Predictably good

WINO has often been described as Japan’s answer to Oasis, and given the big influence of British rock on the quintet, it’s easy to understand the comparrison.

Since its debut in 1998, WINO has delivered album after album of hook-filled, psychedelic-tinged, fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll. Strip away the ’90s-styled aural acrouments in the band’s music, and they might just sound like a Beatles knock-off. (Three of the band’s members lists the Fab Four as an influence.)

In terms of aesthetic, 2001’s Dirge No. 9 doesn’t sound terribly different from WINO’s 1998 debut, Useless Music.

All the basic elements that made Useless Music a winner are kept pretty much in tact on the new album — Hisanaga Chokko’s and Togawa Shinichiroo’s two-guitar wall of sound, Yoshimura Atsushi’s versatile vocals, and hooks, hooks, hooks.

If anything, the songs on Dirge No. 9 are just a tad harder to warm up to, something easily remedied after two listens.

Dirge No. 9 is also something of a telling title — the songs on the album are noticeably darker.

“Taiyoo wa Yoru mo Kagayaku” and “Imagine, Still” are both big-chord ballads with Lennon-McCartney undertones. The reverb-drenched drumming on “Hurt” and “Butterfly” subtly hints at a “Funky Drummer”-meets-“White Rabbit” vibe.

“Empty Soul”, sung in English, sounds like Phil Spector missing a dosage of Prozac. Even the title track is a simple voice-and-acoustic guitar number, mournful and sparse.

That doesn’t mean the band has forgotten how to rock out. After a suitably raucous opening with “New Dawn F”, “Resolution” comes out blazing with both guns pointed.

“My Life” and “Sullen Days” bring Dirge No. 9 to its dramatic climax before the title track provides a soft denounment.

All told, WINO isn’t the kind of band to shake things up radically, but they are excellent songwriters. And Dirge No. 9 proves it time and again.