Album Flashback #4: Shiina Ringo - Sanmon Gossip

In between releasing Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana and the album we shall look at here, Sanmon Gossip, Shiina Ringo started a band you may know called Tokyo Jihen, released an orchestral album and explored various musical directions with a variety of collaborations. The result was an album firmly divided her army of listeners into two distinct camps.

The bright pink, faux nude cover art turns the contrast up completely from KSK’s darker visuals and sound overlays. This is evident on the album as well. The usual mix of dilettante melodies is present and very correct and the genres flip as rapidly as the Prime Minister of Japan changes. (And that’s often for those who didn’t get the cultural reference!)

In all honesty though, as much as her experimentation pleases the ears on most occasions there are rare moments when it fails to. The beginning of Sanmon Gossip is a case in point. The jazzy beats and cameo from rapper Mummy-D on Ryuukou (trans. Fashion) are on first listen somewhat jarring and on later listens they fare no better. Thus, despite the good intentions it doesn’t add up instantly to love. Things only improve when you get to third track Mittei Monogatari (trans. The Secret Agent Story) where we get woodwind and spy escapades with some nicely succinct English vocals. It’s an excellent and playful way to engage the listeners and for this reviewer it works.

Things get better as the album proceeds down its very strange path – There’s a plethora of keys lead songs such as the average Zero Chiten kara (trans. From The Beginning) and the engaging Shun (trans. The Best Season) but thankfully there is still some of the wonderful weirdness that makes a Shiina Ringo album what it should be. The psychedelic fairytale orchestra backing of Tsugou no ii Karada (trans. The Convenient Body) is quietly brilliant with an equally surreal promotional video and the frenetic beats of earlier albums return on Togatta Teguchi (trans. Sharp Trick) and the Soil & “Pimps” Sessions backed Mayakashi Yasaotoko (trans. Counterfeit Gentleman).

And as the album ends we get odd chanson-style songs such as the excellent Bonsai Hada (trans. Ordinary Ability) and a rather unnecessary remake of Marunouchi Sadistic from her debut album that is nice but feels very much a tagged on bonus track. So it’s a return from an artist that is ever restless that is steeped in domesticity, slower melodies and grander awareness of the sounds of the vast Japanese music scene but is it entirely successful? Certainly, it’s not anything like its predecessors but that’s not a bad thing in hindsight. When this was released in 2009 much was said about its ordinariness but perhaps that’s the point – there is excellence in eccentricity as there is excellence in a more rounded, comparatively ordinary sound. What you think is entirely up to yourself!

The title: Sanmon Gossip = Threepenny Gossip (ie: Cheap Gossip)

Highlights: Tsugou no ii Karada (trans. The Convenient Body); Mayakashi Yasaotoko (trans. Counterfeit Gentleman).

Reviewed by Sebastian Gahan.

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