In this final double-feature installment of our Original Love spotlight series, we follow Takao Tajima as he jumps ship from Toshiba to Pony Canyon, ditches the rest of his band, and experiments in too many genres to ever possibly list here.
“I’m not Shibuya-kei!”, Takao Tajima proclaimed in July of 1994. Although his work with Original Love and Pizzicato Five both had come to define the then-trendy Shibuya style, Tajima felt that the spirit of that movement was dead – and, looking back on Shibuya-kei in 1994 without the benefit of knowing what was just around the corner, it is surprisingly easy to see where he was coming from. As Shibuya-kei became more and more popular, a sort of homogenization started to creep into the sound that was antithetical to the scene’s original intent; instead of throwing everything at the wall without regard to what stuck, the same references were being recycled over and over. While, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know the best was yet to come, with debut albums from Hiroshi Fujiwara and Towa Tei coming only months after Tajima’s proclamation, one can understand how things like Kahimi Karie’s Girly hardly filled the elder musician with hope for the scene.
Along with the animosity towards Shibuya-kei came a desire for more control over Original Love’s music on Tajima’s part. In August of 1995, not long after signing to venerable label Pony Canyon and releasing fifth album RAINBOW RACE, Tajima officially dissolved the band and reinvented Original Love as a “solo unit.” In the years following Original Love’s reconfiguration as a solo project, Tajima experimented with a wildly varying set of styles, even employing the services of oddly-named turntablist L?K?O to provide scratches on the electronica-inspired L album in 1998. Nobody was about to try and pigeonhole Tajima as any one kind of musician, and in this period there is, really, only one way to describe the eclectic music he was making – although he loudly objected to the label, “Shibuya-kei” is, ultimately, the only term that fits. On standout efforts like L‘s “Mizu no Ongaku” (embedded above), so many disparate elements – including drum ‘n’ bass, jazz piano and percussion, classical string arrangements, and samples of water sounds – get thrown at the wall at once that it can be an overwhelming task just to keep track of them all, but, far more than anything made in the homogenized pastiche style that Tajima objected to so fiercely, it’s the messy collage of late ’90s Original Love that personified the spirit of Shibuya-kei.
Tajima has kept incredibly busy in the two decades since leaving his band behind and moving on to the greener pastures of work as a solo musician. Recently, though, he’s been going back to basics – his compositions for T-Palette Records’ girl group Negicco had much more in common to the sound on his early albums for Toshiba than the synthesizer-heavy works he had favoured from the late ’90s onwards, and soul-inspired single “Lover Man” has been proclaimed to be the “new signature sound” for Original Love. While 2013’s Electric Sexy found Tajima thoroughly embracing electronica, recently his compositions have been favouring keyboards in the 1970s vein – synthesized orchestration taking place of the organic sort, far more likely due to the fact that the live sort is prohibitively expensive and cumbersome to bring around on tour than due to actual artistic preferences. While on one hand, the throwback to the earlier days of Original Love can easily be seen as a massive step backwards – more than 20 years backwards, arguably – a musician can only try new things for so long before they inevitably find themselves wanting to go back to doing something they were really good at. Tajima has been frontman of a ’60s psychedelic throwback act, one of the foremost purveyors of Japanese soul, an adult-contemporary crooner, a trip-hop musician and many more things in his long career as a musician, and perhaps it’s safe to say he looked back over it all and figured that it couldn’t hurt to revisit an old style for once. Can always put an Original Love spin on dubstep with the next album, no need to reinvent the wheel this time around.