Music Musings: Chara (1998-2005)

Strange Fruits (1999)
Music Musings: Chara (1990-1997) can be found here.

7th Album: Strange Fruits ストレンジ・フルーツ (1999)

Produced completely by Chara, Strange Fruits is a noticeable about-face when compared with its predecessor Junior Sweet (1997).  It's a melancholic, moody album. Nevertheless, it is my favorite album of this time period.

"Atashi wa Koko yo (I'm Here)" and "Duca", the two high tempo tracks of the record, are deceivingly positive. Rather than the simple music box pop tune, I feel the creativity behind "Atashi wa Koko yo" lies in the irony of the lyrics against the positive-sounding music; the chorus goes "I am here [for you], I want to cry forever." Chara likens the inability to grab the sun and sky to the unreachability of a lost love.

Like several of Chara's tracks, "Duca" has a kiddish tone. To the beat of fun, bouncy music, a little girl (the role Chara takes for this song) talks about walking with her father, "new" (step?) mother, and pet (dog?) Duca. As most children wonder, the girl contemplates whether the happiness will fade in adulthood while she enjoys ice cream.

Of the remaining slow, somewhat gloomy songs, "70% Yuugure no Uta (70% Evening Song)"; "Hikari to Watashi (The Light and Me)"; and "Oburaato (Oblate)" are the winners. "70% Yuugure no Uta" was one of the first songs of Chara's that I heard years ago, and I still love how relaxing it is, as its title suggests. The image of contemplation under the rain is depressing, but it's a lovely listen.

"Hikari to Watashi" is a gorgeous, touching song that, like most of the songs on this album, relies heavily on Chara's voice, a musical representation of different forms of pain, losing the "magical" spark of life in this case. It's a difficult song to put into words as, more than music, it's lyrical emotion. I highly recommend giving the music video a watch if you can find it.

"Oburaato" is somewhat of an acquired taste for those unacquainted with Chara's occasional extreme vocals. Her voice winds up to a near whine and falls deep, close to her speaking voice, in a short time spans throughout this track with minimal music. The turbinate nature of the song is a beautiful match to the turbulent nature of the love she describes. 

Top picks: It's a beautiful album as a whole.

Chara Live 97-99 Mood
1st Live Album: Live 97-99 Mood ライブ・97−99・ムゥド (2000)

With the birth of her son in late 1999, 2000 was a somewhat calm year for Chara, albeit not without releases. 

The tracks on this 2-disc album were taken from two concerts: Chara Junior Sweet Tour (1997) and Chara Concert Tour Duca & the Aurora Band (1998). Although I love all the songs on this one, the Junior Sweet tour was amazing; therefore, I'm quite partial to those songs.

Naturally, the songs take on a different flavor in concert form. Many of my favorites like "Happy Toy"; "Watashi wa Kawaii Hito to Iwaretai (I Wanna Be Called Cute)"; and "Time Machine" got a super soulful facelift.

Top picks: "Happy Toy"; "Watashi wa Kawaii Hito to Iwaretai (I Wanna Be Called Cute)"; "Time Machine"

Caramel Milk:
The Best of Chara (2000)
2nd Compilation Album: Caramel Milk: The Best of Chara キャラメル・ミルク・ザ・ベスト・オヴ・チャラ (2000)

This compilation collects Chara's singles between 1996-2000. In addition, two new songs—"Tsuki to Amai Namida (The Moon and Sweet Tears)" and "Taisetsu wo Kizuku Mono (Things That Make You Mean More to Me)"—were released on the record.

"Tsuki to Amai Namida" is probably one of my favorite Chara songs due to the great mixing—absolutely magical. Like several of her songs, it's a childish yet melancholic take on attaining love and making one's heart's desires come to fruition.

"Taisetsu wo Kizuku Mono" is a relaxing song which features Chara's characteristic "talk-singing." It sounds a bit like a lullaby and has soothing qualities similar to "70% Yuugure no Uta (70% Evening Song)" from Strange Fruits (1999).

Top picks: As I expressed earlier in this series, I love many of the tracks during the late 90s period of Chara's career, so I'd highly recommend this album. The two newly introduced tracks are amazing as well.

Madrigal (2001)
8th Album: Madrigal マドリガル (2001)

This album marked yet another shift in sound as the predominant flavor in my opinion is acoustic plus loungey soft rock. This record is a great choice if you'd like to sample another flavor of Chara—sugary acid trip! Several of the tracks are wonderfully trance-inducing. As the album cover hints, there is something almost psychedelic about this one.

Chara worked closely with former Smashing Pumpkins member James Iha on "Boku ni Utsushite (Reflecting in Me)" and "Skirt." Both songs are good listens, but as much as I admire Iha's work, I find they are actually the weak spots of the album as several of the other tracks have a mystical nature the former two do not.

"Caramel Milk" and "Kono Asobi wo Koi to Waratte (Laugh with Love in This Game)" both have trip pop qualities which dip into funk, a proven specialty of Chara's. The music for "Caramel Milk" sounds like something you'd hear on a beachside vacation 30 or so years ago; however, the acoustics keep the song updated and fresh, and Chara's voice can be liked to the sound of many 90s Brit pop singers. Like caramel milk, it sounds quite warm.

There's something 60s flower child going on with "Kono Asobi wo Koi Waratte," likely because of the occasional flute. In true Chara style, the love game described in this one leads to more heartache.

I particularly love "Mishn (Sewing Machine)" and "Yellow Balloon" for their stellar mixing. The former sounds like a 50s rock song remix with 90s pop vocals, while the latter sounds like a crazy, swing-dance rhythm redo of George Michael's "Faith" in several parts with cutesy vocals. Seriously, those two songs are clever.

Top picks: This album is a trippy experience, particularly "Caramel Milk"; "Kono Asobi wo Koi to Waratte (Laugh with Love in This Game)"; "Mishn (Sewing Machine)"; "Yellow Balloon"

Yoake Mae (2003)
9th Album: Yoake Mae 夜明けまえ (Before Dawn) (2003)

Like Strange Fruits (1999), Chara used her talents to produce and write this entire album. While the previous album is rather dark and "cold," Yoake Mae is relaxing and "warm." It's a record I'd love to listen to under thick blankets before going to sleep.

In terms of sound, this is like Chara "grown up," considering her childlike style. Honestly, it's my least favorite of this period as I feel it lacks soulfulness (Strange Fruits) and complexity (Madrigal). It's enjoyable, but as much as I love Chara, this is a skip.

If you do give this one a chance, "Mieru wa (I Can See)"; "Utsukushii Machi (Beautiful Town)"; "Ocean"; and "I Wanna Freely Love You" are the go-to tracks. "Mieru wa" and "Ocean" are the two most creative songs on the album. There are intricate winds in the music for both, and the chorus of "Mieru wa" is nicely arranged.

"Utsukushii Machi" wins me over due to the imagery, surrounded by gorgeousness but relatively ignored by the one you love.

"I Wanna Freely Love You" appears to summarize what Chara wanted for this album as a whole: soft music with syrupy, downtempo vocals. In terms of emotion, this song captures those ideas the best as it's slow (not drowsy like much of this record) yet touching, especially the English "I wanna freely love you just one day...more than a day" in the chorus.

Top picks: "Mieru wa (I Can See)"; "Utsukushii Matchi (Beautiful Town)"; "Ocean"; "I Wanna Freely Love You"

A Scenery Like Me (2004)
1st Self-Cover Album: A Scenery Like Me ア・シーナリ・ライク・ミー (2004)

The beauty of self-cover albums lies in the ability to directly compare the original to the cover on all levels as, naturally, both were created by the same artist. As Chara is a highly innovative musician, this is especially fun to do with her work.

All the covers take on a lighter and/or acoustic version of their originals. While they're all well-executed, "Private Beach" is the only song whose makeover sounds more appealing than its original form. The Violet Blue (1993) version is essentially a throw away track while the cover is refined with an unplugged edge.

Additionally, two new songs—"Ao (Blue)" and "Ai no Hikousen (Blimp of Love)"—were included on this record. The former appeals more to me as it continues the Madrigal (2001) style with the soft rock melody and subtile vocals.

Top picks: "Private Beach"; "Ai no Hikousen (Blimp of Love)"

Something Blue (2005)
10th Album: Something Blue サムシング・ブルー (2005)

This is an extremely rare album. Chara wasn't signed with a record company at the time of its release; therefore, she wrote, arranged, and recorded this record in her home, got 2,000 copies pressed, and released it to fans without a promotional effort. 

As reflected in the title, Something Blue was released during a darker period of Chara's life when she felt depressed about not being able to make music as easily as she wanted. Due to the feelings the album evokes for her, it has never been re-released. Nevertheless, I'm determined to own it in the future. Once I have enough disposable income I might eat the $100 I've seen it go for, ha!

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