(Pot Artist/Sony Japan)
Producers: Norio Sakai, Ginji Ito, Hirokazu Tanaka
Availability: Out of print (used copies only)
Not long after getting the idea for this blog, I had quickly narrowed down between two particular albums for MISO’s first post, both of which are J-Pop/J-Rock related (I definitely had to do that given what this blog’s mothership specializes in). This immediately became the choice because this is the album that really got my interest in Japanese music started.
Back in 2001, I wanted to find a way to check out what was going on musically in Japan at the time. File sharing wasn’t really an option – I was still on dial-up and wouldn’t have broadband internet for another five years. I don’t know how I stumbled upon it, but I learned of the existence of YesAsia.com, did a little poking around, and came across a couple of Now-style compilations of then-recent Japanese pop hits. The first artist to catch my ear was a five-member girl group whose representative track, “Natsumatsuri”, sounded as if they had some almost progressive-rock-esque backing behind them. Wanting to find out more about them, a little web research revealed that the five girls heard singing were also the ones playing the instruments in the background. THAT got my attention rather quickly to the point where I ran right back to YesAsia and ordered their first album, Hatsu, which quickly became one of my favorite albums. A few months later, I caught wind of the news that they were releasing a follow-up album and promptly did my first J-Pop pre-order, which would end up being for the album at hand here, Chameleon.
Not unlike their first album, Chameleon became even more of a favorite release – to the point where I took it with me when I took a car trip to Toronto for Wrestlemania X-8 in March of 2002. I had burned a nine-volume mix-CD set to listen to on the trip, but once I had exhausted all nine volumes on the way back, I elected to stick Chameleon in my car stereo, where it stayed for the rest of the trip. When I got my first iPod in 2004, it was one of the first albums I added to my library – and it’s never left. There isn’t a bum track on the album.
Chameleon shows the five-piece band (singer Yuki Maeda, guitarist Aya Inatsuka, bassist Yukari Hasegawa, keyboardist Rimi Mizusawa, and drummer Erika Kawamura) at their peak – a notable remark considering that the five of them were all in their late teens at the time they recorded this album. Yuki Maeda had improved considerably as a singer in the year-plus since Hatsu had been completed, a process that had been slowly chronicled on the singles that had been released prior to this album, a re-recording of their After School EP track “Akubi” and the advance singles “Kakurenbo”, “Sakura Nakimichi” and “Tachiri Kinshi”. Much of the album is solid pop-punk (keyboard-enhanced but still primarily guitar-driven) – “Tachiri Kinshi” in particular is the punkiest track in the Whiteberry canon, but there are also quite a few stylistic side trips, like the dark ballad “Yoru to Kiri”, the anime theme that never was, “Tansansui”, and the heavily Chinese-influenced song “Chuugoku Yonsennen No Koi”.
The album’s closer, “10 Years After” seems a shade poignant in retrospect, ten years later: Whiteberry would close out 2002 by issuing three singles with cover-version A-sides and original song B-sides, one apiece during the last three months of the year – and then suddenly get quiet for all of 2003, owing in part to the fact that various members of the band were either finishing high school or starting college. They started off 2004 with a new single, “Shinjiri Chikara”, whose lyrics – penned collectively by the entire band – were in part about how much they missed playing together during that year of inactivity. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks after that single’s release, the band announced that they were calling it a collective career after two final gigs – one in Tokyo and one in the band’s native Hokkaido. Two years later, Yuki Maeda and Yukari Hasegawa would turn up in a new group, Yukki, that released one EP on an independent label. Yukari would depart that band not long after the EP’s release, leaving Yuki to carry on; She would later retcon the group into a new outfit, The Husky, that would release two EPs and an album independently before calling it quits in February of 2011.
Sadly, most of Whiteberry’s recorded output is now out of print, save for two compilations: the band-authorized greatest hits album Kiseki – The Best of Whiteberry, issued a few months after their disbanding, and the slightly more exhaustive Golden Best Whiteberry anthology, issued by their old label in 2008 – but used copies won’t be hard to find on eBay or elsewhere on the web.