Dec 24

[vault review] Cocco: Best + Ura Best + Mihappyou Kyokushuu

bestWhen Cocco left the music industry in 2001 (she officially returned in 2006), she released a best-of that went beyond the obligatory singles collection. The two-disc collection includes 11 singles, seven B-sides, three album tracks and five exclusive songs; the first press edition had a third CD with a track from Cocco’s sought-after indies single and “Hiyoko Buta no Theme Part 2,” her contribution to the children’s show Minna no Uta. The collection’s an excellent value for fans collecting Cocco’s songs and a thorough primer for new listeners.

Best + Ura Best + Mihappyo Kyokushuu covers a broad range of Cocco’s territory, though none of her ironic children’s songs made the cut. You get the heavy rock of “Mizu Kagami”; the ethereal beauty of “Jukai no Ito”; the minimalism of “Kutsushita no Himitsu” and “Ame Furashi”; the anthemic “Sing a Song~No Music, No Life~”; and many of the introspective rockers most definitive of Cocco’s style, such as “Raining” and “Hane~lay down my arms~.”

Best is testament to the strength of Cocco’s catalogue on the whole. Her B-sides and previously unreleased tracks hold their own against her singles and album tracks; a new listener might have trouble distinguishing which is which. A B-side track, “Way Out,” launches the compilation strikingly. It begins with 13 seconds of feedback before Cocco summons her band with a six-second scream. Her singing grows increasingly aggressive, reaching a wordless cry at the end of the chorus. It’s one of the hardest and most powerful songs Cocco’s ever written.

“Sweet Berry Kiss” and “Mokumaou” demonstrate Cocco’s preternatural talent for combining gorgeous rock melodies and honest, poetic lyrics to create moving songs. Meanwhile, “Ame Furashi” reveals her tender side. The cheery atmosphere of “Shiawase no Komichi” belies the violent fate of its protagonists. Closer “Ibara” has the troubled singer declare she would rather continue living with pain than be free of it. “I want to fall down/I don’t need to fly/I’m sure I can run/this body/should be able to live/even barefoot,” she sings. The reverb makes Cocco’s sound voice distant, possibly alluding to her departure from the music scene.

As with any compilation, individual fans will gripe about favorite songs that didn’t make it. Cocco’s cover of “Rainbow” by Dr. StrangeLove (an excellent duo that composed her production team and the backbone of her band at the time) is far more interesting than the relatively bland “Again.” The a cappella tune “Mafuyu no Suika” shows off how Cocco’s vocal color can set an ominous mood all by itself. But these omissions don’t change the fact that Best is a strong collection on its own.

But, by nature of being a compilation, it lacks the punch that Cocco’s focused original albums deliver. It’s a more intellectual listen, a study of the remarkable consistency and strength of an unusual artist at her peak. If you like what you hear on this best-of, do check out Cocco’s first four original albums to experience how much better these songs sound within context. Best was the first Cocco album I bought, but it was an original ones–Sangrose–that made her my favorite artist. That album’s cohesion and vision left such an impression on me that I had to get the three preceding it ASAP.

But for the uninitiated, Best is still a good way to find out what Cocco was about during the time she made her hardest, most impressive music. What was meant to close a career now closes a musical chapter in Cocco’s life.

Translation of Ibara’s lyrics by Brian Stewart