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Pop Playground
Mr. Children - Surrender

n this series, clicks’n’cuts dilettante Francis Henville describes his descent into the netherworld of Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean commercial pop. Track by track, he navigates deeper into the genre, searching for ever-more-toothsome morsels with which to satiate his jaded appetite…

Mr. Children

Mr. Children have an unfair advantage over most of the names that keep on popping up in this column: they are 37% more human than the average J-Pop band. It's a medically proven fact.

Why so human? Why not robot voices, robot drums and robot songwriting? I dunno, I guess they just thought they'd go in a more organic direction.

Take “Surrender”. The beginning is an acoustic guitar, a piano and a real cello. 100% real cello! No synth pads for Mr. Children. After the track is set up a bit, there's a spot for a little off-key whistling. Not that far off-key, but off enough to let you know it’s human.

Sakurai, the lead vocalist begins. I have employed a team of scientists, working around the clock in a secret underground base, to determine what exactly it is that is so pleasant about his voice. Their preliminary results: Sakurai uses far less reverb and processing. His voice is 15% more abrasive than the average singer, and while generally on pitch, has an adorable tendency to flutter. Vibrato is practically non-existent. When accompanied by his bandmates on the harmony parts, Sakurai avoids R&B; obbligatoes and scatting, but just hits the notes and holds 'em.

Which vocalists does Sakurai admire, I wonder? I wouldn't be surprised if he said Eddie Vedder, to be absolutely honest with you. And there's a little bit of Thom Yorke in there. (Note: as a Stylus reviewer, I am legally obliged to mention Thom Yorke once a year or I will be canned.) And more than those influences, there's a bit of disrespect for the traditional approach to professional, official singing. There's a bridge beginning at around 2:40, and Sakurai tries to hit some notes that are just a bit too damn high for him. If he was a groomed, jaded pro, his producers would have commanded the arrangers to re-orchestrate the whole track in a key 4 or 5 semitones lower. But no dice! Sakurai's just gonna reach those notes his own way.

And so at 2:49, set up exquisitely by an understated electric guitar, Sakurai hauls off and punches one high note right in the face, in a way that Chemistry and Jolin Tsai could never imagine. It's too raw. It's too human. I would even say that it's 46% punker than any other ballad that I can remember listening to. Because that's what this is, an acoustic ballad.

Ah, Mr. Children. Your name may not make sense, and you may not have breakbeats, but you've won a place in my heart, you magnificent bastards.

By: Francis Henville

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Posted 10/22/2004 - 02:21:00 AM by edwardo:
 Great as always, Francis. Do you like Mr Children's uber-hit of this year, "Sign"? I find it quite cloying, but also rather charming and touching.
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