Western audiences may view Hotei Tomoyasu as a talented guitar shredder of the Satriani/Vai breed, largely because of the exposure that his instrumental hit "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" gained via Tarantino's Kill Bill flick. But that's not true. Hotei spent the '80s being a driving force of the J-rock legends Boøwy, who started with punk but scored it big with pop/rock, and he stuck to the same kind of music throughout most of his solo career. That is not to say Hotei can't shred: he can, and does so in the intro of "Black Chameleon," for instance. But he is a player of the Santana variety, caring more about crafting pop songs than rocking hard or showing off his skills. The comparison is doubly appropriate, because a lot of songs on Ambivalent have the same sunny, positive groove that permeates Santana's radio singles. It's not really Latino rock, or R&B with a guitar, as was Santana's "Maria," but it has the same preference for staccato beats, which allows for short guitar phrases to sneak in between the beats. At the same time, much of Ambivalent is a return to the careless party-time synth pop of the '80s, although done by a man who has championed the era and outlived it. Hotei fleshes out the arrangements to his tunes, which are not far from Cyndi Lauper at heart, with such ease that his meticulous work becomes almost invisible -- but it's there: that Latino vibe ("Peek-A-Boo," "Jinsei Ha Party Da"), the Chris Rea textures ("Minimal Beauty"), some heavy riffing (just so you know he can), and so on. To a degree, the result is reminiscent of the shameful attempts of Yesand Jethro Tull to go pop, but Ambivalent sounds much more sincere and convincing -- if never mandatory.
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AllMusic Review by Alexey Eremenko