Artist Spotlight: Original Love, music

Artist Spotlight: Original Love (week two)

Every month, Memories of Shibuya will be taking a look at a different artist or group, with featured songs – one per week – highlighting the peaks (and, occasionally, troughs) of their musical career.

Original Love underwent some dramatic changes along with the transition from an indie label to the major leagues, and one of the most dramatic changes was in the adoption of a completely new sound – one far more in line with the Shibuya-kei movement that was quickly picking up steam than the rock music that Tajima first made his name with.

(No studio version available for streaming, but enjoy this live take!)

After making a splash in the late ’80s indie scene, Takao Tajima’s Original Love was quickly picked up by a major label hungry for a piece of the Shibuya-kei pie – but the band that got signed to Toshiba EMI in 1991 was an entirely different beast than the one that recorded the group’s self-titled debut back in 1988. Original members Yukihiro Akiyama and Makoto Ori had since left the group, replaced on drums and bass, respectively, by Shigeo Miyata and studio player Tomio Inoue – the latter of whom played on recordings and toured with the group, but was never an “official” member. Partially due to the lineup change, which also found the group adding keyboard player Ryuutarou Kihara and brass/woodwind specialist Nobuyuki Mori, and partially due to the influence of Pizzicato Five (which Tajima had been a member of until being replaced by vocalist Maki Nomiya in 1990), the Original Love of Kesshou -SOUL LIBERATION-, the group’s first original album for a major label, bore little resemblance to its earlier incarnation, and the music was all the better for it.

Clearly inspired by the popularity of Shibuya-kei contemporaries Flipper’s Guitar, Pizzicato Five and Bridge, Kesshou found Tajima branching out from references to ’60s English psychedelia and finding inspiration in ’70s jazz, funk and soul. While not to the same extent as acts like Rats & Star, the influence of “black” music on Original Love could hardly be understated, and the group’s music palette was all the richer for it. Tajima had already flirted with jazz and world-music sounds with Pizzicato Five, with Kesshou‘s use of tribal percussion a direct continuation of the other group’s “African Queen,” and the album’s vibrant cross-cultural appropriation lent a real gravity to the “soul liberation” in its title.

Although finding the true highest point of Kesshou is incredibly difficult – it’s a fantastic album through and through – “million secrets of jazz” makes the strongest contender for the title. With new players Kihara and Mori taking center stage as the group runs through a dizzying number of jazz standards, the song is one of the most fun things in the band’s discography – and about as far away from the neo-GS style of Original Love as possible. Through its numerous twists and turns, “million secrets” tells you in so many ways why Tajima was so eager to leave rock behind for the greener pastures of Shibuya-kei, and he was as every bit as deft in the new style he adopted as he was in the old one he was leaving behind.

Part one, parts three and four.

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