Which version of ONE OK ROCK’s 35xxxv album is right for you? The red Japanese domestic version released in February, or the black US/International one released today?
It’s not as easy an answer as I thought it would be. But in summary,
If you’re new to OOR, buy Black.
If you’re an old fan, or you either understand or just plain like the sound of Japanese, buy Red.
Sorry. Your copy won’t have Toru’s autograph (upside down) on it.
Me? I own Red and will be buying my own copy of Black after I get back from their live in NYC.
(For review purposes I’m using the copy of Black that I bought for the library where I work. We get materials in advance so they can be prepared and ready for circulation on release day. You can go to my library now and borrow it.)
The most-publicized difference between the two versions is that Red is in a mix of Japanese and English, and Black has been re-recorded with all English lyrics.
I’ve listened to Red every day for seven months now, and Mighty Long Fall, Decision, and Heartache for many more months before that. It’s what I’m used to, and since I’m also studying Japanese, the “language barrier” does not exist for me. So personally, I prefer Red.
That said, I want OOR to succeed in the mainstream US market, not only the J-Rock sub-market. I understand and completely support the decision to release an all-English album to do so. It’s the only possible way to succeed here in a country that ignores the fact that for nearly a third of its population, English is a second language. Plus internationally, English has become the common denominator language. So it just makes sense.
Translation is a really tough job. Translating poetry or song lyrics especially so. I respect Taka’s efforts in translating or rewriting lyrics to English. “Respect” isn’t a strong enough word. “Salute” or “I am in awe of” are closer to the mark. It requires a supreme command of both languages.
That said, the structure of some of the songs has had to be changed to accommodate the different numbers of syllables the two languages need to express the same thought. Pacing sometimes seems awkward since the songs were written for the short, evenly-spaced syllables of Japanese. English with its syllables of varying lengths, is tough to fit to existing meter.
And when that wasn’t enough, some of the meaning has had to change as well. It works better in some songs than others.
It was jarring on first listen to hear occasionally stilted English in places were there once was smoothly flowing Japanese. After three or four listenings, I got used to it, although I’m not yet completely comfortable. Especially on the songs where I routinely and often unconsciously sing along (to much amusement of my co-workers) it remains weird.
By the second or third day, I was switching back and forth between the two versions without much trouble. Although I’m still singing the Japanese lyrics.
The overarching theme of the album is relationship breakups. Not always relationships of the romantic variety either. Some are of the family kind and others of the professional type. The perspective of each song is different as well. But they’re all about separation.
Mighty Long Fall, Decision, Heartache, and Cry Out, are all available as videos in their original mixed English and Japanese versions. Cry Out also comes in an all-English video, and Last Dance is all-English to begin with. If you like them on the videos, you’ll like them on either Red or Black, and you’ll like other songs in the same vein on the album.
Other rockers on the album are Take Me to the Top, which OOR opened with at the Pittsburgh show. I liked it before seeing it performed, and have loved it since.
Suddenly and Memories were favorites on first listening when I bought Red in February. I like the guitar work in Suddenly. I relate to the first line, Spitting gas on the fire that’s burning this town, which is is exactly how I aways responded to being hurt. It’s also one of the songs originally written completely in English.
Memories is notorious for its use of the F-bomb. It’s not a gratuitous use of the word either. The song is right on target for the stage of break-up where you’re telling the other to go fuck themselves.
Stuck in the Middle is another rocker that’s spot on WRT getting stuck between warring parents in a divorce.
One by One is somewhere between a rocker and a ballad. This one didn’t click with me until I saw it performed live in Pittsburgh. It’s also one of the originally all-English songs on the album.
Good Goodbye and Fight the Night are ballads, both on the tender side. Good Goodbye is about leaving in the sense of “It’s not you and not me, it’s the us”. Fight the Night is the stage where you commit to hashing it all out to the end, whether that end is reconciliation or separation. All-English on both albums.
Paper Planes is a bit of a sore thumb on the album. I’ve come to terms with it, but it’s a song I sometimes skip. The overall sound isn’t as hard as OOR is usually, and the vocal effects are a bit too much for me. That said, when I do play it, I find myself singing along anyway. All-English.
The new songs
Last Dance is a new favorite. I’ve reviewed it below, so I’ll only add that no matter what I listen to before bed, Last Dance is what permeates my dreams, it’s what’s playing in my head when I wake up in the middle of the night, and is still going strong in the morning.
For the record, non-OOR fans I’ve pestered to watch the Last Dance video, agree with me. Great song! The video? Not so much.
The Way Back feels disjointed. Crashing metal juxtaposed with sections of Caribbean island rhythm and beat doesn’t feel right. As an experiment with different styles to bust out of the metal pigeonhole, it doesn’t quite work and probably doesn’t belong on, what is in the US, essentially a debut album.
Ignore the island beat sections, and I like it pretty well. I’m slowly coming to terms with it. For the record, it was playing in my head when I awoke this morning, so perhaps my opinion will change in time. (For example, I hated NO SCARED the first dozen times I heard it. Now I go nuts for it.)
Lyrically, it follows two trains of thought. No surprise given the first line is I am still broken in two parts. I wanted the two trains to come together, but as in real life, they don’t.
Packaging and extras
Warner is treating OOR as a new, unproven act. Thus they’re pricing Black fairly cheaply at $14 list, which means there’s not much room in the budget for packaging and extras. Actually, excepting Last Dance and The Way Back, there are no extras.
The title insert is a tri-fold affair, with lyrics crammed in. The tiny black on red type is hard to read. (Remember too that my eyes are closing in on six decades, so these things are much more apparent to me than to younger eyes.)
Red does much better in readability with its lyric booklet. Although to get the most out of it, you’ll need to learn Japanese—which of course isn’t a problem in their domestic market. It also includes a companion DVD, containing studio jam session versions of Mighty Long Fall and Decision.
I like the sound of Black better. It’s been remastered to address my big gripe about Red—heavy clipping in the recording along with massive compression.
I’m a borderline audiophile. I’ve been into sound since high school as the lights and sound man for my garage band. Thus, things like clipping and compression mean a great deal to me. Clipping makes it sound harsh, and compression makes my ears tired.
The remastered Black is better in this department.
Above: Waveform display of Cry Out
. Black on top, Red beneath. Red bars denote clipping. The increased dynamic range is evident in the variability of the upper and lower edges of the waveform in the top, versus the flatness of the same elements on the bottom.
However, the songs haven’t been re-recorded in total. New sections were spliced-in over the old. Taka sounds different from section to section in several of the songs.
Studio acoustics, microphone choices, and recording settings are all hard to duplicate from one studio to another. Since the songs on Red had been recorded at several different studios, it’s a near impossibility to replicate the sound from every one.
It was probably a time and budget thing, but the vocals should have been re-recorded in full on all the songs that previously had some Japanese. The spliced-in segments don’t stand out like a sore thumb, but in my playback environment and to my ear, they are quite noticeable. Whether or not you’ll notice, depends on your playback environment and how picky your ears are.
Die-hard OOR fans will want to own both. New OOR fans should go with Black. Japanophiles will want Red. Audiophiles should go with Black, unless you know your way around something like Audacity and Clipfix. Folks who dare to be different should go with Red. If you’re on a budget, go Black, and download the videos for the mixed-language versions.
There’s also a middle way: The CD-only Orange version for the Japanese domestic market, and it’s significantly cheaper if you buy from Amazon.co.jp. It’s Red without the DVD.
Of course, if you choose Red and you want the full experience, order it from Amazon.co.jp.
If you play guitar or bass, the Band Score is also available from Amazon.co.jp.
No matter where you fit, there’s a 35xxxv for you.
EDIT 2015/10/10: See this interview with Taka at VKH Press where he talks about 35xxxv and some of the songs on it.