First of all I’d like to state that all I’m about to say is only and solely my opinion alone. There might be people who disagree with some statements on this article but please understand this is just me sharing my opinion and asking you what do you think. No hard feelings and sorry in advance if I will offend you somehow (really now).
From 2014 onwards since the release of ‘Mighty Long Fall’ Japanese rock band ONE OK ROCK have been collaborating with American producer John Feldmann for the album ’35xxxv’ and its latest material, the deluxe version of the latter. Its deluxe edition which was released in the U.S back on September 2015 with the extra tracks ‘Last Dance’ and ‘The Way Back’, was completely recorded in fully fluent English. While it’s not the first time Taka may have performed exclusively in English, it is the first time he has done it to this extent where the whole album is in English.
Since the early release of the Japanese version of ’35xxxv’ to its American release the band has greatly changed their concept to a more American hardcore tone, which does have an impact on their music and image. Talking about image, the band has changed it and they have changed a lot too.
The less Japanese ONE OK ROCK…
In the last 2 years we have seen Taka rock the craziest hairstyles, such as a red-ish dark toned style to an electric green style to later on settle to a blond short hair cut that pretty much give him and the band overall a new image, apart front the fact that the other members: Tomoya, Toru and Ryota have changed their looks too but overall the front-man Taka is the one who has changed the most. Now the colorful hairstyles are a thing that I’d expect to see in a K-Pop boyband rather than in a J-Rock band, specially if the J-Rock band we are talking about doesn’t even embrace the slightest of Visual Kei style. Sure blond Taka may be killing it with his hair but after being a fan of the band for like 4 years and always having seen the man with his wavy curly long ass normal hair, it feels a bit awkward to get used to it. Oh yeah we also have the white hair from ‘The Way Back’…
ONE OK ROCK during the ‘Jinsei x Boku=’ era.
Moving on from the changes on their appearances, there is the music. The music itself has not changed to a point where is unrecognizable. But it has changed, considerably. First of all I’d like to talk about ’35xxxv’ as a cliche product when compared to its previous predecessors. I believe the peak of ONE OK ROCK musically is ‘Jinsei x Boku =’, now ‘Jinsei x Boku =’ is pretty much what ONE OK ROCK is all about, or it was at least. That album has many different styles packed together in way so cleanly fit that it almost feels as if all songs are major singles. There is progressive rapping, yelling, soft vocals and strong bass lines and guitar accompanied by a persistent drumming that is intense but stable. ‘Ending Story??’ is pretty much the best song to highlight all this elements mentioned before, lyrics of course are also sincere, deep and good too which made the album even better. Juvenile, Be The Light, the same as… represent the band in a really meaningful way that reaches the audience effectively.
Now seeing all of this, when compared to 35xxxv, the latter album feels rather weak.
First of all we have pretty basic lyrics, which even use repetitive chorus a lot, track ‘Memories’ being the best example of this. The song itself is good but the lyrics are lazy. Take a look at the main part:
“You’re just a Memory Memory now
You are nothing but a
Memory Memory now
You’re burning out
Utsurikawari iku sedai koutai
Atooi wa shinai shin sedai
Memory Memory now
Go on and f**k yourself”
Now, this I swear down, never ever before in the discography of ONE OK ROCK, have you heard Taka using repetition this much. Tell me one song, just one song before 35xxxv that repeats the same word 6 times in the main line, and then adds some cursing to it. This is way too simple and weak. A rookie band does this, not one that has been around for 10 years now, if you now what I’m saying.
Then you have ‘Take Me To the Top’ with the same issue. The same line gets repeated over 10 times, like wow, I could swear 30% of the whole album is just Taka repeating the same line/word over and over again. I could go on but we need to get to the good bit yet and I do still have lots to talk about before that.
In terms of the instrumental, there are things that could have been done better. Main fix for me would be the final breakdown at ‘Mighty Long Fall’. Now I don’t know if you have seen the live version of the song, but if you haven’t here it is down below.
Now skip to 3:44. What you are listening to right now is waaaaaay better than the studio album version, why? Because it’s rock my friend. I prefer this over the autotuned yelling at the end of the song in the album version. You see I like ONE OK ROCK because of their rock music. If I wanted to hear autotune or something like that then I’d be listening to vocaloid songs. Which brings me to the next point, there is a autotune in the album and although its use is minimal it’s still there, and I for one consider it unnecessary. Taka’s voice doesn’t need autotune, he has never used it before, why does he need it now? Is voice is unique and powerful so please John Feldmann leave it intact as it is.
Back on the days when ONE OK ROCK used to produce, songwrite and arrange their music by their own.
Now, John Feldmann, this man is an excellent musician and producer. But I don’t want him to be a producer for ONE OK ROCK. His music is too american and although it’s good, is NOT unique. Up until very recently it was Taka and the band who composed and rearranged the music ONE OK ROCK did. And all songs were so good and different from each other. Feldmann on the other side is pretty much the reason why ONE OK ROCK is what is now. Let Taka do the production because the kid has talent and power, you sir are rather stuck in the same music cycle plus you’re limiting Taka’s writing-producing skills. No offense though you’re still amazing but you have seen better days man.
Finally there is a good thing that I believe ONE OK ROCK has developed quite well lately. Their ballads. Taka confessed how being in America opened him up to many musical genres and one of them who he said he really loved was country music. Now I’m not really fan of the genre myself but I believe Taka’s skills in soft music have improved a lot. ‘Heartache’, ‘Good Goodbye’ and ‘Fight the Night’ are amazing songs and so evolved when compared to other rock ballad/soft songs the band has done in previous albums. This is in terms of vocal performance (powerful but so smooth) and instrumental (calming but intense). The lyrics are a bit weak because of the issue I mentioned before but still really really good songs.
After putting all my thoughts into how ONE OK ROCK has been performing lately, I can tell you this. ONE OK ROCK is not a bad band right now. Their music is still good. It is different, and may not be as polished an unique has their previous works but it’s still good music, specially their soft songs. Yet from this point on is when ONE OK ROCK is set to choose a path. Either keep working with Feldmann and American musicians until they pull out something really good and that works well with both old and new fans or they can go back to their old way of doing things and adapt their American discography experience to their older stuff but still making everything themselves.
What they will do, is up to them ultimately, after all they are all following their dreams and goals. What I know though, is that is not the first time this has happened where a band completely changes their style. X Japan started as a very heavy progressive rock band then toned down their image and focused on rock ballad songs, then they broke up and came back with a sound just as good as that of their beginnings. LUNA SEA also has gone the same path. L’Arc-en-Ciel’s latest single ‘Wings Flap’ for an instance is also pretty much like their very first music from their album ‘Dune’. All I’m trying to say is that all bands go through this process where basically they make changes and experiment with their sound. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out to be as good as what they did before, sometimes it does. But at the end of the day, all bands are bound to trace back to their origins. So is ONE OK ROCK. Maybe you don’t like them as much as you used to, but let them experiment all they want while they can. One day, although I can’t say for certain that it will happen, but it is very probable that one day they will return even better than how they are now or have ever been. I don’t think you will see a Taka in his mid 30s having some green or blond hair, they all grow older and tone down their style.
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