In hip-hop, the words pretty much are the music. So what happens when a language barrier interferes with the words?
For a band like Dragon Ash, it doesn’t really matter. The Japanese quartet’s sampling talents and writing chops makes its third album, Viva La Revolution, a riveting listening experience — even for folks who despise hip-hop.
If anything, the words are pretty negligible. Furuya Kenji could be rapping in Mandarin Chinese, and it wouldn’t take away from the big beats, the jump-cut arrangements, the clever sampling or anything else. It could even go so far as the make converts out of hip-hop detractors.
But from track eight (“Drugs Can’t Kill Teens”) to track 12 (“Nouvelle Vague #2”), Dragon Ash take a detour into pop-punk, ska and jock rock, attempting to capitalize on the whole rap-metal thing.
It’s a serious misstep that disrupts the momentum of an otherwise promising and brilliant work.
Dragon Ash comes to its senses on the last three songs of the album, closing it with the big hit single “Grateful Days.” Unfortunately, the detour lasts so long that listeners converted by the hip-hop tracks will lose patient with the rap-metal tracks.
Still, more than half of the album is pretty enjoyable, if not downright cool. Dragon Ash’s wild popularity in its home nation is quite justified, and Viva La Revolution demonstrates why.