CD Reviews

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thu, Feb 24, 2005 - Page 15

Fans of Taiwan's number-one musical son longing to relive the action of Jay Chou (周杰倫) wowing the crowds at Taipei's Municipal Stadium last October will find a whole heap of solace in Warner's recently released Incomparable Live 2004 (2004 -- 無與倫比演唱會).

The double-CD package features a selection of tunes recorded on that balmy autumn night. Chou warbles, croons and, of course, mumbles his way through 25 numbers that range in pace and style from slow, hypnotic Mando-rap numbers such as My Construction Site (我的地盤) from last year's Common Jasmine Orange (七里香) to more mainstream Mando-pop tunes like the weepy crowd-pleaser Fine Day (晴天) from his 2003 release, Yeh Hui-mei (葉惠美).

The recording has quite obviously been re-mastered and any and all bloopers and duff notes have been erased, which gives Incomparable Live 2004 more of studio recording-like live effect rather than a raw one.

Not that this spoils the fun, however. Fans can still close their eyes and imagine they were there, as Warner's studio engineers made the wise decision not to omit Chou's between-song banter. It might not be complete and it is cut short in parts, but you've got to hand it to Warner for adding a personal feel that all too many local live albums lack.

And if all that isn't enough to satisfy one's cravings for Chou, then those looking for more can purchase the special Incomparable Live 2004 CD set that comes complete with a VCD featuring music videos for Common Jasmine Orange as well as a glossy poster of the wonder boy himself.

Never able to stand still and gestate musically, Wu Bai (伍佰) and his band China Blue have once again chosen to take a new musical path for what is only their second Taiwanese-language longplayer in seven years, Two Faced Man (雙面人).

Veering away from the tried-and-tested rock/blues format, Wu Bai has set out to capture the hearts and minds of the electonica/dance crowd with his latest mixed bag of material.

Packed with loops, edits and a host of dance music-like effects, it might sound as if the grand-old-man of Taiwan alt-rock has forsaken his roots. Scratch just under the surface of the tunes, however, and you'll find a host of well-produced, well-executed guitar-driven rock numbers.

The album's opener, Li Hai (厲害), sets the pace with its gnarly grinding guitar riffs and backdrop of mild electronica. High-octane numbers like the explosive Taiwan Made (台灣製造) and the pulsating electronica/percussion-driven Seaplane (海底飛凌機) follow.

There are a couple more standard Wu Bai ballads thrown in for good measure, but for the most part Two Faced Man is an electronica/rock crossover album.

The material may be far removed from anything Wu Bai and China Blue have ever previously attempted, but the album is, without a doubt, an exciting and original piece of work from one of Taiwan's best musicians.

Over the past 15 years, award winning actress and songstress Wan Fang (萬芳) has released 17 solo albums, appeared on countless compilations and amassed a whopping library of tunes.

While wading through these recordings must surely have given the compilers at Rock Records a real headache,they have still managed to do a pretty good job of bringing out the best in Wan Fang.

The album is concise and expertly plots the singer's highs and lows, luckily with a greater emphasis on the former rather than the latter. The double-CD set contains nearly all of Wan Fang's Top-10 hits and proves that time has been kind to Wan Fang's brand of Mando-pop. Regardless of whether Wan Fang is in soulful or standard mature bubblegum Mando-pop mode, there's not one duff tune on the CD, which places her in the top of the Mando-pop acts.

Sure, you might not find her vocal prowess as sexy or sultry as that of other female acts, but Wan Fang remains one of the few songstresses in Taiwan who can hold a tune and, more importantly, who writes her own material.

The Great Leap Forward 2005 (太平盛世) marks the end of a two-year hiatus for Taiwan's popular Mando-R&B star, David Tao (陶吉吉).

Rumored to be the first part of a trilogy of albums that will see Tao exploring "new and exciting musical directions," some of the tunes are a far cry from his more mainstream studio releases such as 2002's hit Black Tangerine (黑色柳丁).

To create his new sound, Tao has teamed up with a host of performers, songwriters and studio gurus including leggy classical crossover female ensemble 12 Girls Band (女子十二樂坊) and acclaimed producer Chu Jing-ran (朱敬然).

The result of these musical couplings has enabled Tao to mix and match various contrasting musical genres. None of the album's 13 tunes follow the same musical path and, while there's still an underlying R&B/soul feel to many of the numbers, the creative collaborations have paid dividends.

Tao successfully blends rock, R&B and Mando-pop basics with elements of classical Beijing Opera and electronica. Tracks like the weird and wonderful opener Ghost Overture () and Tao's sorrowful tribute to Anita Mui (梅艷芳), Song for Anita (她的歌), make for pleasant listening.

The highlight of the album, however, is the marvelous piece of 70s glam-rock, Sula & Lampa (Sula Lampa 的寓言). Best described as Mando-rock's answer to The Ballroom Blitz, The tune's retro-chic will probably be lost on Tao's multitude of teenybopper fans, but it will leave those old enough to remember the likes of Sweet reaching for their bell-bottoms and platform shoes.