Koji Kikkawa

Double-Edged Sword

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Falling into the category of '80s-inspired Japanese hard rock records (similar to Kazuya Yoshii's output), Double-Edged Sword is actually more than it looks on the surface. It's pretty indistinct stylistically, with no huge standout features -- just a moderately heavy guitar churning out simplistic but melodic riffs over a speedy rhythm section, and some dude singing in a slightly dramatic but restrained baritone. This is the stock sound of J-rock, and so it's easy to be skeptical about the album, dismissing it as another conformist stab at quick success. But that would be wrong -- like many high-grade products done within traditional formats, its class is just not apparent on the first contact. More time afforded will show that the album has something all too often lacking on the J-rock scene: hooks. Japanese bands play melodically, never lack energy, aren't afraid of elaborate arrangements even when playing pop, and are generally enjoyable, but making the songs memorable is a regular problem. Koji Kikkawa, on the other hand, has that covered -- songs like "Mr. Body & Soul" and "Honey" sound long familiar on the second listen and demand singing along by the third. This isn't the level of Britney or Bon Jovi, but it's still good stuff, and for J-rock, these hooks almost amount to a stealthy revolution -- or, rather, old school's perseverance, considering that Kikkawa has been around since the early '80s. The album doesn't sustain its quality from start to finish, but makes up for the drops in catchiness with versatility -- for instance, check out the bluesy "Velvet." It's still one of those "only nice while it plays" records, but who said that's a bad thing?