HOTEI - Paradox

review - 03.02.2018 00:01

HOTEI steps back up to the mic for his first Japanese album in five years.

It’s been six years since guitar god Hotei Tomoyasu moved to London, looking to cultivate his international profile beyond being “the dude who wrote that tune from "Kill Bill" (no, not Nancy Sinatra, the Lucy Liu one.)” The centrepieces of that effort were two albums where the now-mononymous HOTEI slipped back into BOØWY mode, ceding the mic to guest vocalists while he focused on guitar work. However, as he was keen to assure JaME back in 2016, this didn’t mean he’d quit singing, and with his 17th studio album, he’s made good on his word.

At first, Paradox sounds like it’ll follow the blueprint of HOTEI’s last Japanese-language album COME RAIN COME SHINE, dropping the electronics that’ve largely defined his solo career in favour of back-to-basics, no-frills rock. However, the earthy riffs of Amplifire are soon displaced by the kind of slow-burning rock balladry that goes down a storm in packed-out Japanese arenas. The change of mood is abrupt, but special mention must be given to the extended guitar solo that closes out Hitokoto.

The album reaches its high point about two-thirds in where, after the rootsy instrumental Maze, the infectious beat of Parade lands like a lightning bolt shot from a Marshall stack. Then comes London Bridge, which is probably the most topical song HOTEI’s ever written. While it’s vocal hook seems at first like a simple twist on the popular nursery rhyme, later references to Borough Market and Manchester drive home the fact this is more than a little ditty about his new home. Rather, it’s an ode to the way Londoners (and Mancunians) handled the horrors of 2017: by defiantly carrying on as normal.

Besides this tribute to British stoicism, it’s not hard to see why Universal haven’t pushed Paradox harder overseas. While the rockier numbers have enough going for them musically to jump the language barrier, the ballads are another proposition entirely. They comprise nearly half the album’s runtime but are sadly almost impenetrable without having some grasp of Japanese. Hopefully the fact they were written for domestic consumption won’t prevent HOTEI playing some of these songs at his London gig in October. Not featuring London Bridge somewhere in the setlist would be a missed opportunity.

Paradox is available for streaming and download worldwide.
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