Ryuichi Sakamoto

Moto.Tronic [Bonus DVD]

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The problem with any proper retrospective of Ryuichi Sakamoto's work is summed up with a quote from the man himself just inside the front cover of the booklet for this collection: "I want to break down the walls between genres, categories or cultures." It's easy to say that he's succeeded in that desire; since leaving the pioneering electro pop outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto has worked in many different genres, including Japanese pop, world, classical, experimental, soundtrack, and sophisticated, adult-friendly pop music. The difficulty with this is that it's very hard to get a handle on Sakamoto, and surely some of the people who enjoyed the pop sensibilities of albums like Neo Geo or Beauty may have been thrown off by the classical and soundtrack work in between -- and vice versa. It's probably one of the main reasons why someone of Sakamoto's obvious talent hasn't become better known in North America, despite some very pop-oriented collaborations with popular musicians like Thomas Dolby and Iggy Pop -- the sheer number of Sakamoto projects is intimidating enough, and not knowing what type of music he's playing on any particular album is probably enough to scare away most of the rest of his potential audience.

Unfortunately, Moto.Tronic doesn't do much to clarify things. It's a fairly frustrating listen for the neophyte, veering wildly between styles; the sophisticated pop of "Forbidden Colours" is followed by a more traditionally classical piano instrumental, then a Brazilian number and an orchestral piece from the soundtrack of The Last Emperor. This unpredictability repeats throughout, which tends to derail the album repeatedly, despite the excellence of all of the included work. The real frustration with this compilation is that it's actually pulling some of these songs from other compilations of his film and classical work, which seems gratuitous and unnecessary, especially when what's really needed is an easily available definitive overview -- if there can ever be such a thing considering how many different record labels would be involved -- of Sakamoto's pop career. (Notably, nothing from Illustrated Musical Encyclopaedia or Beauty is included here). Compounding the frustration with this release is the bonus DVD, which features five "videos," three of which are live performances, and one of which is completely pointless (unless you want to see nothing but the back of a photographer's leg flashing repeatedly in different colors for minutes on end). The one real saving grace for this compilation is the previously unreleased remix of the Brazilian "Insensatez" by digital ambience master Alva Noto. But for a set that could have offered so much more, it may not be enough.

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