album review–Karma (MUCC)

This post is dedicated to the good people at the FedEx local office. Thank you for finally answering a simple query after 7 days, 5 phone calls, 3 different customer service representatives each saying different things and 4 emails, the last one of which I sent to every possible address related to your office that I could find. Because of your excellent red tape coupled with the fact that customs charged me an unprecedented and downright ridiculous taxes and duties, I presently have in my hands the most expensive pair of cds ever.

Now that we have the rant out of the way, I give you my much delayed review of MUCC’s Karma.

One thing MUCC can never be accused of is being one-note. With each release they give us a different facet, another proof of their versatility. But what’s more admirable is that while other bands tend to get the flak whenever they change styles (did someone just say girugamesh?), MUCC is relatively scot free. In their latest release, MUCC achieves to own a more upbeat and dare I say it, radio-friendly sound. Can they get away with it? Let’s check out each song to find out.

After a techno-esque intro, Karma kicks off with FALLING DOWN Organic Edition. This version adopts a more rocking sound than the single (click here for my review of falling down single). The guitars are more pronounced and whilst the original ends with Tatsurou doing falsetto, in the organic version he lets out a big growl as the rest of the band goes on hyperdrive. FALLING DOWN Organic Edition then makes a clean transition to the energetic Zeroshiki. One of the more fast-paced songs in the album, Zeroshiki is regrettably short, clocking in at only 2 minutes and 53 seconds. As for Chemical Parade Blueday, there’s a nice guitar solo midway and the “wo-oh-oh” parts are amusing. The beat tends to be repetitive though. Still, the song has a unique charm.

A. is the first slow song to make it to the track list and it is nothing spectacular, just your run of the mill acoustic rock ballad. I Am Computer, on the other hand, is a surprise. With a title like that, I kinda expected it to be another electronic dance track or a synth-pop concoction but on the contrary, it is a slightly mid-tempo song with a very catchy rhythm. The title track Karma is another surprise. It joins the intro Chemical Parade as instrumentals that the album can truly do without.

MUCC afterwards dishes out a 3-song sweep that gives justice to the myriad of influences that the band has experimented with: jazz for Corruption, brass band for Circus and finally, orchestral for Polaris. Piano-driven and with all-English lyrics sung with commendable coherence and emotion, Corruption is seductively sexy while Circus has a groovy vibe going on that got me thinking of Austin Powers. The inclusion of trumpets and the general big brass band sound are welcomed innovations and gave the song a lot of character. Finally, Polaris paints a pretty atmosphere with its soothing mix of string instruments.

Then Lion makes its entrance and all the prettiness is gone. The air thickens and the mood takes a dramatic turn. The dark and gritty MUCC of yesteryears is back. At least for a few precious minutes. Lion is without a doubt, the heaviest song in the album and the only one who would not be out of place during the pre-neo MUCC era. There’s plenty to love in the guitar rifts and the drums take a more prominent role than in any of the other songs in Karma. Tatsurou even throws in a few growls for old times sake. If I’m to summarize my impression of this song into one word it would only be: nostalgic.

Lion may be the heaviest, but it is Feather that takes the cake for being the sappiest song in Karma. It is also the most lifeless of the 14 tracks. True to its name, Feather is a flimsy ballad that is too melodramatic for its own good. The succeeding track is Yakusoku (Original Lyric Version) and it’s very similar to the single (click here for my review of the Yakusoku single).

Winding down the album is Freesia (Karma edit). I have a certain weakness for the Electro Mix that was featured in the Yakusoku maxi-single but the Karma edit edges it out big time. MUCC tinkered with the song so much that it resulted to a half-spoken/half sung track rife with emotion. The chorus is especially intense and the vocals remind me so much of Kuchiki no Tou. This, despite the fact that the two songs are as similar as night and day. Freesia runs for more than 6 minutes and the atmosphere is charged all throughout – from the industrial sounding intro up to the show-stopping finale.

So going back now to our earlier question: Can MUCC get away with their “new” sound? The answer is yes. Karma is actually a good album – it has variety yet the songs complement each other very well. In fact, a major plus point for this album is how the track list was arranged. As mentioned in my comment on FALLING DOWN and Zeroshiki, there is a clean transition between songs and the same could be said for the whole album. It is as if the final notes of one song naturally flows into the intro of another. The end result is a really, really long medley that captures the high and the lows – both musically and emotionally.

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