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Live Is ... Karen Mok (拉活莫文蔚)

Karen Mok (莫文蔚)

Sony BMG Music EntertainmentFile: p14-080723-c1.jpg (Size: 198348 bytes)

Incomparable Beauty (無與倫比的美麗)

Sodagreen (蘇打綠)Willlin.comFile: p14-080723-c2.jpg (Size: 327898 bytes)

Da Mouth (大嘴巴)

Da Mouth (大嘴巴)

Universal Music TaiwanFile: p14-080723-c3.jpg (Size: 245984 bytes)

Debbie Hsiao (蕭賀碩)

Shuo’s Map (碩一碩的流浪地圖)

Warner Music TaiwanFile: p14-080723-c4.jpg (Size: 283727 bytes)

Live Is ... Karen Mok (拉活 ... 莫文蔚), is about showing that Karen Mok is very much more than your run-of-the-mill recording industry product. Whether you like her music or not, the fact that she is a talented performer is generally recognized, and with Live Is ... Karen Mok, she has composer, lyricist and producer credits for the album as well. Her efforts were recognized when she picked up the gong for Best Mandarin Album at the 19th Golden Melody Awards last month.

The album, which is held together by Mok’s distinctive voice, in all other respects roams the whole spectrum of Asian pop music. It touches base with funky disco in her opening song Day Shift and Night Shift (日場夜場), clubland electronica with Live Is and Please Turn Off Your Cell Phone (請把手機關掉), straight-up Mando-pop ballads with Super Fans (頭號粉絲) and lounge with Stage (台).

Italian opera, traditional Chinese suona (嗩吶) music and English, Mandarin and Cantonese words are sampled and mixed together. It’s an amazing hodgepodge of diverse styles, and the remarkable thing is that Mok is able to hold it all together, even when some of the elements come over as annoyingly pretentious. This is all bravura though as none of the tracks truly have a life of their own, so despite the enormous amount of talent that has gone into the album’s creation, both from Mok and her team of outstanding musicians, there seems to be something a little soulless about the venture. The glamorous music videos too are short of personality, and some could easily be from advertisements for high-end fashion accessories. — IAN BARTHOLOMEW

Sodagreen’s third album, Incomparable Beauty (無與倫比的美麗) shows great self-assurance both in the arrangement of the music and the way that lead singer Wu Qing-feng (吳青峰) uses his unique voice, the band’s most appealing instrument. There are elements of bubblegum pop and folk rock, and even some classical music orchestration grafted onto a core of Mando-pop lyricism. The band’s lyrics and attitude are sophisticated enough to carry even the schmaltzier aspects of this relatively big-ticket production without losing all of its indie street cred.

The title song has deceptively simple lyrics, but Wu injects them with his own special brand of bitter-sweet sentiment that produces something akin to poetry. On first listen, it was tempting to write off the orchestral arrangements as nothing more than the band being tempted by the bigger production values that this two-time Golden Melody Award-winning group now has access to. But with only a couple of exceptions, Sodagreen manages to be playful, and even makes a harpsichord solo fit seamlessly into its bubblegum rock first track, aptly titled Having Fun (遊樂).

Having Fun is a nice boppy opening to the album, which then ranges through romantic introspection, with the occasional hectic interlude. The staccato beat of The Daytime Moon (白日出沒的月球) picks up the pace, but never becomes frantic or out of control.

Despite one or two weak tracks, which fall into the ponderous strains of the conventional Mando-pop ballad, the album works well as a whole, presenting a coherent picture both in terms of sound and lyrics. Sodagreen likes to show its sentimental side, yet never forgoes charm, and often flirts with cute, but is thoughtful enough to avoid insulting the listener’s intelligence. Though it may not be an album of incomparable beauty, this work is too well crafted and independent spirited to be dismissed as just another product of the Mando-pop music machine.— IAN BARTHOLOMEW