Long-term success doesn’t demand radical musical shifts. Case in point, Japanese rockers Mr.Children. They're the second-highest-selling artist in Japanese music history, breaking out in the mid 1990s with a rock sound built for the upper rafters of a stadium. They play slow-building numbers, centered around guitars and metaphor-rich lyrics. They’ve done this since forming, and have very rarely shifted tracks. The end result: a prolonged popularity that guarantees that if the quartet releases a new album or best-of compilation, you can bet it will be one of the year’s best moving.
The group’s newest single “himawari” continues to find Mr.Children operating in their standard mode, and instantly generating buzz around a tried-and-true style. It initially came out at the end of July, and debuted on top of the Oricon singles chart the week after. The song’s video, uploaded over the weekend, is already screaming up the Japanese YouTube trending list, helping spread an already popular tune even further. It’s one of 2017’s most notable hits, and achieved such status by hugging a certain formula as tightly as possible.
Musically, Mr.Children opt for drama fit for IMAX. They don’t always go this way, their best sounding songs tend to operate swifter, revealing a playfulness within in the group. But it’s the mode their most well-known cuts embrace. Their latest boasts a backing string section and long, soaring guitar solos puffed up by drum bangs, the impact of these passages increased by mid-tempo verses that seemingly hold something back. Mr.Children excel at taking epic-feeling structure and making it feel worn in.
The quartet’s strongest aspect has always been their lyrics, written by lead vocalist Kazutoshi Sakurai. Mr.Children take familiar life experiences - love, friendship, sadness, regret - and portrays the feelings springing from them in unexpected ways using simile and metaphor. Standard stuff for an arena rock band, but Sakurai has a way with literary technique. “himawari” is about death, specifically of looking at a corpse and saying goodbye. This is not cleverly written, but established from the first line. Yet the feelings emerging from this farewell get rendered as sugar cubes melting from tears and storms blocking out sunlight (conveyed not-so-subtly in video form). Again, old hat for Mr.Children, but Sakurai knows how to make it work.
Few do the familiar as well as Mr.Children, and “himawari” is another reminder of the band’s continued skill at creating Mr.Children songs. You don’t become one of Japan’s most popular bands for over two decades straight by flipping tables, you do it by sitting patiently and doing what everyone expects you to do.
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