<!– Link: L’arc~en~Ciel

At the beginning of ray, L’arc~en~Ciel sound like a grungier Rolling Stones. By the end of ray, the group sounds like latter day U2.

Along the way, this Japanese rock group makes nods to the Smiths, the Alarm, the Fall, Unforgettable Fire-era U2 (again), Pearl Jam, Soundgarden (with a little Nine Inch Nails), and maybe even a sliver of James Brown.

In short, L’arc~en~Ciel does what you’d expect from a Japanese megacorporation — improve on a bunch of Western innovations.

A good number of Japanese rock bands make a slavish devotion to sounding like their idols. L’arc~en~Ciel does as well, but the distinctive musicianship of its members turns that imitation into something clearly unique.

Singer Hyde (pronounced “hai-do”) whines through his nose like the Japanese cousin of ex-Faith No More’s Mike Patton, but when he hits those falsetto notes, he transforms totally into Bono.

Guitarist Ken can transform himself into his guitar idols with a drop of a hat. From Keith Richards on one track, to Johnny Marrs on another, to Kim Thayill and Robin Finck on the next, Ken becomes a guitar diety his-bad-self.

The result is a strangely cohesive yet wonderfully divergent sound in which rock music’s vast legacy becomes a definitive, personal statement.

Listeners would be hard-pressed to find even an American group that does what L’arc~en~Ciel accomplishes so well on ray.