Review by David Cirone
Tomoyasu Hotei’s fist international album release, Strangers, is a perfect road-trip album, the soundtrack to a film in your head that you’ll wish was real. Cinematic in scope, flow, and construction, there’s never a moment where you don’t feel guided by the hands of a master. Play this album loud while you’re on the highway to anywhere, and you’ll get the full effect.
Perfectly balanced between Hotei’s ferocity and gentle glide, the album splits its tracks between purely instrumental pieces and guest-vocal tracks. “Medusa” leads off the album with a straightforward drive, a series of escalating riffs that smartly doesn’t push the energy too high, but gets us settled in for the ride. Right out of the gate we get hit in the face by “How The Cookie Crumbles”, with vocals by legendary Iggy Pop, a raw, dirty rock track that doesn’t play nice. Sometimes collaborators are too polite on these type of albums, but Hotei has wisely stepped back to let Pop be a nasty as he wants to be, most pointedly on Pop’s autobiographical “Walking Through The Night” about his journey to get laid in late night Shinjuku.
Texas-born Shea Seger’s contributions are equally strong. “Kill or Kiss” comes in early in the album to establish a strong female voice that stands out among the otherwise all-male cast. Her chorus of “It’s a fine line when the crime of passion’s mine” brings a dark complexity to the track, a notable standout in an album where it’s easy to fall into the one-chorus-and-done trap. Richard Z. Kruspe of Rammstein gets lost in a dead-end repeat in “Move It”, but Bullet for My Valentine’s Matt Tuck scores with “Kill to Love You”, a desperately emotional performance that builds to an effective climax. Of all the songs on Strangers, “Kill to Love You” is the most ready for a live recording. Now, please.
Let’s talk guitar. Star musician status is understood, but Hotei’s smart enough to not pound us over the head with solo after solo. It’s a collaboration album after all, and he pulls back at the right moments to let his guests shine. But when he hits the gas, man, does he rock. Title track “Strangers” is steady-beat, soaring guitar throughout, and Hotei’s guitar rockets out with a sharp solo on “Kill or Kiss”. Penultimate track “Departure” is a seemingly effortless jam blending technique, showmanship, and experienced restraint.
The weird thing for me (but perhaps the most crowd-pleasing) was the inclusion of “Battle Without Honor Or Humanity”, the instantly-recognizable song brought to worldwide fame by Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill. After 11 tracks that collectively give Strangers an album identity of its own, “Battle” seems to be tacked on as insurance policy for the international market. Love the song, but I’ve heard it a million times, and I’d rather listen to the other tracks on Strangers a bit more. Fresh and lean, these songs are Hotei’s real voice in the right now. Strangers is the beginning of Hotei’s conversation the the world, listen up.