Wed, Jul 22, 2009 - Page 14 News List

[CD REVIEWS: TAIWAN]

By Ian Bartholomew and David Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

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When Chou Huei (周蕙) released her first album a decade ago, she was widely tipped to become one of the four lesser “Queens of Heaven” (四小天后) of the Chinese-language music scene along with Jolin Tsai (蔡依林), Stefanie Sun (孫燕姿) and Elva Hsiao (蕭亞軒). Her place has since been taken by Fish Leong (梁靜茹) (see Feb. 18 Taipei Times review).

Her most recent album, a self-titled release with a particularly first-person outlook, does not bode well for an upturn for her career. Chou is a talented singer with a voice that can take on many colors, and it is a testament to her vocal skills that one can actually sit through the first two tracks on the album — the first a particularly ill-advised duet with martial arts star and wannabe crooner Jackie Chan (成龍), the second a track titled Chou Huei. Surely having a self-titled song on a self-titled album is just a little too self-referential even for the notoriously narcissistic world of Mando-pop. “Every cell of my body is going wild/come enjoy the music with me, yeah ...” Nuff said. Though if you ignore the lyrics, this is actually quite a nice bubblegum number.

The orchestration of Chou Huei is overall of a very high standard, with plenty of unexpected little departures, such as the striped down Keeping Faith (守約) with a simple piano accompaniment, or the clever mix of electronica and plucked guitar in Complicated. Even her most conventional Mando-pop ballads, such as My Protector (守護者), have a degree of controlled elegance that can be quite appealing in contrast to the overblown sentimentality of the genre as a whole.

Chou Huei moves along the well-beaten path of the Mando-pop mainstream, with occasional digressions along the way to keep things interesting. Only one track, Night Moves (夜動), is an absolute dud, when she strikes out into atmospheric Cocteau Twins territory and gets utterly lost.

— IAN BARTHOLOMEW

Pop A-mit (阿密特) into the CD player and the first thing that greets you is a barrage of Metallica-like wall of drums and guitars. A-mei is rocking out big time, and while Open the Door, See the Mountain (開門見山) is not completely convincing as a heavy metal outcry that romance is dead and you should just take what you can get, it has the virtue of novelty for Taiwan’s first lady of song.

Fortunately, although A-mei (張惠妹) is no Chrissie Hynde or Debbie Harry, she has the performing chops to carry off these forays into angst and cynicism in Black Eats Black (黑吃黑) and Animal Sentimentality After Falling in Love (相愛後動物感傷), even if the bad girl persona is as much of a pose as the ridiculous images of her in a black sequined cat suit that adorn the liner notes.

The mood of alienation and anomie even seeps into more conventional ballads, such as power pop piece Divided Self (分生) and works particularly well in the heavy rock Taiwanese anthem Come If You Dare? (好膽你就來), which is good fun, even if owing a huge debt to Wu Bai (伍佰). The title track A-mit, sung in the Bunun Aboriginal language, is also something of a novelty and will doubtless be hugely appealing to the pseudo metal/punk musical ethos that many Aboriginal boys aspire to. While musically it looks back to the days of massive drums and feedback-drenched base, the mixture with traditional singing styles and lyrics that tackle the homesickness off youths cut of from the lives of their local communities gives this track considerable interest.

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