Wed, Jun 24, 2009 - Page 14 News List

[CD REVIEWS: TAIWAN]

By David Chen

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Hsu Chia-ying (徐佳瑩) was one of the boldest and most creative of the alumni from the third season of CTV’s One Million Star (超級星光大道) pop music talent show. The release of her debut album suggests that she might be around for some time. Her song I Ride a White Horse (身騎白馬), which combines teen pop and gezai opera (歌仔戲), has already proved a huge hit securing massive airtime, and has the distinction of achieving a smooth musical and lyrical integration between two very different forms, a feat that has confounded many more experienced artists.

The chorus of I Ride a White Horse, sung in Taiwanese, references not just a classical heritage, but also, whether intentionally or not, its glitzy, kitschy manifestation of televised golden light puppets. It is romantic, heroic, just a tad tongue-in-cheek, and totally self-assured.

At just 24, Hsu has emerged as a talented musician in the Mando-pop mainstream, and one who is no stranger to the commercial possibilities of a catchy tune. The final track on the album My Door’s Not Locked (沒鎖門) was commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the MSN chat service, and for all its marketing functionality, is a remarkably appealing bit of bubblegum pop, down to MSN sound effects and online slang.

Most of the songs are playful and reference everything from well-known classical poems to the preference settings of online chatting software. The result is an attractive lack of pretense in the way these references are used. Hsu is very much at home in the world of MSN, Japanese-inflected slang, Internet jargon and Taiwanese catchphrases, and has, for the most part, incorporated them effectively into her songs. It is not groundbreaking stuff, but Hsu has produced an album of well-crafted pop music that has the occasional spark of real invention. What more can you ask? Since her appearance in One Million Star, Hsu has lost something of her Betty Boop chubbiness; let’s hope that the entertainment industry has not sweated away her creativity in the process.

— Ian Bartholomew

With her third album, City (城市), singer-songwriter Deserts Chang (張懸) has taken her music into the mainstream, picking up backing band Algae, a Brit-pop sound, and a hint of rock princess attitude. For the soft-spoken singer who came to fame on the campus circuit with her disarmingly simple first album My Life Will … with vulnerable songs like Baby (寶貝), this is quite a shift. This new album might be described as electronic-tinged urban folk rock.

Chang is a talented lyricist, but with City she has moved from an intimate world of personal experience to take on the broader canvas of modern life in the big city. She has put on some big city attitude, but this is not enough to cover up her lack of assurance in this new milieu. The album is full of cliches, but is saved from itself by Chang’s ever-evocative voice and occasional melodic brio. Behind the tired rock ’n’ roll poses, there are still flashes of vulnerability and a fearless curiosity about herself and the world around her.

The song Jiu Zai (就在) has plenty of lyrical sophistication and a driving rhythm that creates one of the most appealing numbers on the album. The more heavily orchestrated and electronic title track is a well crafted pop song but thick with echoes of Faith Yang’s (楊乃文) early work. The acoustic Beautiful Woman is full of the sunshine of young love set against a cheery melody; it’s a nice take on a familiar theme, but its appeal is in its superficial throwaway pop quality. When Chang tries to get deep, with songs like Selling, which is about consumer culture, she has little to say and the tough attitude comes off as a little girl playing at tigers. By trying to be more than she is, Chang has produced an album that shortchanges her talent.

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