Day 39: Mari Hamada – “Blue Revolution” Review

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Day 39: Mari Hamada – “Blue Revolution” (1985)

Cover

Genre: Rock / Pop

Tracklist: Blue Revolution / Helter Skelter / Love Trial / Empty Heart / Stormy Love / Another Way / Keep on Dreams / Hard Dancin’ / What About Love

It’s easy to forget about the legends when you’re being drowned in new releases – especially in the shiny, glitzy J-Pop market, where most international fans never truly encounter any artist that debuted before the mid to late 90s. Well, I’m here to change that! Mari Hamada is the original “heavy metal idol”, a charismatic, energetic woman that took Japan by storm in the 80s. And Blue Revolution is one of her most fondly remembered albums.

The album opens on the title track, effectively setting the mood for the entire record. It’s a rough track, in the typical style of 80s poprock. Synth-punctuated and with slightly punkish vocals, Mari carries the song on the force behind her vocals. Her timbre is light and almost seems weak at times, but don’t let that fool you! Mari is one of the most capable vocalists in all of the J-Pop business – then and now. Effortlessly reaching notes most others would scramble to ever hit.

It’s usually a given that an idol won’t be genuine. Yet Mari feels special. A cover of the Beatles’ Helter Skelter shows conviction and a love for the genre, performed explosively and respectfully. This isn’t a little girl that was told to sing rock tracks, but a rock singer that was told to be an idol – covering the song that single handedly invented Metal.

A full, poppy arrangement introduces Love Trial. The song is build predominantly around synths and very much a remnant of the age, but manages to be catchy enough. The background guitar nicely underlines the melody while being oddly reminiscent of the original Final Fantasy soundtrack. Love Trial is one of the weaker songs on the album, feeling a bit phoned in and destined for the discard pile, but it’s not bad enough to significantly hinder the album.

Mari bounces right back with the subtle (as subtle as 80s power ballads go) Empty Hearts. To enjoy Empty Hearts, you need to be open to a whole lot of kitsch. And I mean it, a lot of kitsch. The chorus goes deep into plastic heartwrencher territory, but if you’re in it for the ride, Empty Hearts is quite enjoyable – even if only on an ironic level.

A go-to concert track to this day, Stormy Love invites you to get out your crucifix-shaped jewelry and curl your hair – you need to go all 80s here. It’s an incredibly fun anthem, with lots of drive to go around and a chorus that is hard not to sing along to. There’s a love for grand synths and clean guitar work here that just works so well together to create the quintessential 80s poprock sound.

Another Way is essentially the same exact style, a fun time-capsule complete with the standard synths that came with any 80s keyboard. Mari’s vocals are wonderfully rough and expressive here, adding spirit to the track and the melody fit for a Power Metal track.

Ballads, even power ballads, are not Mari’s strong suit. Her voice was made for belting and screaming, not for soft pop whining. As such, Keep on Dreams is as dissatisfying as the title suggests.

Thankfully, Hard Dancin’ comes right back to higher speeds and rougher instrumentals. The verse production is a bit odd and feels weak, but it’s a good, fun song. Fun seems to be a word I apply to this album a lot – but that’s just what it is. This is the idol version of Hard Rock after all.

As usual for an 80s album, we get to the finale rather early, with What About Love being the ninth and last song included. It’s a by the books power ballad, the kind that is fondly remembered afterwards, but wouldn’t do well anymore today. Mari’s vocals are a lot more suitable to the track here, though occasionally overpowering. And I can’t help but cringe at the chorus.

Blue Revolution is great fun, an album that very much sums up the decade it came from and a good starting point for Mari’s earlier material. But it also suffers from growing pains, delivering bland powerballads and lacking diversity.

Rating: 3/5

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