Greatest hits and misses

When L’Arc~en~Ciel announced it would let fans vote for the track listing for its singles collections on Yahoo! Japan, the band broke music industry rules on many levels.

First, sales, not fans, are supposed to determine what appears on hits collections. Repacking old material is a time-honored technique in the music industry to bleed the proverbial turnip. If it sold well before, it will sell well again, ergo producing income for labels, publishers and maybe the band.

Second, fans don’t know better — at least in music criticism circles. A band’s best work may never be released as a single, and if a popular vote shuts out artistically worthy material, then it’s really a rigged race. Of course, music journalism arrogance dictates that critics — and no one else — knows what’s best, even for the band.

So, does Clicked Singles Best 13 really represent L’Arc~en~Ciel well? Yes and no.

L’Arc~en~Ciel is an incredibly flexible band, able to switch between rock genres at a drop of a hat.

One minute, they’re sentimental balladeers supported by oceans of strings, the next minute, they’re a stripped-down rock ensemble with grunge-y guitars.

With such a diverse output, it’s possible for the band to miss as many times as it hits. Clicked Singles Best 13 is not the collection for people who like the rougher moments in L’Arc~en~Ciel’s repetoire.

The disc’s voting constituency has determined that up-tempo, bouncy songs such as “flower”, “winter fall” and “Blurry Eyes” set the tenor for the rest of the disc.

“Lies and Truth,” a song that should have been recorded in the 70s but unfortunately wasn’t, epitomizes the worst of said consituency’s taste. Strings? A disco beat? Oy.

But are the fans totally wrong? Toward the end of Clicked Singles Best 13, they get a fair share right.

“Dive to Blue”, with its ringing Edge-like guitar riffs, shows Laruku personalizing U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. “Honey” is the grunge-meets-new wave hit Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins were too serious to write.

“Neo Universe” sports some of the best synthesizer work in a mainstream rock song ever, while “Heaven’s Drive” has the one of the greatest opening drum licks.

In other words, not every fan is going to be satisfied with the votes, especially when North American fans [hand raised] never got a chance to participate.

Critically? Clicked Singles Best 13 misses the boat. Many times.

How is it that absolutely nothing from heavenly and only one song from ray made it on the album, while one of the band’s weakest albums, ark, gets represented by four singles? The omission of “Snow Drop” is nearly criminal.

As a means of introducing the States to the band — Clicked Singles Best 13 is one of the first albums released on the new Sony Music Imports imprint — the album may not be dark enough for American rockers and too rock-like for pop audiences.

That, and “Lies and Truth” does nothing to establish L’Arc~en~Ciel’s credibility.

Clicked Singles Best 13 is gift for fans all over the world, but it’s a hard sell for folks yet to be swayed by the band’s incredible talent.