A Know-Nothing Westerner’s Guide to SCANDAL

Scandal copy

I’m a curious sort of fellow. By that I mean that whenever something grabs my interest, I want to find out more about it. If I become interested in a TV show, I want to find out more about its past, its production. If I become interested in a band, I want to find out more about their line-up, their history; I want to explore their back catalogue. In the past, this has been very easy, as even the most obscure British or American band has plenty of information and a shelf-full of readily available CDs. My following of Scandal is something entirely different.

I’m not 100% sure where I first heard of the Japanese all-girl rock band. They may be huge in Japan, but they’re certainly not a household name in the West. I think I saw a picture of their album Yellow in a magazine (yes, it was that recently) and something drew me to it. I’d never had much interest in Japanese pop before; in fact my only prior experience with it was that the first 45 I ever bought (if you don’t know what that is kids, ask your Grandad) was the theme to the imported Japanese fantasy show Monkey by the Japanese band Godiego. Since then, it’d been a bit of a lull.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; they’re four pretty girls in their mid-20s – we don’t have to look far to see what attracted him to Scandal! Actually, it wasn’t that at all. Before hearing Yellow, I’d only ever seen the four members of Scandal as tiny pictures on the front of the album. No, I often make these strange musical leaps of faith, which sometimes pay off and sometimes don’t. It’s how I discovered Regina Spektor, The Flaming Lips and Lush. Life can get awfully boring if you just stick to one kind of music and never veer away from it; there could be all kinds of music out there that you’d just love but you’ll never know if you don’t make the odd leap of faith.

The first track on Yellow – and therefore the first Scandal track that I’d ever heard – is Room No.7, which is incredibly atypical in that it’s an instrumental… and a very good one. I suppose this was a good way to lull me in because, from listening to it, it could be a group of 20-something Japanese girls (which it is) or it could be a bunch of middle-aged male British rockers! It’s only when the second track Stamp! kicks in that you get a true taste of Scandal. You realise very quickly that this is a very versatile band; I couldn’t understand the Japanese lyrics, but it’s clear that there are several different genres on here, from the heavy rock of Heaven Na Kibun to the delightfully silly pop of Konya Wa Pizza Party. The whole thing ends with Chiisana Honoo, one of the most beautiful rock ballads that I’ve never heard, which managed to move me even though I have absolutely no idea what the lyrics are about.

I was hooked. Very soon after I heard Yellow, I bought the Scandal documentary film Hello World, which is available with English subtitles. This was a great move, because it introduced me to the various members of the band – vocalist Haruna, guitarist Mami, bassist Tomomi and drummer Rina – and all their little character quirks and foibles. I’ve always loved music documentaries and I can watch them without being a fan of the band in question – I loved Shut Up and Sing even though I had no interest in the Dixie Chicks and I was a big fan of Dig before I got into the music of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I was a fan of Scandal already though and seeing them as themselves in this film only heightened that. My favourite part will always be Tomomi sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed in Canada, bemoaning the fact that she didn’t bring warm enough clothes and concerned that she might die of hypothermia. Bless her.

I started to try and buy Scandal’s other albums on CD, which wasn’t easy because they’re not so freely available in the West. I bought the Hello World CD quite quickly, because that was a recent album, but the others were either unavailable on Amazon or very highly priced. By and by, I managed to find some of the others, Temptation Box, Standard, Encore Show etc, but my collection is still incomplete. The early albums seem particularly hard to find within my price range. The European Greatest Hits collection was invaluable, because that introduced me to a lot of the older tracks and that was eventually followed by Scandal’s Tenth Anniversary 2-CD set, simply titled Scandal. It was great stuff, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Prior to that, I’d picked up a copy of the single Take Me Out which, as well as being a great song in its own right, also had a ‘B-side’ that introduced me to Mami and Tomomi’s side project, the very slightly tongue-in-cheek rap duo Dobondobondo. Their songs are self-consciously silly and can be found easily on YouTube (I’d recommend Cherry Jam). As well as appearing on the Scandal anniversary collection, Take Me Out also turned up (eventually) on their most recent album at time of writing, Honey. It’s another winner and well worth a listen. If I’m going to be brutally honest, I didn’t like it as much as Yellow, but that’s possibly because Yellow was my first Scandal album.

It’s a strange thing, but I enjoy Scandal almost despite the language and cultural differences. When I listen to the songs, I’m connecting directly to the sound of the music and the emotion of the voices, without actually knowing what it is they’re singing about. It’s crazy, right? But it’s comforting in a way, because you’re not being distracted by the story being told, it’s just pure music. I guess that’s how people who’re into opera relate to that – I’m guessing most of them don’t speak Italian or whatever, but the music still moves them. I’m not into opera, but I am into Scandal. As I write this, a new single Masterpiece has just been released and it’s characteristically wonderful. I’m hoping a new album will follow before too long.

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