Use your illusion

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Ever since Guns N’ Roses released Use Your Illusion I & II, artists out to prove their productivity have gone the route of recording two albums at once.

Bruce Springsteen did it with Human Touch and Lucky Town. So too does L’arc~en~Ciel with ark and ray.

After a drug scandal involving ex-drummer Sakura, L’arc~en~Ciel remained mum for the better part of 1997. In 1998 and 1999, the group went gangbusters with its new drummer Yukihiro, releasing a number of singles and three albums, two of which at the same time in 1999.

Historically, one album in double release fares better than the other. Lucky Town overshadowed Human Touch. Use Your Illusion II has more endurance than Use Your Illusion I. And ray has ark beat.

Whereas ray strips “Laruku” down to its most basic — save for an occassional synthesizer — ark is its glossy, over-produced reflection.

ark sports horns, strings and whole lot of synthesizers. The string arrangements on “Butterfly’s Sleep” and “Pieces [ark mix]” in particular sound too much like scores from bad Japanese dramas.

The songwriting veers from dramatic alternative rock (“Forbidden lover”) to bouncy Burt Bacarach pop (“Driver’s High”), even to quasi-Hawaiian (“Perfect Blue”). ray, on the other hand, is more or less a straight rock album.

Both albums bounce around stylistically, but ark suffers from hopping between a number of incongruent genres. In short, it possesses little of the clarity of its companion release.

There are some individually nice moments. “Heaven’s Drive” is the hardest rocker on the disc. “Cradle” has a nice post-New Wave feel.

But compared to the solid songwriting and focused performances of ray, ark sounds like an afterthought dressed up to be more than it really is.