I’m sure every fan-girl melted into swooning pools of, well, fandom, with the release of GACKT’s Love Letter.
And rightly so– even tough, manly persons such as myself would (“would”, and by “would” I mean actually that this is just a hypothetical situation that didn’t really happen…) have a hard time not swooning into imaginary beds of rose-petals, or, much more likely, going into comas of heartbreak over the emotionally crushing, heartbreaking, cruelly beautiful and gently arranged ballads collection.
Because these aren’t just ballads. These aren’t slow, willowy love-songs. These are powerful, destructive forces– this collection is carefully, hand-selected for the ultimate effect: utter despair.
Get your tissues out, and, with me clinging to the shreds of my reputation, we’ll brave the inevitable, wonderfully sweet trauma of Gacktese ballads, and get on with Love Letter— the only album you should be listening to this week.
Released on February 14th, 2005, Love Letter is an honorary Valentine’s gift to all fans. The album may not be new, however, the collection is absolutely timeless, and if, five years from its release, you’ve stopped singing its praises, you ought to sit in the corner and re-think your attitude.
Along with the Japanese version, a Korean version was also released. The Korean version included the same track-list, but shorter– Etude, Dears, and Aritakke no Ai de were not included on the Korean release.
Love Letter features 8 all-new (well, they were new in 2005) tracks, as well as 2 previously released singles (Aritakke no Ai de [’05], Kimi ni Aitakute [’04]). The single Love Letter wouldn’t be released until March 1st, 2006.
Love Letter opens with the easy notes of acoustic guitars on first track Seippai no Sayounara. The rich, full-bodied vocals flow along over the simple, ringing guitar chords, rustic and easy feeling. Both Seippai no Sayounara and the following Tea Cup have a similar energetic feel. You’re not sure whether they make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, or whether they’re turning the keys to your melancholy. Both songs have a deeply sentimental, nostalgic feeling.
Tea Cup opens with a similar chord progression as its predecessor, with the addition of violins. Less minimalistic (but still pretty bare), Tea Cup has a very similar easy, plodding feeling to Seippai no Sayounara. The violins accentuate the rises and falls of the vocal melody beautifully, and the piece is beginning to work away at that secret place where we hide our melancholy, our languishing romantic spirit, our hopeless dreamer. The chorus of this track soars with the dakishimete‘s and aishitai‘s into throaty notes, surprising dips, and more heartfelt, romantic cello. The bridge in the middle feels earthy and decisive, and the strained iru kara and aching violin that conclude it are gently heart-wrenching. The bridge leads into violin solo, and final chorus, with easy instrumentals that wind down into the final chords.
I recommend you just stop the CD right there and get back to your happy, uplifted, cheerful life before it’s too late. If you continue past Tea Cup, you’re a brave soul– and it’s too late.
Track 3…the ominous Etude. Cited to have been previously released on a Cains:Feel demo tape back in the very, very first days of GACKT, this piece is really the peak of hopelessness in the first half of the album. The piece opens with the dangerous, high-notes of solo piano. Piano + GACKT usually = possible wallowing and despair.
If you think you’re going to get away with just another piano solo, you’re wrong. Not only is this song the most heart-breaking of the album, it’s also the longest. Funny how that works. There’s not really anything to do but listen to it, I suppose. It is an absolute perfection of balladic composition. Painfully tender, infused with tears, memories, and broken rose-stems, this is the king of ballads. I’d doff my hat in respect, but my hands are busy rapidly moving from tissue-box to face and back again.
If you survive Etude, then you’ve made it to Aritakke no Ai de. The fourth track is almost shocking after the coma we just went into, pouring out our souls in bucket-fulls of tears shed over Etude. Upbeat and cheerful, more acoustic guitar (but happy and tinny this time), accompaniment of rhythmically clapping hands, and the jolly, bouncing-along vocal line, this song is everything the title implies: With my overflowing love. All that unbounded love is certainly overflowing in this piece– and we need it after what he just put us through, I mean really. This is a genuinely fun song, without being rowdy, and it’s recorded to make you feel like you’re sitting around, swaying and clapping and cheering along with our favorite balladic sadist and his fine company.
The love overflows, pouring us into Peace, another pretty composition. Like Seippai no Sayounara and Tea Cup, Peace is a beautiful, simplistic ballad, but it doesn’t have any particular oomph. These songs serve more as an elegant, impressionistic background to the picture being painted with the more outgoing A-side tracks.
One of the highlights of the album, for me at least, had to be #5: Kono Yoru ga Owari Mae ni (Before this night ends). It opens with tinny, slightly muffled acoustic guitar, and then GACKT starts singing– low key, pretty, with an overlay that makes it sound a bit like an old record, or a tape deck. It has a powerful intro, but the intro is nothing to the strong, decisive melody that blooms out of it. The affected old-fashioned sound is dropped, for a steady rhythmic beat, guitar, and a muffled bass– for the first time on the album? Maybe. This is another thoroughly pretty song, but unlike the aforementioned bits, Kono Yoru ga Owari Mae ni has real body and power, and is really one of the great pieces on the album. Perhaps it’s a little more GACKT, with a flinty, edge and darker depth. But whatever it is, it makes for an excellent mix up to everything we’ve heard so far, and marks the middle of the album and the flip into the second half, and a second set of great songs.
Following Kono Yoru ga comes Kimi ni Aitakute (Wanting to See You). Deep piano and one of the most romantic melodic lines of the entire album (well, it might have to fight it out with Love Letter, but I suppose they can tie). Another timeless Gackt “classic”, this is pure, elegant, neither sad nor happy, full and rich romanticism. Another highlight for sure.
The second set of songs has a different feel than the first set. They somehow feel slightly more energetic (possibly even Gacktjob went into serious ennui after recording Etude and needed some time to recover.), despite the heart-wrenching, killer Dears~LLV with its destructively nostalgic and touching a-Capella break, heartwarming and familiar guitar melody, and cruelly warm, throaty vocals. This new take of an old MARS classic stands as one of my favorites, and in my personal opinion, just generally one of the bets tracks on the entire album.
Another one to listen to with caution.
Following Dears~LLV, we have the second-to-last, eccentric and understated Sakurasou. This piece is unlike anything else on the album–or, rather, unlike any of his other songs, really. It has a dreamy, fairy-like feeling, with its down-played melody, and Xylophone-like, percussive accompaniment. The crescendo of the first verse is a real gem, with its anata wa nani yori mo, kirei na hana deshita (you, more than anything, were a beautiful flower) arching into strained Lalala’s and the inserted, Zutto suki deshita. The whole thing is very un-Gackt, and results in something short, sweet, and very unique.
Sakurasou blossoms into finale and title-song Love Letter. If you would write into music the most idealistic, romantic, gentle, adoring love letter ever written, it would be this song. A perfect resolution to the album, this song instantly puts you on white, sun-bathed beaches, running slow-motion into the waiting arms of the one you love. The soaring, oceanic ebb and flow of the orchestral-strings melody is flawless, with great, dramatic unfurling into the first chorus. Actually making use of the phrase aishiteru instead of sayounara (Gackt…?), this is the stuff of riding-into-sunsets and spinning hand-in-hand through fields of tropical flowers. It’s about staying together without ever changing, and continuing to move until the end of time, always a pair, together.
Kono mune ni, tsuyoku dakishimeta omoi wa kawaranai tada hitotsu dakedo, aishiteru….
~I held you tightly to this chest, this feeling never changing, just this one thing…I love you….~
Image from the Takano Yuri Beauty Clinic promo.