Wed, Dec 17, 2008 - Page 14 News List

[CD REVIEWS: TAIWAN]

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Wu Bai (伍佰) never seems to tire of changing styles, looks or sounds. Such restlessness from a pop artist can easily backfire, but Taiwan’s “King of Rock” has consistently shown a knack for following his creative whims without alienating his audience.

His latest album, Spacebomb (太空彈), should be no exception. It’s fun, fresh rock ’n’ roll that satisfies both the mind and spirit. Inspired by Robert Charles Wilson’s science fiction novel Spin, Wu Bai cast himself and his band China Blue as space travelers from the year 2406. In search of a new world to inhabit “so mankind can survive,” they ponder the shortcomings of the world they left — the subject of many of the songs.

The album, sung entirely in Mandarin, opens with the title track, setting the space exploration theme with a funky drum beat and laser synthesizer sounds. The vibrato effects from the tremolo bar on Wu Bai’s guitar and robotic-sounding vocal refrains do the 1980s proud. The song has some of the playfulness of early Talking Heads, which is offset by Wu Bai’s bravado delivery of the chorus hook, Watch out for my spacebomb! (小心我的太空彈). Depending on your mood, you might find it funny in an almost Spinal Tap kind of way — or you’ll be bobbing your head and pumping your fist in the air. Either way, the tune is catchy.

The other nine tracks offer ample variety, from the cool, reflective mood of Sunny Day (天晴時刻) and its tasteful guitar work to the cosmic swamp jams of Shining Wizard (閃光魔術) and the eerie News Show (新聞秀). With the rich palette of electric guitar and synthesizer sounds and solid, tight grooves, there’s never a dull moment throughout Spacebomb. Credit goes to China Blue, Wu Bai’s band of nearly 20 years, for bringing his sonic vision to life.

The cinematic feel and pacing of the album come from the pop star in Wu Bai, who wants to entertain most of all, and on his terms. He has certainly accomplished those goals here.

— DAVID CHEN

If there were a sound track for Taiwan’s geek-chic set, often called the “artsy youth” (文藝青年) in Mandarin, it would likely be music from the pop-rock band 1976. Their latest album Asteroid 1976 (1976這個星球) is a new milestone for the group because they have signed with Sony BMG, marking their first relationship with a major label. The four-piece also adopted a new songwriting approach, writing many of their songs and fleshing them out in the recording studio instead of developing them at live shows.

Fans worried about 1976’s indie street cred can relax. The group has stuck with what they do best, crafting Mandarin songs housed in Brit-pop beats and mod-rock style, and this seventh release shows a band in fine form. The rhythm section, consisting of drummer Warren Lin (林雨霖) and bassist Lin Tzi-chiao (林子喬), is tight; and guitarist Zac Chang (張崇偉) does an impressive job in shaping the songs with deft technique and versatility. Chang has a good sense of rhythm and texture that brings out the emotional core of songs like Non Adult March (發光的孩子) and the anthemic Knut (努特).

Vocalist Chen Ray-kai (陳瑞凱), who goes by the name Ah-kai (阿凱), has a syrupy voice that seems to nod to Morrissey and The Cure’s Robert Smith, with its angst-tinged and mopey leanings. One thing to appreciate about Ah-kai’s singing is his near-whimsical delivery, which favors mood over pop aesthetics. In the cheeky In Clubbing We Trust (撒野俱樂部), he sings the catchy chorus with pleasing precision but belts out the verse with a devil-may-care attitude.

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