J-Rock Reviews

Review by Marc Bowie


On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. Assemble four women at a dance school with little to no experience with musical instruments, have them rehearse relentlessly, encourage a degree of songwriting, and … presto, instant rock band. Just add water. But work it did — through previously undiscovered innate talent and much practicing, SCANDAL were able to transcend their somewhat artificial beginnings to grow into a top-flight group with a very characteristic sound, one that kicks ass on stage while putting on a crowd-pleasing show largely devoid of gimmicks.

This same infectious joy is evident on HONEY, their eighth album, and a Valentine’s Day release. The ten tunes (nine new and one held over from 2016) showcase a variety of styles, and after eleven years these industry vets still give off the vibe that they love what they do — that above all rock and music making should be fun.

SCANDAL’s early albums were always well crafted and idiosyncratic but also sometimes featured outside contributors and things like layers of keyboards or horns (or synths imitating horns). Like their previous outing, YELLOW, HONEY largely eschews such trappings, paring the tonality back to the four band members and their respective instruments. Guitarist MAMI produces a veritable symphony of sound by using varied playing techniques and running her six-string through a panoply of effects to add tonal color and texture to every track. Part of SCANDAL’s appeal is there is no star per se; all of the performers are needed to complete the musical jigsaw puzzle and work to support the primacy of the song. The tunes, covering very personal observations on love, loss, and longing, were all self-penned by the band, mostly MAMI and drummer RINA, and on each of them, SCANDAL delivers the goods.


Platform Syndrome
At first blush, a somewhat opaque song title, but a listen to the lyrics reveals a story of parting, ambivalence and train journeys. This quick paced, almost frenetic, tune features higher-pitched than normal singing from lead vocalist HARUNA that skips along to the beat. Throughout the album she shows off her versatility, deploying a variety of harmonically-rich modes to suit the requirements of the song.

A straight-ahead fast rocker, “OVER” has gobs of furious, wah-wah riffing and arpeggiated runs and is the closest MAMI comes to acting as a traditional lead guitarist. During the solo, the notes sound wrenched from her soul. RINA pounds out the beat while spraying machine-gun fills all over the place.

Take Me Out
“Take Me Out,” recycled here from its earlier single release, features a burbling dance groove which bumps up nicely against the echo-drenched lead lines.

Oh! No!
MAMI takes lead voice on “Oh! No!” and the Ramonic, double-time buzz saw guitar playing complements her appealing but rough-hewed singing style. For such a vocal band it’s sometimes surprising how rocked up they sound. The answer to the song title is an obvious “oh, yes!”

Midnight City
RINA takes a rare lead vocal outing, with chorus help from HARUNA, on this rhythmically-chugging tune and does as fine a job as she did with “Oyasumi” from HELLO WORLD. The rhythm guitar has an almost chewy quality to it.

Short Short
“Short Short’s” a mid-tempo song with a winsomely appealing vocal over an “Eye of the Tiger” beat. It’s even got faux handclaps!

Mado wo Aketara
Written by bassist TOMOMI, this slower paced, almost electro-pop sounding R&B tune has HARUNA singing in a luxuriously romantic style with charmingly wistful backup vocals.

The digital “B-side” to “Koisuru Universe.” On this one MAMI dials in her very distinctive “MAMI tone” and unleashes a fullisade of single note guitar work. In places, it’s like she’s grinding away on two axes at once. At the same time, RINA sounds like she’s setting off explosives behind the drum kit, with cannonading tom-toms and firecracker snare rolls galore powering a furious assault.

Electric Girl
Never content to just hold down the bottom end, the always inventive TOMOMI provides a relentless, almost disco bass line that culminates in a brief but nifty solo.

Koisuru Universe
The leadoff single from the album (not counting “Take Me Out”) conveys a very inclusive and accepting lyrical message with the fast-paced singing lending urgency to the proceedings. The chord changes on the chorus sound odd, but odd in a good way, as they are unexpected yet satisfying, like finding an extra layer of chocolate in a cupcake. In the right channel of the mix, you can hear MAMI peeling off tasty licks with oodles of pitch bending, octave playing, and sustained, soaring notes that have an evocative, yearning quality to them that support the lyrics. All in all, a fitting capstone to a strong offering.

It’s a shame that, with significant regional exceptions, SCANDAL is not better known in the west. On HONEY they offer up all the sweet pop tunefulness and rock firepower anyone could want. If you don’t go out and get this album you’ll be missing out.

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