GRANRODEO “M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu” (Review)

GRANRODEO explored new territory and reinvented themselves at the same time for their first concept mini-album, M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu.

Regular edition

Title: M・S COWBOYの逆襲
Release date: 24/10/2018
Label: Lantis 
Genre: Rock

Tracklist:

01. Overture 2009 (Instrumental)
02. M・S COWBOYの逆襲
03. いつかのクーデター
04. Imaginary song
05. Vengeance (Instrumental)
06. odyssey 〜そのなんとなくを知りながら〜

Track by track analysis:

01. Overture 2009 (Instrumental)

Overture 2009‘s distant atmospheric synth pads and an ethereal piano melody slowly set the tone for this release. The soundscape create gives off a hint of exploration as well as discovery. The instrumental ends up on jazzier note, making a swift bridge to the album’s title track. 5/5

02. M・S COWBOYの逆襲

The jazzy sound carries over from the opening track however, it grows into something completely new. M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu embraces a blend of rock, funk, disco and jazz that up until now, GRANRODEO hadn’t fully explored. Funky guitar riffs, a groovy bass line, throwback 80’s bass-driven synths, disco brass melodies and washy drums create one of the most unique instrumentals in the band’s repertoire. The instrumental caught the essence of the fun 70’s Citypop sound and gave it a rock twist. The result is a song that has an addictive chorus, fresh verses and is unique in their repertoire.

How funky can KISHOW get when performing this song? Well, very. His singing has a lot of vibrato and legato going on, giving this song a funkier flair than the instrumental itself. If that wasn’t enough to make this song a must listen, KISHOW also added some sweet R&b riffing, high notes and falsetto to his performance. Outstanding song both lyrically, instrumentally and vocally. 5/5

03. いつかのクーデター

Gears change for this song. Itsuka no Côut d’état is a peculiar song. The verses are shaped in a way that synths, fast paced drums, a thunderous bass line and simple guitar riffs create a dark, upbeat, synthetic sound. The chorus tones down the use of synths, favoring a more rock-driven sound that makes the best out of the band’s extraordinary playing. Once again, a note that this song is rather eclectic so it’ll take more than a few listens to fully grasp its appeal.

On the vocal side we need to point out that there is auto-tune/voice modulation software in excess. A bit of it to enhance certain parts of the performance would have been an interesting addition. Unfortunately, auto-tune is used generously in this song, to the point that the first verse – especially with the eclectic instrumental – ends up sounding awfully bad and distracting. The chorus and other verses that feature KISHOW‘s clean singing somehow save this song. 4/5

04. Imaginary song

Imaginary song has one of the best sounding intros in the band’s repertoire. Tom and bass-driven drums set a fast, intimidating pace to this song then, electrifying guitar riffs in a classy 80’s metal fashion and a groovy bass line join in to add the final touches into this dark and imposing hardrock tune. The verses are straightforward, making the best of the the bass-driven sound and assertive guitar riffs. The chorus is rather brief and straight to the point. The tension, that the verses carried to this part, explodes into a cleaner alternative rock setting – with less distortion and effects on guitars or a massive focus on deep bass sounds. Both parts flow well and the pace + tension carry over pretty well until the end of the song, culminating in a shredding guitar solo.

KISHOW‘s singing is different this time around. Instead of singing in a more comfortable register, he went for high notes and added drama to his performance. For those fans of old-school rock his performance is what you’d call a “classic rock” performance. His performance added a unique flavor to this song but it is rather straining on his vocals. As a whole, Imaginary song is one of GRANRODEO‘s best songs. 5/5

05. Vengeance (Instrumental)

Vengeance is the heaviest song on this mini-album. e-ZUKA has a treat for his fans in this song. Although his guitar playing is always quite impressive – both the technique and inspirations behind his playing – he’s seldom on the spotlight. For this song however, things change. His guitar is the center piece to this instrumental and he has the spotlight all to himself. As far as guitar playing goes, this song makes the best use of his heavy metal and hardrock influences mixing shredding with melodic sections, playing around with tempo and introducing interesting chords into the mix. When paying attention to the bigger picture, the objective is to impress the listener with a sound as powerful and haunting that makes it impossible not to want to listen to the full piece. If you’re a fan of symphonic metal you’ll notice that this song does channel a bit of Nightwish – especially the fancy mix between synths/piano and orchestra instrumentalization. Drums work is off the charts, not to mention how groovy and dark the bass line is. Vengeance is one impressive instrumental song. 5/5

06. odyssey 〜そのなんとなくを知りながら〜

odyssey 〜そのなんとなくを知りながら〜 – we’ll refer to this song as “odyssey” from now on – is a power ballad that aims at the listener’s heart. This is a ballad with strong influences from the late 70’s, early 80’s rock and is particularly noticeable some influences coming directly from QUEEN – i.e the guitar solo emulates a bit of May’s trademark sound and feel -, making this one impressive an unique ballad even by GRANRODEO‘s high standards. The intro piano melody served as a bridge between Vengeance‘s fast pace and the massive drop in tempo found and tone in odyssey. Between the intro and the first verse there’s a brief moment of silence that isn’t enough to ready you for what’s awaiting. KISHOW accompanied by a longing piano melody might be one of the most beautiful and powerful things to happen in rock music in Japan. The way he performs, the emotion in his vocals, his tone and skill. He nailed every aspect of his performance, making the first verse powerful enough to give goosebumps. The instrumental slowly opens up, evolving from an almost acapella to a full-fledged power ballad. Dramatic guitar riffs, big, slow paced drums, a noticeable bass line that adds depth to the instrumental and longing strings add the final touches to this emotional piece. When the chorus arrives, you can already tell that this song is aiming at your feelings. The build up, the open dynamics and the grandiosity in the composition really accentuated the emotions in the lyrics and KISHOW’s performance. The scope of this song, its pacing, unique progression, the guitar work, the way each melody on the piano hurts, those longing strings, the vocal performance, all put odyssey in a league of its own.

odyssey raised the bar extremely high for future ballads coming from them. 5/5

Final rating:

M・S COWBOYの逆襲 (M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu) is the band’s first concept album, a release that takes its inspiration from modern strange cowboy, song released in 2009. But more than a release inspired by a song released a decade ago, M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu is one of band’s most innovative releases to date.

From having two jaw dropping instrumental tracks to featuring a fancy blend of Citypop with rock, to go the extra mile and deliver one of the most haunting ballads in their career, GRANRODEO didn’t spare anything nor anyone in M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu. The mini-album explores modern strange cowboy‘s several layers by splitting those into 6 different songs and interpreting them in completely different ways. While listening to this release, it won’t be initially obvious that it is inspired by their iconic song but, with attention, little details either in the instrumental or the lyrics will hint back at it. The best example of this are those horses’ neighs at the end of odyssey that can also be found in the intro of modern strange cowboy.

Innovation and reinvention are found in songs like M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu – that is a fancy take on Citypop -, Vengeance‘s powerful symphonic rock inspirations and odyssey‘s classic power ballad revival. It is interesting to find the band once again trying to innovate and making an extra effort for all songs in this release to feel as concise to one theme as possible. The results are: seamless transitions between songs and a consistent mood and tempo found throughout the release. GRANRODEO showed that they can tackle a concept album with the same quality as any other album in their repertoire.

The odd addition of Itsuka no Côut d’état, song that could have been much more if auto-tune had been toned down (or just replaced by a vocoder), did some damage to this release but not enough to make the whole mini-album sound disconnected. It is certainly a song this release would have been better off, especially if you compare it to all other songs on this release. But once again, props to the band for going out of their way and bringing something wacky into the mix even if at the expense of some quality drop in the release.

We can’t wrap up this review without talking a bit about the highlight of this release. Over the years, GRANRODEO have performed a variety of ballads. Some more impactful than others but all with great performances. However, nothing like odyssey had been found in their repertoire up until now. This is a modern take on a classic rock ballad, made in such a tasteful and crafty way that the instrumental alone is enough to convey what we can find later in the lyrics. Now, when you add KISHOW‘s vocals to the mix, you get blown away once more by his singing skills – saying that he’s one of the best seiyuu singers isn’t enough to express how talented he is – and by how emotional his performances always are. e-ZUKA also deserves props for his guitar work that is off the charts in this – and pretty much all other songs on this release. odyssey easily takes the throne as best GRANRODEO ballad.

After listening to this release, it’s safe to say that there’s no such thing as a high bar for GRANRODEO. They can comfortably perform their exciting brand of rock and each an every time nail it, or they can experiment by adding new elements to their music, exploring other music genres or approach different singing techniques, and they’ll always have an interesting take on it that will catch our attention. It’s a delight to get to see and listen to this band and always find something new even after all these years in the music industry.

All in all, M.S COWBOY no Gyakushu is that one release that everyone needs to listen to at least once. Words aren’t enough to explain just how exciting and, at times, brilliant, this release is.

M・S COWBOY no Gyakushu” is available for purchase at CDJAPAN.

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