Sometimes a CD comes out of left field to astonish you. Metropolis Shanghai: Showboat to China, which essentially documents Shanghai in the 1930s, is one of them. You don't need words to build up the picture; the music, perfectly chosen and performed by modern artists, does the job. "Ye Shanghai" is a recurrent theme, a bellwether of mood from contentment to despair. Another facet that's exposed is the Jewish settlement in Shanghai, where 20,000 fled from the Nazis in the 1930s (it was the only place in the world they could go without a passport), creating a community with its own music, like "Sehnsucht," which sits easily alongside the Chinese sounds here. The music of piano bars (playing, of course, "Slow Boat to China") mixes with sound effects (the siren is particularly chilling, sounding as it's happening in your living room), and as the Japanese invade, the traditional "Ambushed on All Sides," played on the pipa (a plucked lute) becomes a wild crescendo of desperation, as doom overtakes the city. This is a masterful, vital piece of history.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson