Elise no Tame ni Review
Review by Cayce
May 23rd, 2012


First of all, in establishing their own label, Buck-Tick have taken a step in the right direction with presentation and art direction, if nothing else. The special edition comes in a slipcase printed on sturdy, glossy paper much harder to tear or soil than the materials typically used by BMG/Ariola, and features simple, arresting stills of the various band members taken from the PV on the outside covers and behind each disc. The whole thing is easy to put in and take out of the slipcase, easy to open up, and beautiful to look at. Think I'm shallow for focusing on the packaging too much? Go back and look at the booklets for Tenshi no Revolver or Kyokutou I Love You, then come back and talk to me again. Since Buck-Tick are selling this thing for a whopping 2500 yen in an age where apparently lots of youngsters don't listen to "albums," let alone "singles," and buy virtually all of their music on iPeens, they have the right idea about making this maxi-single so physically appealing that it's worth the waste of meatspace to actually drag yourself to a record store and buy it, rather than just steal it off the maxi-cloudpad or something.

However, if we shouldn't judge a vocalist by what his face looked like in a PV from 20 years ago, we also shouldn't judge a single by its slipcase...though in the case of Elise no Tame ni, the atmosphere of the jacket design echoes the themes of the songs so well it must be a deliberate choice. Just as the case features simple, repeated, largely monochromatic photos, all three songs feature simple, repeated guitar and vocal hooks layered over basslines that are more rhythm than melody, with deliberately stripped-down lyrics. The theme here is existential truth; fitting for the band's 25th anniversary single, and full of references to the band's previous works. The single guitar riff of "Elise no Tame ni" contains hints of "Mienai Mono," just as the monochrome palate and creative use of negative space in the deceptively simple "Elise" PV hearken back to the brilliant series of videos the band made for each song on the Six/Nine album, which similarly relied more on lighting and camerawork than gussied-up models to get their message across. 

The lyrics to "Elise" take the phoniness of contemporary Japanese pop head-on. Turn on the radio or music TV in Japan these days, and you'll be assaulted with an endless string of trite anthems about eternal love. The lyrics to most of the chart-topping songs are so similar it would be easy to come up with most of them out of a 100-word magnetic poetry kit, and they're all about the same thing: I love you forever, you are the only one I will ever love, you are the sweetest, thank you from my heart. In "Elise," Imai calls bullshit. Time passes quickly, he says. Love and gentleness are all well and good, but can't you think of anything deeper and more real to say? There is no such thing as forever, and that spark between two people, or indeed between Buck-Tick and their listeners, doesn't have anything to do with sweet talk or empty promises - it's something ineffable, tied up in the very frailty of existence, full of wounds, and storms, and demons. Love hurts, and we crave the pain. Listening to these lyrics, it's particularly impressive how Imai's and Sakurai's styles have merged over the years. Imai is working with all of Sakurai's favorite themes and pet words here. If this song is partly about the relationship between Buck-Tick and their fans, perhaps it's also secretly a little tribute by Buck-Tick's main songwriter to their main lyricist.

"Yumemiru Uchuu" also recalls some of Buck-Tick's past work, especially the dreamy, layered chords of "Trans," and perhaps even Cube Juice's song "Tensei," written for Sakurai's solo project, though this is probably the first time Buck-Tick has done anything quite so definitively shoegaze. While failing to match the catchiness of "Elise," or break into new territory for the band, the song feels like a memory, with both drum and melody lines seeming to drag behind the guitar, and so many vocal tracks it's hard to tell which line is the lead in some places. In the lyrics, Sakurai deliberately retraces fragments of many earlier songs (including "Tensei"), while still managing to arrive at something new. He's been chewing over the meaning of life and death in his lyrics for twenty years now, but in this song, more than any other, the fear and despair that pervaded earlier albums like Darker Than Darkness, Six/Nine and Sexy Stream Liner has been replaced with a sort of serene enlightenment; drifting without struggling. Thematically, this might be "Solaris, Part II."

And while the choice to put rearranged versions of "My Eyes & Your Eyes" and "Tight Rope" on the Rendezvous and Alice in Wonder Underground singles seemed more or less arbitrary, "SANE -type II-" rounds out the triptych of Elise no Tame ni very well. While purists may reject out of hand Buck-Tick's experiments in reworking old songs, both the originality and cohesiveness of the reworked versions is a testament to the band's extreme versatility, which has always been one of their greatest strengths. In "SANE -type II-," what was previously a mysterious and sinister monologue by Sakurai becomes an upbeat dialogue a la "Tango Swanka" between Imai's monotone spoken-word and Sakurai's melodic chorus. The line "Now I'm insane, but I must go when I go," which was the de-facto thesis statement of the original song, becomes almost an afterthought in this version - if this is still insanity, the whole band is insane now, and they seem to be enjoying it, too. Yes, this new arrangement owes a whole lot to Bauhaus - but then, Buck-Tick as a band owe a whole lot to Bauhaus, and they certainly haven't forgotten their roots. The climax of this song happens to be the exact same chord progression as the climax (no pun intended) of "Sexual XXXXX!" and no one could possibly think that's a coincidence.

While song for song, this single may not be quite as innovative as the band's previous single Kuchizuke, after the heavy glossiness of Razzle Dazzle, it feels like a breath of fresh air. It hangs together tightly as a complete unit, a work of art all on its own. Whether its cohesiveness and general lack of schlock, sap, fluff, or cheese has anything to do with not having to please executive producers, I cannot say, but I can say I like it.


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