In Physical

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Ken made a name for himself as a guitarist and songwriter for L'Arc-en-Ciel -- a mothership of visual kei in terms of influence, spawning hordes of imitators with their versatile sound. He also played in the successful outfit S.O.A.P., but all these achievements appear insufficient to help him buck the trend of famous bands' members releasing bland solo albums. There's no problem with Ken's professional level; he's a skilled guitarist, if hung up too much on the '80s -- the riff of "S" smacks of Accept and Whitesnake, and the sparse solos adhere to hair metal standards, although on the whole In Physical doesn't sound retro. Ken also tries hard to infuse the songs with emotion and not to get stuck on a single style: the record veers between no-frills hard rock and goth melodies, and employs electronic touches that land halfway between industrial and synth pop. Of course, there's a power ballad as well ("Speed"). Much of the album dwells in the borderline rock-metal territory, much like L'Arc-en-Ciel does, except that In Physical is much closer to the European power metal of Edguy and Stratovarius than L'Arc-en-Ciel would ever be. However, no amount of stylistic wriggling can replace inspired songwriting, which is lacking on In Physical: the songs make use of the prefabricated elements, but those don't gel together -- occasionally a nice part sticks out, but it never lasts for more than a single verse or chorus. The album sounds more like a collection of compositional etudes than anything else, with Ken showing that he can do the piano leads, the visual kei theatrics, the chugging riffs, the Bon Jovi choruses, the acoustic chord strumming, etc. But In Physical still proves that Ken is better off doing this in a band with other guys, where his creative rampage seems to become more focused.