Hai Fidelity
L'arc~en~Ciel: Kiss

by Rachael Carothers,

Click below for a clip of the song "Sunadokei"

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Most people are familiar with L'arc~en~Ciel's contributions to the anime world. Commonly known as Laruku, they performed the opening songs for Great Teacher Onizuka, DNA2 and both the Fullmetal Alchemist TV series and movie. The single for “Spirit Dreams Inside,” the theme song for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, not only contained a Japanese version of the song but also one with English lyrics, proving that they have the potential to conquer the tricky United States market.

On November 21, 2007, the band released their latest album, Kiss. Just like the past two albums, Awake and Smile, there are a couple of anime theme songs here. “Daybreak's Bell,” the theme song for Mobile Suit Gundam 00, the latest television series in the franchise, and an album version of “Link,” the theme song for Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie – Conqueror of Shamballa.

The chart-topping “Seventh Heaven” was the first single released from the new disc. As the opening track, the song succeeds in absolutely rocking out. Though it is difficult to listen to it without thinking of its promotional video (otherwise known as music videos), which features multi-colored surrealist dancers surrounding the band. I attribute this difficulty to lead singer Hyde's apparent channeling of Boy George's dancing from his “Karma Chameleon” days.

Guitarist Ken wrote the next song, “Pretty Girl.” While it's not a terrible song, it's not quite as interesting as the previous or the following song. It just feels repetitive, almost like something a teenage girl would be dancing to in her bedroom. In comparison, “My Heart Draws A Dream,” the second single from the album, is a lot more solid in the transitions between the verses, chorus and bridge. While Hyde wrote the words to “My Heart,” Ken wrote the music so it's a little confusing why these two songs don't seem to be on the same songwriting level.

“Sunadokei” (loosely translated as “Hourglass”) slows the pace down a little but that doesn't mean it is a boring song. On the contrary, Tetsu, the bassist's, musical composition mixes extremely well with his lyrics. It's quite surprising that this hasn't been picked up as a theme song of some sort. The ending bridge where Hyde almost speaks the lines coupled with the chorus and Ken's guitar solo would be perfect as an ending theme.

Right from the beginning, “Spiral” gave me a headache. The pounding drum line along with the repetitive guitar licks feel like they don't want you to enjoy the song, they want to drive railroad spikes into your ears instead. If they had toned down those parts, this could have been a really great song. There's a very sexy bridge with Hyde practically growling the lyrics but it gets messed up with the too-loud drums and the unvarying bass.

Luckily, “Alone En La Vida” saves my sanity with a relaxing beat and softer vocal. Even though this isn't an amazing song, it is a welcome break before we launch into “Daybreak's Bell.” As the first theme for the newest Gundam series, chances are this is the reason why most non-Laruku fans are buying Kiss. It's not the strongest song on the album. However, with the addition of a piano, it has a nice, even sound with the sort of desperate love feeling that always seems to accompany Gundam songs.

On the verge of being a ballad, “Umibe” (loosely translated as “Beach”) gives us a hard rocking guitar line behind Hyde's pleading vocal. In my opinion, this is the song that “Spiral” wanted to be. While the guitar is still fairly repetitive, the drums are toned down to even that out. So instead of having a background of steadily stabbing beats, you get the hard rock feeling without the pain.

“The Black Rose” begins with a weird piano piece before the drums take over, transforming it into an absolutely awesome song. Trumpets and horns join the piano, guitar, drums and bass to create this amazing sound. The brass instruments don't show up until after the first chorus, which makes them a bit more powerful when they are played. This is probably the best song on the entire album.

If you have seen the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, then you are familiar with “Link,” the opening theme song. The version here is officially titled “Link –KISS Mix-“ but it doesn't sound any different from the version that was released back on July 20, 2005. This is the first time that the song has appeared on an album, though it's still a little strange to call it a mix when it is exactly the same. Either way, this is still a great song. It even sounds like the band had a fun time recording it.

The only real ballad on the album is “Yuki no Ashiato” (loosely translated as “Snowy Footprints”). With a very soothing sound, you can almost hear the snow falling around Hyde as he sings. The only thing keeping this song from being amazing is, once again, the hard drum line. There are some very ethereal sounds coming from the piano and strings section but then it's ruined with a heavy line from the bass drum. When it was just the snare drum, the instruments came together beautifully. As the deeper drum sound came in, the feeling changed completely. Despite this still being a rock ballad, it might have been a better song if that bass drum line was softened or replaced with the snare drum.

“Hurry Xmas” is the finale for the album. Mixing string and wind instruments with the typical Laruku sound, we have a beautiful song that has an almost big band feel to it. Now if only I could get those radio stations that insist on playing 24 hours of Christmas music right after Thanksgiving to pick up this song, I would be ecstatic. I'd much rather listen to this than Bruce Springsteen's “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” again.

As a whole, Kiss is a wonderful album. This is the first studio album that Laruku has released since 2005. Even though the band members have been involved in solo projects during their break, this may be the reason for the few lousy songs they gave us. Of all of the Laruku albums I have listened to, this is the first one that has a song that causes physical pain when I listen to it. Hopefully, the band will realize their mistakes and overcome them with an even better album.

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