Victims of Love: A History
Review by Cayce
May 15th, 2014
“Victims of Love” is unquestionably the most re-worked song in Buck-Tick’s repertoire. It is the only song they have recorded three separate times, in three separate arrangements (I’m not talking about live recordings here, only studio recordings.) They’ve spent more time on it than any other song, both playing with it and actually playing it—played live, in its second iteration, it was edging up on ten minutes long, a record length for a Buck-Tick song.
I can only assume they keep coming back to it because they love it just that much. And let’s be honest here—by “they love it,” I mean, “Mr. Sakurai loves it.” If Imai loves it, too, I'd guess he loves it especially because he loves Mr. Sakurai. One could even make the argument that this is one of Mr. Sakurai's defining songs, as a singer and lyricist. Originally released in 1988 on Buck-Tick’s third album, Seventh Heaven, this was the first song for which Sakurai penned lyrics that began to show the glimmerings of the dark, sensual, arresting poetry he would later produce. Both musically and lyrically, it was a head and shoulders more sophisticated than any other song on the album, or any other song the band had yet written at the time, yet at the time of its original release, the band members weren’t yet mature enough as musicians to fully do it justice. The fast tempo of the original recording makes the song feel too rushed to be truly evocative of sex, and the dramatic break on the word “hanarenaide” is, frankly, a little cheesy. Sakurai’s voice is still too light and youthful to summon up much darkness or despair, and the instrumentalists, while competent players by this point, haven’t yet mastered their instruments enough to let go into the flights of experimentation that characterized the second version of the song.
To view the PV, click HERE.
Buck-Tick improved so dramatically as a band following the release of Kurutta Taiyou that not re-recording some of their older hits using their more mature and polished musical chops would have seemed a waste. Thus, Buck-Tick’s self-cover album, Koroshi no Shirabe -This is NOT Greatest Hits-, was born. Some of the new arrangements were more successful than others—“Hyper Love” was a lusciously raw, tribal-sounding bit of batcave till it fell flat on its face, tripped up by its own silly chorus riff and childish lyrics; the formerly understated “Love Me” dissolved into bloated, rubbery loops of way, way too much slide guitar—but “Victims of Love” was easily the star of the album. With the tempo slowed to the speed of heavy breathing and the bass brought to the fore, just listening to the music began to feel like vicarious sex. Just the bass line feels like it’s fucking you already, and that’s even before we get to the lyrics!
Sakurai, now singing in his mature baritone voice, has fully developed the erotic gravitas and emotional range he hadn’t quite mastered at the time of the original release. This time, he really makes you feel what he’s feeling, and ohh baby it feels good. By the time the instrumental break arrives, you’ve been fully sucked into a dark, delirious dream world, and you’re content to be swept along in the current of Imai’s progressive guitar-synth fantasies, as he tries out one synth sound after another. If the second studio recording has one flaw, it's the abrupt ending—presumably meant to be an artistic evocation of the void left behind when the orgasm departs, instead, it always just makes me wonder if my stereo broke.
The live performance solved the problem of the broken ending, and like all of Buck-Tick’s best songs, this song was even better performed live. Onstage, it seemed to take on a life of its own, shedding its skin each tour to reveal an ever bigger, longer, deeper, more extraordinary version of itself. To my knowledge, there are at least three live videos of the band performing this second version of the song—This is NOT Greatest Tour; Climax Together, a large-scale concert Buck-Tick performed in Yokohama Arena for the express purpose of making a film; and the Darker Than Darkness tour final at the Shibuya Kokaido.
However, before that, the band performed a show called Satellite Circuit, which featured the band playing in an empty TV studio without an audience. The show was broadcast on pay-per-view TV and also in various theaters around the country. While the version of "Victims of Love" Buck-Tick performed during this show is really an extended arrangement of the original version, not the NOT Greatest Hits version, in the Satellite Circuit version, the song has already evolved well beyond the original recording, and is beginning to more close resemble Version 2.0, as seen below.
To view the Satellite Circuit live video of "Victims of Love," click HERE.
The Satellite Circuit performance was particularly noticeable for Imai’s stunning use of a cello bow on his guitar during the break, a stunt he only performed for a short while and has never repeated. The other notable element in this performance is Sakurai’s addition of new lyrics at the end of the song—
Omae no sono karada wo
Kono boku no karada no naka ni
—which translates to "that body of yours/thrust it inside my body." If that sounds more than just a bit gay to you, for what it’s worth, I’ll say that Sakurai has occasionally made oblique references to possibly being bisexual (as in this very early interview where he mentions having experienced romantic feelings for a man...perhaps you can guess who it was but there's no proof.) Anyway, the point is, there's no real reason to believe he’s singing from a woman's point of view here (he claimed to never have attempted singing from a woman's point of view until he performed a cover of Yuming's "Amaoto wa Chopin no Shirabe" for his solo project in 2004.) I’m not trying to start rumors about the sexuality of any of the band members, but I do think it’s pretty cool that Mr. Sakurai was brave enough to make such a blatant allusion to sexual fluidity on live TV.
Does that mean he and Imai are gay lovers after all? Sorry, fans, but I doubt it. After all, everyone knows you don't sex your marriage partner and Acchan and Maimai have been married for going on 30 years now. Does that mean you were right all along about making Acchan-chan the uke in your creepy sexfic? Maybe. How should I know, I’m just a tabloid journalist, after all :P And now back to our regularly scheduled program.
The live version of the song continued to evolve with Climax Together, viewable HERE.
The Climax Together version further expanded the instrumental break, and Imai worked in the melody from the Japanese folk song "Sakura," played on a koto-like synth tone. Again, Sakurai added a different set new lyrics at the end, which translate to,
“Who are you? Why is it? No matter where I go, I’m bound and tied
Who are you? Why is it? No matter where I go, I'm broken down
Who are you? Why is it? No matter where I go, I’m bound and tied
I'm broken down
I’m in pain”
At nine minutes, 53 seconds long, it was the longest version of the song the band ever performed, and arguably the definitive version, though the Satellite Circuit performance is a tough competitor. Watching these two performances side by side, in a way I get the sense that Sakurai was playing a different character in each. In Satellite Circuit, he’s mysteriously androgynous, and his partner may be a man. In Climax Together, he’s far more overtly masculine, and since his exclamation at the end this time is a simple English “Fuck me!” we can’t guess at the gender of his partner.
It’s hard to top Climax Together, but the band still wasn’t done with the song, and even by the time they got to the Darker Than Darkness tour, they still had tricks to pull. Memorably, at the final of Darker Than Darkness tour, during the instrumental break, Sakurai actually played the saxophone live onstage.
To my knowledge, this is the only time he's ever played the sax in public, though he is credited in the Six/Nine lyric booklet with playing saxophone on the studio recording of "Itoshi no Rock Star."
After that, "Victims of Love" lay dormant for a long time. But then, in 2010, just as I was thinking of it with nostalgia and wondering if the band were done with it for good, they wheeled it out again in an all-new tango-style arrangement on the first stop of Tour 2010 Go on the Razzle Dazzle (Cayce was there, read the report HERE). The arrangement they played at that show was reasonably close to the studio recording that appears on Keijijou Ryuusei, though shorter, and lacking the input of Kokushoku Sumire—that is to say, there were neither violins nor backup vocals. There was also no coda at the end. Instead, Sakurai finished the song singing in falsetto, repeating bits of the lyrics to the chorus. The song became a staple of the setlist for the entire tour, and appears on film as part of the Go on the Razzle Dazzle tour DVD.
The Razzle Dazzle tour version is viewable HERE.
It also appeared on the live CD which was included as part of the limited first edition of this DVD, but it never surfaced on an album or single, which seemed a waste.
Therefore, when Imai first began dropping hints on his blog that he was redoing an old song, I had a feeling it was going to be “Victims of Love,” and of course, we now know I wasn’t wrong. However, I certainly couldn’t have predicted that Kokushoku Sumire would have been enlisted as backing musicians.
Despite my personal feelings about the quality of Kokushoku Sumire's solo work, I had hope that the new recording would be good—Imai’s known for being a nitpicky tyrant in the studio, and I figured if anyone could make lolitas sound good, it would be him. Yuka, vocalist of Kokushoku Sumire, detailed on the band's blog about how long and difficult the recording process was, how she recorded the backing vocals all alone in the largest room at Victor Studio, how very many takes she was asked to do. She also mentioned that Sakurai was not present at the time of recording, so their vocal tracks were mixed together after the fact, and claimed, somewhat unnecessarily, that “Sakurai-san’s vocals are just sooo erotic this time! Like an erotic power-up!”
Since the lolita subculture tends to champion asexuality, I wasn’t sure I could trust a lolita’s word on this, but in the March issue of the Fish Tank newsletter, Sakurai himself said, "I feel that at last, I've been able to express this feeling naturally. At last, after twenty years, this song has become a song for adults, you know? (laughs)"
So…was he right? Unfortunately, I’m not sure he was. Overall, this new recording demonstrates all the technical prowess and depth that Buck-Tick are able to deliver as seasoned professionals with the best equipment in the industry at their disposal, and for his part, Sakurai’s vocals sound great. He's never sounded better than he sounds now. Still, I’m a little less sure about Imai’s guitar tone…it feels more clipped and crunchy than the tone in the Razzle Dazzle version, where a longer delay gave the guitar part watery depths the studio recording lacks, though this effect might also have been a product of the sound echoing in a large live hall, rather than a studio. Though the style of the new arrangement calls to mind the darkness, romance and eroticism of the French chanson and German art song, losing the original throbbing bass riff takes some of the sensuality out of the actual music, and I can’t help but regret that loss, at least a little bit. On the other hand, now it’s a tango, which is just about the sexiest of dances, so perhaps this arrangement is more about musical foreplay than musical intercourse, and that's okay, too.
While the violin isn’t my favorite instrument, I have to concede that in the context of this song, it works quite nicely. Artfully avoiding both squeakiness and saccharine sweetness (two of the violin’s worst potential faults), it harmonizes beautifully with the accordion to create a sense of old-fashioned melancholy. Scratchy sweeps from resonant low tones to high mournful wails sound almost like crying, or sighing. Props to Imai, for coaxing this depth out of Kokushoku Sumire, because I have not found it to be characteristic of their music. The violinist, at least, was worth hiring (if you can ignore her stupid cupcake outfits.)
However, I can’t say the same for the backing vocals. It’s not that they’re bad, exactly—like the violin, they manage to avoid the phony, affected cuteness that is one thing I so detest about lolita, though I credit this less to Yuka and more to Imai for ordering her around in the studio.
At the same time, the backing vocals don’t really add anything to the song. Contrary to the usual expectations for backing vocals (that they should be harmonies over the main vocalist, or the second voice in a duet), in this song, Yuka functions largely like a human theremin, wailing out eerie legato riffs like moist silver cupcake frosting over Imai’s guitar, and occasionally over Sakurai's vocals. But in general, she's mixed down to such pianissmo levels that it's hard to take her vocals more seriously than the whining of a stray cat from outside the window.
The song begins with this wail, and while in the introduction, Yuka’s vocals do a good enough job of establishing a mournful, ghostly vibe, they're no more effective than the breathing-underwater synth sounds that served as the intro to the Razzle Dazzle Tour version. But once we get to the instrumental break, where Yuka sings over the entire second half of Imai’s guitar solo, I begin to wonder, what’s the point of her being there? A theremin could have done the job just as well, and more stylishly, too. Yuka doesn't actually sing any words until the song's coda, an entirely new addition that appears only in this version of the song. While I like the fact that Buck-Tick wanted to add some new lyrics and melody this time around to set version 3.0 apart, I can't say I approve of the choices they made in this case. Listening to it for the first time, I believe the words "what the fuck is this shit?" exited my mouth, causing my companion some alarm.
Here are the new lyrics:
Give me a kiss
On this, the last night
Now we two are victims of love
You are a dream
I am a dream
Ah love me, victims of love
Standing up on tiptoe
We shall dance with death
Now we two are victims of love
You are a dream
I am a dream
Ah kill me victims of love
Part of my outbust was just surprise, not haterade...but really. I haven't heard anything this silly come out of Sakurai's mouth since "Doll"...and I'm pretty sure "Doll" was intended as nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek joke. Given that in the "Victims of Love" coda, Sakurai uses the feminine particle "wa" at the end of his phrase "we shall dance with death," perhaps he means this as a tongue-in-cheek joke, too...but that interpretation would kind of seem to negate his declaration that this is now "a song for adults." Frankly, this coda is pretty damn lolita, and the lolita's entire raison d'etre is to deny adulthood forever, if possible, so I just don't buy it. Paired with the raw, mature honesty of the rest of the lyrics, this coda seems like nothing more than contrived gothloli boilerplate.
Beyond that, despite the fact that Sakurai is ostensibly singing a duet with a woman, and despite the fact that this song is ALL ABOUT SEX, the end product of this recording couldn't be more chaste. As vocalists, Sakurai and Yuka's voices have no chemistry whatsoever, and they're not even equal partners in the duet - Yuka's still singing in the background, while Sakurai's voice is brought to the fore, so it doesn't feel like they're getting it on or even dancing around like Mana-approved marionette dolls - it just feels like for some reason, a whistling teakettle is singing along with Sakurai as he attempts a throwback to the good old days of 13kai.
Okay, that was overkill...but here, just as everywhere else in the song, Yuka sounds more like an anthropomorphic instrument than another physical person. She has less character than any other backing vocalist Buck-Tick has ever employed, including the lady who did that breathy panting snowflake stuff on "Dress," and ultimately, this is what disappoints me.
Why? Because the lack of sexual chemistry between the two voices throws cold water on the eros of the rest of the song. Sakurai would have easily been able to carry the song on his own. He never sang it with a partner before, and it worked out just fine.
Therefore, to my mind, given the theme of the lyrics, the only convincing reason to include a second vocalist would be to make the song a sexy duet, with the second vocalist playing the role of Sakurai's paramour. Whatever Sakurai's private personal preferences with regard to paramours may be, in a performance context, the choice of a soprano lolita is clearly wrong.
Why? Because lolitas, with their deliberately childish, virginal aesthetic, just don't fit with the kind of erotic ennui evoked by this song. Lolita subculture idolizes chaste, one-sided love. Lolitas like to admire their "princes" from afar. After all, if lolitas play at being little girls, pure and proper at all times, how can they claim experienced sexuality? It's not proper and it's not for children.
But "Victims of Love" is not about puppy love, and it's not about losing your virginity. It's not about romantic princes or happily-ever-afters. It's about that moment when you've fucked so much you don't know who you are anymore, and then you're done, and you and your lover become separate people again...your sweat dries and you realize you're cold without your clothes and you snuggle up to them to keep warm, and realize that no matter how close you get to that person you'd like to be part of, you can never actually be one. It's about the morning after, the day after, the week after...the way that even after the most passionate consummation, there's a way in which physical desire can never truly be fulfilled. There's a way in which the sweetest moment hurts the most. Because you may be able to get inside that person's body, but you can't see inside their heart and mind, and when you're passionately in love with someone, that's what you want. You want everything about them, and it will never truly be yours.
To pull off this song as a duet with Sakurai, a vocalist would need to have a significant level of erotic presence. She (or he, let's be fair here) would need to make you feel that need, that heat, that sensuality and pain, and she'd have to sing with him, not behind him. To my mind, we'd have to feel like she was panting on his face, just like the lyrics describe. Perhaps if Buck-Tick actually did this, it would piss off a lot of fangirls, but if it were done well, with the right vocalist, I think it would have been truly new, and potentially very effective.
As it stands now, version 3.0 is perfectly competent and listenable, but I think they could have ditched Yuka's vocal entirely and made it a better song. She's credited with playing accordion, too, and the accordion works well, so they wouldn't have to kick her out of the studio, if Imai's so desperate for frills.
Also, on the newness front...I'm quite sure it's a product of convergent evolution (i.e., a coincidence) but this song does sound an awful lot like Der Zibet's "Arurukan no Namida" ("Tears of Harlequin")...another song to feature insufferably frilly violinists (good gods are you telling me there are more of them???) Yet somehow I kind of think Der Zibet pulled if off better. I'm not sure why...perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Mahito magically played the piano and the accordion at the same time.
And speaking of piano, why did Buck-Tick go to the trouble of hiring Ken Morioka to play keyboard and then mix the final track so you can barely hear him? When I spoke to Mr. Morioka about the progress of the recording, he did say he was nervous to be working with Imai, but it seems he needn't have been, since it seems he might as well not have been there.
Anyway, in conclusion: I have no doubt that if Buck-Tick decide to perform this song on the live tour, it will grow and evolve beyond the confines of the CD. In the meantime I'll cross my fingers tightly against guest appearances by Kokushoku Sumire because please lord spare us. But at the same time, I still think the Climax Together version was the best. Because when it comes to Buck-Tick, more sax is always better.
<< Back to Reviews <<