First Impressions: X Japan – Jealousy

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X Japan had always been billed to me as Japan’s answer to Iron Maiden: dudes with big hair and tight jeans playing some old school heavy metal. I hadn’t ever really listened to them until around 2012, though. The only thing I really knew about them were the couple songs of theirs featured in the Saw franchise, and I did like their drummer/pianist Yoshiki’s work, especially in the unfortunately short-lived super group  S.K.I.N.

In 2012, there were only a few singles on Spotify, as well as a ballad compilation album which gave me flashbacks to when I was a young lad who bought Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell with my allowance, understandably expecting some rip-roaring heavy metal based off of that badass cover, and was given nearly 50 minutes of god damn fucking power ballads. If I wasn’t a dutiful tree-hugging Cascadian I would have thrown it straight into the river.

I’m glad to say Spotify now has two of X Japan’s classic albums, back from when they just went by X: Blue Blood, and Jealousy. I’ve listened to Blue Blood a couple times and I really dig it, I’d definitely say the Iron Maiden comparisons are pretty fair. However, 1991’s Jealousy is supposedly the landmark album for the group. They had won the Grand Prix New Artist of the Year award at the Japan Golden Disk Awards for their work on Blue Blood in 1990, and were given the prize of going anywhere in the world to record their next album. Yoshiki wanted to go to either Paris or London, the rest of the band voted for LA. So, in November of 1990, the band left for LA to begin work on Jealousy, which was released in 1991 and brought them a pretty decent amount of international attention, as well as a contract with Atlantic Records for American releases.

Now, without further ado, here are my first impressions:

The opening track, “A Piano String in Es Dur” is wanky musician talk for “An E-flat piano string.” Really, es-dur is German music talk for Eb Major, so it’s a little odd that this is mostly in minor, but let’s set all that aside. It’s just a nice piano intro with some orchestral bits. Yoshiki is good at this sort of thing. It does move to major before ultimately breaking into just one Eb and then a bunch of clusters. Nice.

“Silent Jealousy” continues with some more soft piano and then breaks into some badass old school speed metal. Beyond standard speed metal, there’s that nice J-rock flair in the melodies and some awesome intricate bass work. There’s also a little bit of Swan Lake in the piano in the middle because Yoshiki is all about that. All in all a great song. I can see why it was made the single aside from nearly being a title track.

“Miscast” is just some solid heavy metal. I do wish Toshi’s vocals were given a bit more presence, though, as they get washed out now and then.

“Desperate Angel” brings us straight into the realm of cheese as it’s just straight up hair metal. Hair metal has always been a bit of a hard sell for me. This may seem hypocritical to hear from someone who likes black metal, visual-kei, and fucking Alice Cooper, but the realm of hair metal has pretty consistently been just too goofy for me to take all that seriously. This is a pretty well-written song overall, but it is a little trope-filled, so for someone who just can’t dig the subgenre it just doesn’t really grab me that much. If you’re just looking to headbang, though, go for it, man.

“White Wind From Mr. Martin -Pata’s nap-‘’ is a nice acoustic guitar interlude. I actually wish it were a bit longer just to give the ideas some more time to develop.

The next track, “Voiceless Screaming” introduces our first power ballad, but unlike those erstwhile times desperately trying to like Meatloaf, I actually dig this track. It has some nice texture elements, the composition is decent, the guitar work is especially solid. There are actually some occasional Fleetwood Mac vibes. It would be nice if Toshi could smooth out his vocals a bit, but this song is definitely a product of its time and I’m sure he was trying to sound somewhat like his American counterparts.

“Stab me in the Back” brings us back to old school speed metal, as well as another song writing credit to Yoshiki, who so far has written my favorite tracks on the album. The chorus for this track fucking rips.

“Love Replica” has both its music and lyrics written by the legendary and tragic figure of hide, who committed suicide in 1998, ushering in the end of an era. It has some interesting textures and it’s cool to see a song in 3/4 on a metal record, since the meter sees very little use within the scene. This track definitely has some early visual-kei vibes to it and it’s pretty creepy. I don’t think it fits in as its own track for the album, though, more of an interlude if anything.

“Joker” is also written by hide and is more of an actual song, but it’s also got a bit of that hair metal vibe to it. It’s not my favorite, though my kneejerk reaction is to feel bad for saying that since hide is such an important figure in Japanese rock and culture in general. I dunno. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s bad, but there’s not much in it that sticks out as my cup of tea.

The closing track, “Say Anything,” brings us another lyric and writing credit from Yoshiki, but it’s also another ballad and unfortunately this one feels pretty close to Meatloaf-esque. The English lyrics at least make sense but man this thing is cheesy. Another one where I’m sorry to say that because I’m pretty sure I saw a video of X-Japan playing “Say Anything” and “Forever Love” at hide’s tribute concert after he died and all the members of the band were crying their eyes out. I know it means a lot to them, but the song just hasn’t aged all that well. Things do improve toward the end, but for an eight minute song it’s too little too late for me. Yoshiki had 4 songwriting credits on Jealousy, and I guess this is the only one that didn’t grab me. You know what they say: three out of four ain’t bad.

Overall I’m glad I got over my Meatloaf-triggered balladphobia enough to give this literally legendary band an actual shot, especially now that they have a couple albums up for streaming. I was starting to feel guilty because of how much I like Japanese metal, but I hadn’t given the founders of the scene much of a listen. I’m not sure I’d place Jealousy alongside my favorite Maiden albums, but I definitely think I’ll be coming back for more.

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