean, why should they have any when they’re so good at it? (XD) It’s an odd argument that undermines a whole lot of what makes Love Story work, as well as what made (and continues to make) back number’s sound such a hit to this day.
４ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ ５
８ ｏｕｔ ｏｆ １０
Over the course of me writing this review, I found myself staring out the window more times than I care to admit (lol) whenever I started putting on Love Story to listen to. Like, I’d be listening to fish and all of a sudden I’m reminiscing about the past and thinking about my ex-girlffriend from high school, or I’d have playing Hoho wo Nurasu Ame no You ni and I’m left thinking about where I’m at now and how different I’d enviosioned my life being ten years ago. Suffice it to say this is one of those albums that brings a lot of emotion with it, and while that might not be something I’d always be in the mood for, you can bet it’d be one of my first picks should I want to go on a quick feels trip.
Have you listened to back number’s Love Story before? If you have, what are your thoughts on it? If not, what do you think of it now after having listened to some of its songs and after reading this review? What are your thoughts on song covers? Who are some bands/artists that *you* found through covers?
Let me know all about it in the comments section down below!
As a quick aside, Al and I have now been doing the J-Music Exchange/Rate regularly for about a year now since we started up this project again back in May of last year, with already a fairly decent number of album reviews to show for it (all of which you can check out in the Exchange/Rate page here!). I believe I can speak for the both of us when I say that It has and continues to be, a fun journey of music discovery, and I can only hope it has been equally as fun (if not even more so) of a read for you guys each time we do one of these 🙂
Don’t forget to drop by Omunibasu.Blog if you haven’t yet and catch Al’s review of koresawa’s Shitsuren Scrap, and as always, stay tuned for the next one 😛