In part three of our series on Hideki Kaji, we wrap up with a look at how his solo career has weathered the ages and remained, by and large, completely unchanged. Is this a good or a bad thing, though? Read on for the Memories of Shibuya perspective…
In the realm of grand narratives, few are as omnipresent as the “new vs. old” debate – whatever the topic, there will always be heated discussion over whether it is better to conserve the status quo or try something different, and for his own albums Hideki Kaji falls very squarely on the conservative side of this equation. A recent Hideki Kaji solo release is the kind of thing where one knows exactly what one is going to get before the first track begins, and any expectation of deviation from the tried-and-true formula that he’s been using to great effect since the mid-’90s would be considerably misplaced.
One of the things that made Shibuya-kei most attractive in its heyday was the fact that the music combined disparate elements to form an entirely unique kind of pop music, making worldly sounds for a largely-imaginary jet set. Shibuya in reality may only ever have been a somewhat overhyped shopping district, but the conceptual space of Shibuya-kei was the greatest place in the world – the musical equivalent of Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. However appealing as that fantasy may have been, though, listeners quickly got used to the once-unique blend, and in attempt to stay relevant, many of the scene’s luminaries set off in musical directions so drastically divergent that any attempt at characterizing “what Shibuya-kei sounds like” became just shy of entirely trivial. While Cornelius’s First Question Award album and Bridge’s Preppy Kicks back in 1994 shared easily 99% of their musical DNA, those same musicians’ 2013 releases – anime soundtrack Ghost in the Shell: ARISE for Cornelius, Sweet Swedish Winter for Hideki Kaji – do not bear even the slightest resemblance to each other.
Does this mean that Kaji has forsaken the original spirit of Shibuya-kei, rejecting musical eclecticism and adventurous sampling for familiar repetition of decades-old tropes? In a sense, yes. Yet, at the same time, he remains the figure most staunchly devoted to the Shibuya-kei image, a jet-setting romantic who dresses like a cartoon representation of continental European stereotypes decades out of date, his twee heart displayed proudly on his sleeve for all to see. While he probably could take a left turn and release an album of abrasive breakbeats or something similarly out-of-character, and that album would very likely be good, there’s something incredibly comforting about Kaji’s career-long devotion to safe familiarity. That he may be the best in the world at what he does – nobody else can craft perfect slices of neo-acoustic euphoria as consistently as Kaji – helps, naturally, but mostly it’s just good to know that he’ll always be there, and you can always know what you’re going to be getting when you listen to his music.
When it comes to more liberal interpretations of Shibuya-kei, there are no shortage of options – but the classical ideal is being kept gloriously alive as long as Hideki Kaji continues to record. And, perhaps, that’s more romantic than any of the man’s own lyrics.