I’ve teased about this album a bit in my previous reviews; namely, that some serious stuff went down during this period in Shoko Suzuki’s career. In my review for Hourglass, I wrote that album was a bit of a turning point for Shoko musically, in that it was her first record with Hiroaki Sugawara and that you could hear traces of where her music would end up going. However, RadioGenic is probably the key turning point in Shoko’s entire career. The album, released on November 1, 1993, signaled the beginning and end of Shoko’s brief stay in the pop limelight — and very nearly signaled the end of her career, period.
The impetus for this album was, incidentally, Hourglass itself. Or rather, Epic Sony’s reaction to the record. As I noted in the review for that album, the sound and overall feel was a bit darker — or more melancholy, perhaps — than Shoko’s previous records. This, in addition to the poor chart performance of Hourglass (Top 50, when Shoko previously consistently hit the Top 40) led to a mandate from Epic Sony: this time around they wanted an upbeat, bright sounding pop record from Shoko (presumably something they felt would sell). To help achieve this, producer Satoshi Kadokura was brought in, as was a new A&R director from Sony: Takeshi Namura, a former professional bass player who had worked with singer Ann Lewis back in the early 1980s.
Additionally, after writing many of the lyrics for her previous three albums, Shoko would not write a single word on any of the songs on RadioGenic. Instead, several lyricists were brought in: Mariko Okabe (who would later write the lyrics for several hits by Johnny’s boy band TOKIO), famed anime and video game composer Yuki Kajiura (oddly enough, this gives Shoko Suzuki her second link to the Kimagure Orange Road franchise, as Kajiura would later compose the music for the Shin Kimagure Orange Road film in 1996) and Masumi Kawamura, who would be writing lyrics for Shoko for the first time since Kaze no Tobira.
Also, in what seems to be a classic case of “Hey, let’s put a recording artist from the West on our record, and maybe it’ll sell!” syndrome that you’ll sometimes see in the Japanese music industry, Corey Hart was tapped to write a song to sing as a duet with Shoko on RadioGenic. Yes, that Corey Hart. “Sunglasses at Night” Corey Hart. Predictably, Hart’s song “Original Aim” was released as a single, though it did not chart.
There are more-or-less two backing bands on the album — those on the Kadokura tracks, and those on the tracks Hiroaki Sugawara (who was brought in on the project later) produced. Hirokazu Ogura is the only player to split time with both backing bands, playing most of the guitar on the album (Shoko’s longtime producer, Yoshiyuki Sahashi, makes his only appearance playing guitar on “Original Aim”). Shoko’s instrumental contributions are limited mostly to the Sugawara tracks; she plays a little keyboard and some drums on those, and (appropriately) a chime on “Chime” (which is a Kadokura-produced song).
Recording sessions for RadioGenic began in September of 1992, and quickly things turned sour. In order to achieve Epic Sony’s order of poppy goodness, songs were recorded and re-recorded, with numerous takes of each song piling up — in addition to numerous edits and cleanup jobs and what not — presumably leading to frayed nerves and ill feelings all around. Recording expenses piled up, which apparently did not make Epic Sony very happy — Shoko writes that they even blacklisted her at one point. To top it off, in the middle of the recording sessions Shoko lost her voice completely. Obviously this meant no new recording could take place until Shoko’s voice healed, which probably led to more tensions between Shoko and her record company.
In the middle of this mess, however, Shoko would achieve her greatest success as a songwriter. She had composed a song and offered it to her old acquaintence, Kyoko Koizumi. After Koizumi had written a suitable set of lyrics, the song was recorded and released as a single. The resulting track was Yasashii Ame featuring Shoko on backing vocals (Shoko also arranged the song’s backing vocals). This ballad would eventually stay on the Oricon singles chart for 15 weeks, reaching a peak of #2 (it was held out of the top spot by Shizuka Kudo’s Doukoku). To this day it is Shoko’s most well-known song. She herself recorded two versions of the song during the RadioGenic sessions; the first — arranged by Satoshi Kadokura — was similar to Kyoko Koizumi’s version, a slow pop song with sythesized backing. The second, recorded after Shoko recovered her voice, was a simple arrangment (by Shoko herself) featuring only vocal and acoustic guitar (by Chuei Yoshikawa). Shoko’s first version was released as the B-side of the “Radio no Youni” single, the second closes the RadioGenic album itself.
As I noted earlier, at some point during the sessions, Hiroaki Sugawara was brought in (I imagine it was after Shoko had recovered from her vocal problems). In addition to handing the production on two new songs, Sugawara went back to two other songs started under Kadokura — the aforementioned “Radio no Youni” and “My Love, My Love” — and finished them. When all was said and done, RadioGenic was complete — a mere 11 months after sessions began. Indeed, the album’s first single, “Tokimeki wa Namida ni Makenai,” was released in May of 1993 — three months before the album was finished.
A funny thing happened after RadioGenic was released, though — despite all the problems, the tensions, and goodness knows what else, the album sold, just like Epic Sony had wanted. Even more, the “Radio no Youni” single charted — only Shoko’s second single ever to do so (a #88 chart peak isn’t much to get excited over, but it was a new high ranking for Shoko). Even better, the RadioGenic album itself broke the Top 20 — it peaked at #18, by far Shoko’s best ranking in the Oricon album charts to date. Some of that was probably due to the massive success of “Yasashii Ame” for Kyoko Koizumi (Shoko made several TV appearances singing the song herself), but the fact remained that Epic Sony had the hit record they wanted from Shoko when they gave her their demands back in the fall of 1992. And Shoko had major success for the first time in her career as both a songwriter and a performer — a Top 20 record and a #2 single.
And she wanted out.
Shoko, apparently, had enough of the music business. The RadioGenic sessions had affected her greatly; she decided to retire.
THE SONGS: (Click on a title to hear a sample)
Once again, some of the songs have both a Japanese and English title. I realize the English titles sometimes have awkward phrasing (and in one case a misspelled word); this is how the songs are listed on the album cover.
Radio no Youni / On the Radio
One of the tracks started by Satoshi Kadokura that was later finished under Hiroaki Sugawara’s watch, and also the album’s second single. One of the few — if only — songs on the album with any kind of rock flavor to it, thanks largely to Hiroshi Tamaki’s guitar hero antics during the song’s instrumental break. Probably my favorite song on the record, and one that was later re-recorded by Shoko with a rockier arrangment.
This is the second Shoko Suzuki song to feature bass playing by future Puffy bass player Takamune Negishi (the first was “Little Wing” on the Hourglass album).
Koufuku no Ki / A Little Tree Named Happiness
This song is so bouncy I’d almost think Shoko was mocking Epic Sony’s directive to make more upbeat songs (you know, like “You want pop? Well I’ll give you pop!”). Features no live bass nor live drums (ahhh, programmed backing tracks). Was also the B-side of “Tokimeki wa Namida ni Makenai.”
A slightly slower pop song (with a soprano saxophone blowing all over the place) that still manages to somehow sound extremely upbeat thanks to the peppy chorus and arrangement. Features some nice lead and backing vocals.
Tokimeki wa Namida ni Makenai / Love is Stronger Than Tears
This is a great pop song. I love almost everything about it — the hooks, the melody, the singing…everything except the beamed-in-from-the-1980s saxophone solo. Like “Koufuku no Ki,” a lot of the backing on this song is programmed. This was also the album’s first single, but did not chart.
Sora no Kyuuka / Looking Up the Blue Sky
A slower-but-still-cheery-sounding pop song with a harmonica part that sounds like it was borrowed from That’s What Friends Are For.
Goodbye, My Friend
An honest-to-goodness ballad — and quite a pretty one, at that — with just an acoustic guitar supporting Shoko’s vocal. A nice change of pace from the super-peppy pop that had been featured up to this point. This track features lyrics from Yuki Kajiura.
This collaboration with Corey Hart did generate some press at the time it was recorded, which may or may not have helped album sales. However, as the final single released from RadioGenic, it did not chart.
This was the first time Shoko had sung an entire song in English on record — she’s actually quite talented at singing in English. She also, despite her claims to the contrary, is pretty good at writing in English, too (including songs); she would feature more English songs (both covers and originals) in the years to come. Her talents in English are probably due to her loving a lot of Western pop and rock, and also because she spent a little time in Houston, Texas when she was 14.
BONUS: A live TV performance of this song (without Corey Hart, though) from 1993 or ’94.
Ryoute Ippai / A Flower With No Name
A nice, fairly brisk pop song, and the only track on the record where Shoko plays drums (though she does play hi-hat and cymbals on the next track).
“Yashashii Ame” gets more attention, but this track probably also contributed to the popularity of RadioGenic, as it was chosen to be the closing theme to the final four OAVs of the Heroic Legend of Arslan series (spanning from 1993 through 1995). Interestingly enough, this track was kept as the ending theme when the English dub was made.
BONUS: A clip from the English dub of a part of the Arslan OAV — “Ryoute Ippai” is heard at the end.
My love, my love
The second track started by Satoshi Kadokura that was finished later by Hiroaki Sugawara. A nice slower pop song, and one of my favorites on the record. Shoko plays piano on this track.
Yasashii Ame / Soffly as the Little Rain Fall
As noted above, this was Shoko’s second recording of this song. I can only guess that she wanted a version not so close to Kyoko Koizumi’s original, since Shoko arranged this track herself. It was also this arrangment Shoko generally used when she performed the song on TV at the time (when she plays this live now, she sings while accompanying herself on piano).
Despite its lofty status in Shoko’s career, this song is not one of my absolute favorites by Shoko (though I do like it). I do like this sparse arrangment more than Koizumi’s version or Shoko’s original take, though.
BONUS: A live TV performance of this song from 1993/4.
BONUS TRACKS: (B-sides, rarities, etc.)
Yasashii Ame (single version)
B-side of “Radio no Youni.” As stated earlier, this version is a bit more like Kyoko Koizumi’s original version of the song, with programmed backing and a bit more of a beat than the later re-recording. I like the backing vocals on this, but on the whole I think Shoko made the right choice by re-doing the song for RadioGenic.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
B-side of “Original Aim” (which was released in December 1993). I like this version of the song well enough (a harpsichord is always good), but the backing vocals sound like they were pasted in from a Broadway musical or something.
Tatta Hitori no Anata
An outtake from the RadioGenic sessions, and not released until SHO-CO-SONGS collection 3 in 2009. Honestly, if this song would have made the record it probably would have been one of the highlights. For some reason it reminds me of the upbeat tracks Shoko would later write for Maaya Sakamoto. Also, had this song made it onto RadioGenic it would have been the only song with lyrics written by Shoko.
RadioGenic is out of print, but available in its entirety on SHO-CO-SONGS collection 2, as are the three additional tracks listed.
Next time: ???
Oddball Verdict: Right on the edge of being overproduced, but quite listenable.
OTHER SHOKO SUZUKI REVIEWS:
Mizu no Kanmuri (1989)
Kaze no Tobira (1990)
Long Long Way Home (1990)
Sings Bacharach & David (1994)
Candy Apple Red (1997)
Atarashii Ai no Uta (1999)
Love, painful love (2000)
I Was There, I’m Here (2003)
Suzuki Syoko (2006)
Sweet Serenity (2008)
Romances sans paroles~bande originale du film~ (2009)