Wed, May 27, 2009 - Page 14 News List

[CD REVIEWS: TAIWAN]

By Ian Bartholomew and David Chen  /  STAFF REPORTERS

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The battle between reality “talent” shows One Million Star (超級星光大道) and Super Idol (超級偶像) can be said to have reached its end point with the release of Jing Chang’s (張芸京) album Out of the Blue (破天荒). TTV’s Super Idol never quite had the legs of One Million Star, but if nothing else, it discovered in Chang, a 25-year-old graphic designer, a talented performer. With her androgynous features, a dress sense that skirts butch-lesbian cliches, and her boyish voice, she garnered a solid fan base as she worked her way through the show with songs like Jet’s Are You Going to Be My Girl and Mandarin songs that could easily be given a lesbian frisson if the listener so chose.

Out of the Blue hit the charts last week at No. 3 and has since climbed to No. 1, not a bad effort given that Chang’s victory in Super Idol is now nearly a year old.

The album, which is a tad rough around the edges, includes some quality songs that have an appeal that goes beyond their popularity with the KTV crowd. This has as much to do with Jing’s style as her talent, for Out of the Blue’s sound is very much mainstream Mando-pop, and it is Chang’s slightly prickly personality and style that gives it that little bit more, making tracks like Let Me Look After You (讓我照顧你), Unreasonable Love (偏愛) and Fly Away Then (你飛吧), memorable. Lyrics such as, “I hear no reason, by love is unreasonable/feel my love/I’ll wait until you depend on me/my unreasonable love/that makes me happy even though it hurts” (講不聽偏愛/靠我感覺愛/等你的依賴/對你偏愛/痛也很愉快), are nicely evocative and play off against Chang’s style and speculation as to her sexual orientation.

There are a couple of write-offs, such as the wildly over-produced Cynical (玩世不恭) in which sound engineers and producers trip the singer up. However, for an album generated through a TV reality show, this is one of the few that deserves some attention.

— IAN BARTHOLOMEW

There must be nothing more irritating for an artist than critics and reviewers incessantly comparing their mature work unfavorably with their early work. But in the case of Lin Sheng-xiang (林生祥), who emerged as a creative powerhouse with the release of his early protest music, such as the album Let Us Sing Mountain Songs (我等就來唱山歌), it must be said that he seems to have worked desperately hard to lose his broad appeal and disappear up a minor musical tributary that will only appeal to a small number of fans.

Listening to Growing Wild is frustrating for anyone who has experienced the combustible energy of his work as lead singer for Labor Exchange (交工樂隊), whose music was inspired by the fusion of traditional Chinese instrumentation and the culture of rock ’n’ roll pioneered by Chinese rocker Cui Jian (崔健). Now, Lin has retreated into a self-consciously rustic abode in which guitar and voice are his only tools.

Growing Up Wild sets out to tell the story of a young boy who grows up with a little sister and experiences the trials of a family breakup. It seems to have the same kind of aspirations as songs like Bruce Springsteen’s Down to the River or Badlands, but it remains, both in sound and lyrics, relentlessly small. There is a soap opera baldness to the story, and this rarely transcends the cliches of domestic tragedy to embrace something bigger.

Lin strives for an unadorned simplicity, and perhaps there is something solid in the relentlessly undramatic treatment that he gives his story. I can’t help but wonder whether Lin believes that a lack of artifice equals a more truthful and powerful revelation. In Growing Up Wild, Lin has sincerity and commitment by the bucket load, but for this reviewer at least, this is no substitute for musical and lyrical invention.

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