L'Arc~en~Ciel

L'Arc~en~Ciel during their AsiaLive Tour in 2005. From left to right:
tetsu (bass), yukihiro (drums), hyde (vocals), ken (guitar)

They're my favorite band. Even if I don't think their songwriting can be put in the same level as someone such as Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney, they certainly do know how to write a damn good pop song that is far more addicting than most other groups. In fact, pretty much everything they put out has merit, and they're one of the most consistent bands I've ever heard. The Beach Boys certainly couldn't claim that; while they had songs that bordered on God-like perfection, they also had some real shit. L'Arc~en~Ciel has, since 1993, been creating one awesome album after another. That's why they're my favorite band, really: I like everything they've done. Everything.

To sum up the band in a single statement (which I will then greatly expand on), they are a rock band playing pop music. No, really. You've got your basic rock band make-up, and they do play rock 'n' roll but it's all very accessible and melodic. Their "heavy" stuff like Shout at the Devil and THE NEPENTHES are exceptions; the rarely have more than one song of this type on an album. But I find pop to be a very large and encompassing term. It can mean the true, undiluted pop of True or the more serious, gloomy, rockier stuff on HEART.

Despite being a pop band, Laruku is made up of some seriously talented musicians. ken is probably the most; he writes at least 50% of the band's music, and rarely is there a clunker in sight. Nearly everything he writes is excellent. Further he's a damn fine guitarist. Not only does he have ridiculous technical skill (his speed and dexterity is no doubt a reflection of his metal roots) but he plays with such passion. You just feel what this guy is playing. His solos aren't just mindless noodling either. He's more of a Clapton: a virtuoso, for sure, but always puts the emotion first. You can really feel what the guy is playing.

Then there's bassist tetsu, whose basslines are so fluid and melodic they are often the most memorable part of the song. In their older days I think the bass was more dominant in the song than it is now, where guitar seems to be the primary driving force in every song (as is typical) and the bass is more a support for the rhythm. As a songwriter tetsu may be perhaps the most pop influenced; all of his music is quite melodic, even when it's fairly dark, such as finale or Blame. I guess he's most popular for his outright pop music, usually fast, energetic, catchy tunes. But it's silly to think that's all he's capable of.

Vocalist hyde is most often revered for his appearance, but most also enjoy his singing. Live he can be hit and miss: he has good days and plenty of bad days, and he admits to never practicing his vocals. But on the record he always sounds great. One thing hyde's voice has is power: sheer, in-your-face, Bono-like power. When he really belts it out, you feel it. As for his songs, it's a mixed bag. He's usually the one writing in a variety of genres, and I suppose his style is less accessible and more "hardcore" than tetsu's, even when it's outright pop music like SEVENTH HEAVEN.

L'Arc~en~Ciel has had three drummers but the first one left so soon he's hardly worth mentioning. The two drummers for the band are sakura and yukihiro. sakura is such an awesome drummer I've dedicated an entire page to him because I admire his style so much. He has such a graceful sound, that's the best way I can describe it. But, due to some conflicts within the band he had to leave after True, and was replaced about a year later by yukihiro. yukihiro is the exact opposite: he rams the groove down your throat. A lot of people prefer this, no doubt. yukihiro's style is perhaps more appropriate for the general pop audience. As far as songs go though, he writes some really weird stuff and generally, if a song seems out of place on the album, it's probably from yukihiro.

When these four guys create an album, I think they really make sure every song meets a quality standard. Every song has a lot of feeling, a lot of emotion, a catchy hook, an attractive arrangement... it's always there. But I won't lie about my feelings: I think L'Arc~en~Ciel's most creative period was from 1993 to somewhere in 1999; ark and ray I think brought on a lot of popularity and pressure, and the process of writing so many songs for the double album took a lot out of them I think. Something really changed there. The post-hiatus music, especially, just doesn't seem quite as fresh as what they were creating in the earlier days. I'm not sure if the band will ever return to its former glory. Hopefully they'll prove me wrong. But nonetheless, the music is still excellent and I still get excited everytime they release something new.

Now, onto the reviews...

DUNE
Rating: 5
Release date: 4/27/1993
Favorite song: As if in a dream
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Shutting from the sky5hyde; L'Arc~en~Ciel
Voice5hyde; ken
Taste of love4hyde; ken
Entichers3hyde
Floods of tears5hyde; tetsu
Dune5hyde; tetsu
Be destined4hyde; ken
tsuioku no joukei5hyde; L'Arc~en~Ciel
As if in a dream6hyde; ken
ushinawareta nagame2hyde; ken
Floods of tears (single version)*4hyde; tetsu
yasouka*3hyde; ken
yokan*5hyde; ken
* indicates only available on the 10th anniversary edition.

For a debut album this is incredible. One of their strongest albums in fact; the songs are all great, and the playing is fantastic. They sound like professionals already. Other than sakura, none of these guys had really seriously recorded an album before this. Incredible. The songwriting is strong throughout; though it's clear tetsu, ken, and hyde haven't quite "found themselves" as songwriters, this produces one of the most unique L'Arc~en~Ciel albums because it doesn't sound entirely quite like them. Plus, many of these songs had been "honed" for quite some time, as the band had been playing together since 1991 and this wasn't recorded until 1993. Really a great serious work; none of these songs are playful or upbeat in the slightest. It's the darkest and most rock of any of their records, even if the sound is sparse and not as heavy as some of their later stuff.


Tierra
Rating: 5
Release date: 7/14/1994
Favorite song: White Feathers
TracklistRatingWords; Music
In the Air5hyde
All Dead4hyde
Blame5hyde; tetsu
Wind of Gold4hyde; ken
Blurry Eyes5hyde; tetsu
Inner Core5hyde; sakura
nemuri ni yosete5hyde; ken
kaze no yukue5hyde; ken
hitomi ni utsuru mono3hyde; ken
White Feathers6hyde; ken
L'Arc~en~Ciel goes major and adds some sophistication to their sound. Synths are layered all over the place and the production is of course quite a bit better. The sound has softened quite a bit too. OK, so there's still All Dead and Inner Core, which would've fit in on DUNE fine, but in general we've got a lighter, more atmospheric L'Arc~en~Ciel here. The opening track indicates that clearly, but then it is epitomized in White Feathers, probably the best song the band ever composed (and I say probably because there are days when As if in a dream puts up some stiff competition). Oh, and let's not forget Blurry Eyes, the only upbeat song on the album, and the first move towards the pop territory, and perhaps one of their best examples of blending pop and rock together. An excellent album and perhaps one of their most cohesive.


heavenly
Rating: 4
Release date: 9/1/1995
Favorite song: Vivid Colors
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Still I'm With You4hyde; ken
Vivid Colors5hyde; ken
and She Said4hyde
GARASU dama5hyde; ken
Secret Signs2hyde; ken
C'est La Vie5hyde; tetsu
natsu no yuuutsu3hyde; ken
Cureless5hyde; tetsu
shizuka no umi de4hyde; L'Arc~en~Ciel
The Rain Leaves a Scar5hyde; ken
A sudden turn into pop music. The band at its most playful, experimenting in pop territory now that Blurry Eyes had proven to be a success. Vivid Colors is the big single, ken's first foray into the pop world, and perhaps the archetypal L'Arc pop song (a lot of their future singles borrow from this style). Of course, rarely have they been able to outdo this song; I was almost tempted to rate it a 6. Of course, there's plenty of other great pop songs on here, such as the creative first track and tetsu's goofy and catchy C'est La Vie. There's still a few DUNE throwbacks as well, such as the awesome Cureless. A transitional album, I suppose, but it does lean heavily into pop territory. There's a playfulness here I don't think is present in a lot of their post-sakura work, and yet they haven't entered into the total pop realm of True. A very strong album, but I had to ding it a point down to a 4 as an album due to the inclusion of the weak Secret Signs, and the inferior album version of natsu no yuuutsu (though the single is a 6!).


BEST ALBUM
True
Rating: 5
Release date: 12/12/1996
Favorite song: flower
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Fare Well5hyde; ken
Caress of Venus5hyde; ken
Round and Round4hyde
flower6hyde
"good-morning Hide"5hyde
the Fourth Avenue Cafe5hyde; ken
Lies and Truth ("True" mix)5hyde; ken
kaze ni kienaide ("True" mix)5hyde; tetsu
I Wish4hyde; tetsu
Dearest Love5hyde; tetsu
Just think, a day before my tenth birthday, I was totally unaware that my future favorite band was creating an almost Pet Sounds like masterpiece of an album. It comes really, really close. flower was a definite 6, since it's one of the most unique songs they've ever done and certainly one of the most emotionally stirring (and of course catchy like everything here). But hell, Lies and Truth and kaze ni kienaide are both pop masterpieces, the former being an overblown string arrangement with a disco beat, and the latter being more in the vein of their heavenly work. Unfortunately, it takes more than just being the catchiest song ever written (which both of these fight for constantly) to earn a 6. It's not all insanely catchy pop even though that is the majority of the album. Let's not forgot the gorgeous Fare Well, a slow, piano-driven ballad with one of ken's most gorgeous solos, as well as the final track, another slow-moving ballad in 6/8 time and with some of sakura's best drumming. The ending is so big and overblown and emotional, it's like a poppier version of White Feathers. Believe it or not, some fans actually hate this album, since it's so pop. Ignore them; this is Laruku at their peak.


HEART
Rating: 5
Release date: 2/25/1998
Favorite song: fate
TracklistRatingWords; Music
LORELEY5hyde
winter fall5hyde; ken
Singin' in the Rain4hyde
Shout at the Devil4hyde; ken
niji (Album mix)5hyde; ken
birth!5hyde
Promised land4hyde; ken
fate5hyde; ken
milky way3hyde; tetsu
anata5hyde; tetsu
Almost a total 180 from True. Laruku embraces rock music and sound a lot gloomier and a lot grittier now. Sure, you get the occasional pop gem like winter fall which almost overtook fate as my favorite of the album (we're taking Lies and Truth-like catchiness here). But it's the darker stuff that most fans love this album for (and this is probably the most universally loved album of the band). The aforementioned fate generally takes the cake as a fan-favorite, a dark, moving rock number with one of the band's strongest choruses. But elsewhere on the album is more of the same - hyde's excellent LORELEY, a dark rocker to start the album and one of my favorite hyde songs to this day. There's faster songs like Promised land and Shout at the Devil too, which rock in a way Laruku has rarely revisited. The two most significant songs perhaps, are niji, the band's namesake song and a powerful rock ballad, and anata, the first of a number of grandiose orchestral ballads the band attempted and perhaps one of their best still. There's a little something here for everybody, but for those who crave the darker side of the band, you'll find more of it here than anywhere else.


ark
Rating: 4
Release date: 7/1/1999
Favorite song: Driver's High
TracklistRatingWords; Music
forbidden lover5hyde; ken
HEAVEN'S DRIVE5hyde
Driver's High6hyde; tetsu
Cradle4hyde; yukihiro
DIVE TO BLUE5hyde; tetsu
Larva1yukihiro
Butterfly's Sleep4hyde; ken
Perfect Blue3hyde; tetsu
shinjitsu to gensou to3hyde; ken
What is love4hyde; tetsu
Pieces [ark mix]5hyde; tetsu
Released at the same time as ray, this album represents one half of Laruku's work since 1998's HEART. But it's not just a random sampling of songs - most of the rock stuff was thrown onto ray, and then the big pop hits and everything else went on here. So you do have some excellent pop tracks like the immortal DIVE TO BLUE and my personal favorite, Driver's High, and of course the anata follow-up, Pieces. But the rest is strange, moody stuff. ken's dark shinjitsu to gensou to, tetsu's confused What is love and bitter Perfect Blue (draped in Hawaiian music, no less). Most of this stuff sounds like a b-side, really. yukihiro also provides his first, and honestly one of his best songs to the band: Cradle, a slow, spacey song with a fantastic acoustic and electric guitar solo from ken. To date this is one of the band's least cohesive albums; it constantly jumps back and forth from some of the band's biggest singles to slower, moodier pieces. Oddly, it's where I got my start with the band...

Oh, and if you're wondering what I'm smoking that I gave Driver's High a 6, being as it is one of the band's most banal songs as it really is about the thrill of driving, all I need to counter with is that it's not only a great driving pop song, but it was also the first song I ever heard from the band. I never said this site was objective!


ray
Rating: 4
Release date: 7/1/1999
Favorite song: HONEY
TracklistRatingWords; Music
shi no hai3hyde; tetsu
It's the end3hyde; ken
HONEY5hyde
Sell my Soul4hyde
snow drop [ray mix]5hyde; tetsu
L'heure1yukihiro
kasou4hyde; ken
shinshoku lose control4hyde; ken
trick1yukihiro
ibara no namida5hyde
the silver shining5hyde; ken
Far less schizophrenic than its companion, ray is a lot less interesting but not without its gems as well. Very little in here diverges much from your basic guitar/bass/drums rock track, an oddity for the band. Little of it is bad, but at the same time little of it is as interesting as when the band forays into unknown territory. HONEY is the band's biggest selling single, and rightfully so, a delightfully catchy rock song like only hyde can do (and has continued to do about once a year or so). yukihiro treats us with probably his most boring song ever, trick, which is a guitar heavy rocker that repeats two alternating sections for four minutes. But the rest of the album holds up fairly well. The sparse ballad the silver shining is a fitting end to this grungier album, contrasting with the sugary sweet Pieces that concluded the ark pop-fest. The singles that made it onto this album are darker and heavier than the band's usual output, with the exception being tetsu's snow drop, another instantly likeable pop song. I'd definitely take ark over ray myself, but many seem to prefer the consistency of this one.


ectomorphed works
Rating: 2
Release date: 6/28/2000
Favorite song: kasou [0528 mix]
TracklistRatingWords; Music
larva [ectomorphed long mix]1yukihiro
trick [new2 wave of japanese heavy metal mix]3yukihiro
kasou [0528 mix]4hyde; ken
fate [everybody knows but god mix]2hyde; ken
shinshoku lose control [ectoborn mix]3hyde; ken
a swell in the sun [system in chaos mix]1yukihiro
l'heure [quiet afternoon mix]1yukihiro
cradle [down to the moon mix]1hyde; yukihiro
shinjitsu to gensou to [out of reality mix #2]1hyde; ken
metropolis [android goes to be a deep sleep mix]4hyde; ken
The first album of the new millenium is a remix album, and an overly lengthy, annoying one at that? Erm, anyway, these are all "hand-made" by yukihiro, and you'll realize he mostly decided to remix his own songs and a few of ken's; nothing here from tetsu or hyde (I guess they don't lend themselves to remixing). In some cases there's little difference; L'heure is just as boring here as it was on ray, the only difference being a female whispering occasionally (and he calls it a remix). Most all of these songs are annoyingly long, and this is coming from someone who worships Disintegration. The only case where the extreme length seems to enhance the song is in metropolis, which drones on for ten minutes but adds a cool synth part and such. It's the one song that is good because of its length; the rest are hindered by it. Some of these remixes are interesting, like the breakbeat exercise that is shinshoku, or especially the new, even darker kasou with its menacing new guitar line. But since none of the songs have really been improved upon (with the exception of trick which is far more interesting now, but still ungodly long and somewhat boring), and few were very good to begin with, it's just not something I can really listen to all the way through. A pity.


REAL
Rating: 4
Release date: 8/20/2000
Favorite song: finale
TracklistRatingWords; Music
get out from the shell-asian version-4hyde; yukihiro
THE NEPENTHES4hyde; ken
NEO UNIVERSE5hyde; ken
bravery4hyde; tetsu
LOVE FLIES5hyde; ken
finale5hyde; tetsu
STAY AWAY4hyde; tetsu
ROUTE 6664hyde
TIME SLIP4hyde; ken
a silent letter2hyde; ken
ALL YEAR AROUND FALLING IN LOVE4hyde
Here's the first real album of the new millenium (they even appropriately titled it REAL). It's pretty good; better than ark and ray at least, but probably can't compare with any of their earlier albums. The band almost seems to be confused as to where they're supposed to go now that they've become mega-famous. So what we get is this crazy album that's just as schizophrenic as ark if not moreso. Most of these songs are surprisingly heavy though. Most of the album tracks are rather rockish, but even the singles are heavier than the normal fare. LOVE FLIES has a hard rock sound to it, and STAY AWAY is a fairly pop single but with a far rougher sound to it than say, DIVE TO BLUE. Most of it works quite well though, and for me the only low spot on the album is the wandering a silent letter, which meanders about for 6 and a half minutes and doesn't seem to reach a fitting conclusion. My personal favorite on this one is tetsu's overly epic finale, which probably beats out even forbidden lover in terms of power and drama.


Clicked Singles Best 13
Rating: 5
Release date: 3/14/2001
Favorite song: Driver's High
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Blurry Eyes5hyde; tetsu
flower5hyde
Lies and Truth5hyde; ken
niji5hyde; ken
winter fall5hyde; ken
DIVE TO BLUE5hyde; tetsu
HONEY5hyde
HEAVEN'S DRIVE5hyde
Pieces5hyde; tetsu
Driver's High5hyde; tetsu
NEO UNIVERSE5hyde; ken
STAY AWAY4hyde; tetsu
Anemone5hyde
After 8 years, they finally release their first of several "best" albums. Fans got to vote for their favorite singles (since we all know album tracks pale in comparison!) in an online poll, and the results were compiled here. Few surprises, really. Big, dramatic songs like forbidden lover and kasou were left off in favor of pop staples like DIVE TO BLUE and STAY AWAY. The bigger crime is that only three of six brilliant sakura-era singles managed to make it on here... all of them should be, without a doubt. hyde's new song, Anemone is quite pretty though. It's an orchestral ballad, but not of the anata or Pieces variety. It's not quite as sugary, and perhaps more poignant. Gorgeous vocals from hyde on this one. Even though it's not a perfect collection of singles from the band, it's still a great line-up of tunes. With the exception of STAY AWAY which I have to rate a 4, all of Laruku's singles up until this point have been worthy of a 5...


The Best of L'Arc~en~Ciel 1994-1998
Rating: 5
Release date: 3/19/2003
Favorite song: flower
TracklistRatingWords; Music
In the Air5hyde
Blurry Eyes5hyde; tetsu
Vivid Colors5hyde; ken
and She Said4hyde
natsu no yuuutsu [time to say good-bye]6hyde; ken
kaze ni kienaide5hyde; tetsu
flower5hyde
Lies and Truth5hyde; ken
Caress of Venus5hyde; ken
the Fourth Avenue Cafe5hyde; ken
niji5hyde; ken
winter fall5hyde; ken
Shout at the Devil4hyde; ken
fate5hyde; ken
anata5hyde; tetsu
Sony made an obvious cash-grab by releasing even more "best-of" collections while the band was on hiatus, meaning there had been no original material since the last "best-of" album released. The only reason to own this is because you get the amazing natsu no yuuutsu [time to say good-bye], a perfect mid-tempo rock ballad that they have yet to top if you ask me, which is only available otherwise on an obscure single (of course, Sony has since re-released all Laruku's old singles, so it's not that obscure anymore I guess). You also get the superior single mix of kaze ni kienaide and niji. All the singles from 1994-1998 are included as well as a few interesting album picks. The album tracks all seem to be ones that were fairly popular during live performances. Anyway, a great line-up of songs of course, but that's because you can hardly go wrong assembling a best album from Laruku's early years. The only problem is there's nothing from DUNE of course, but that's to be expected since Sony probably isn't allowed to use tracks from a CD released on a different label.


The Best of L'Arc~en~Ciel c/w
Rating: 3
Release date: 3/19/2003
Favorite song: anata no tame ni
TracklistRatingWords; Music
Brilliant Years5hyde
anata no tame ni5hyde; ken
I'm so happy5hyde
sayounara5hyde
sai wa nagerareta5hyde; ken
THE GHOST IN MY ROOM5hyde
metropolis5hyde; ken
Peeping Tom3hyde; ken
a swell in the sun1hyde; yukihiro
kasou-1014 mix-4hyde; ken
hole0yukihiro
get out from the shell4hyde; yukihiro
Here's the only thing good to come out of Sony's releasing a bunch of best albums: they finally put all the great b-sides on one disk! I haven't the heart to rate any of the sakura-era ones less than a five. They're all really quite good. From the quick, poppy Brilliant Years to one of their best fast rockers anata no tame ni, and then the nostalgiac sayounara... if there were more b-sides you could really make a great album out of all these songs. The early yukihiro-ones are top-notch too: the dancey THE GHOST IN MY ROOM and the utterly infectious (and highly sexual) metropolis are both incredibly catchy. But once yukihiro started dominating the b-sides things went downhill... after Peeping Tom, everything is boring for the most part. The boys were so busy writing for their double album release that the b-sides were left for yukihiro's rejects. The kasou remix is very cool, but it's in-between all these unlistenable songs. get out from the shell is fine but I can never get to it. For me, the album pretty much ends after metropolis... or maybe Peeping Tom. Which is why I have to give it an overall rating of 3, even if it's nearly impeccable for the first 7 songs.


SMILE
Rating: 3
Release date: 3/31/2004
Favorite song: hitomi no juunin
TracklistRatingWords; Music
kuchizuke4hyde; ken
READY STEADY GO5hyde; tetsu
Lover Boy5hyde; ken
Feeling Fine3hyde; ken
Time goes on5hyde; tetsu
Coming Closer3hyde; ken
eien3hyde
REVELATION2hyde; yukihiro
hitomi no juunin6hyde; tetsu
Spirit dreams inside4hyde
The big comeback... and the worst album Laruku has made to date. It's not bad, no, certainly not. tetsu's material here is all very strong: READY STEADY GO is this ridiculously fast pop rocker with great harmonies in the chorus. tetsu and hyde are a regular Lennon/McCartney. Time goes on is a great mellow tune, and hitomi no juunin is this heart melting ballad with the usual over-the-top orchestrations typical of tetsu. I have to give it a 6 because I think I spent a whole week or so listening to nothing but it once it was released. But everything else is average to bad. yukihiro's song is another loud, repetitive rocker that's catchy maybe the first time through then just boring after that. ken's songs go from decent rockers to self-parodies... Feeling Fine wants to be a catchy pop song, but it's absolutely embarrassing when compared to anything from True. Coming Closer wants to be this big dominating rock song, but compare it to any rock ballad from HEART and, again, it's the same deal. It's like they were trying too hard to be themselves, and the results are frustrating, for me anyway. To make matters worse, the album was rushed, and the arrangements aren't near as fleshed out as they could be. I almost gave this one a 4, but I just can't put it on the same level as a far better album like REAL.


AWAKE
Rating: 4
Release date: 6/22/2005
Favorite song: jojoushi
TracklistRatingWords; Music
New World5yukihiro; yukihiro/hyde
LOST HEAVEN4hyde; ken
jojoushi5hyde; ken
TRUST4hyde; tetsu
Killing Me5hyde
AS ONE3hyde
My Dear5hyde
EXISTENCE4hyde; ken
jiyuu e no shoutai5hyde; tetsu
Ophelia3hyde
hoshizora5hyde
twinkle, twinkle5ken
Things get much better. Laruku, for the most part, are no longer trying desperately to make sure they meet the expectations of what they should sound like, and write the songs they want to write, or so it seems to me anyway. It was hard picking a favorite, and I wanted to go with My Dear just because it blew me away the first time I heard it. ken rearranged this song which hyde had originally intended for ROENTGEN, and the result is this great dreamy techno piece. The chorus really takes off, and it reminds me exactly of the old days but with a new twist. Instead I picked jojoushi, a gorgeous ballad that ken wrote with hyde's voice in mind, which might explain the fantastic results. The other particularly good thing with this album is that yukihiro's only contribution is helped by hyde, and the end result is the great single New World. Otherwise we've got a pretty mixed bag of songs: a jazzy, piano-and-flugelhorn adorned Ophelia, the metal of AS ONE, the standard rock sound of LOST HEAVEN, the huge dramatic hoshizora, and the most hyper song the band has come up with yet, Killing Me (it's also the catchiest on the album!). It's a bit like REAL in that the band doesn't know exactly what they're striving for, but the results are typically pretty good.


KISS
Rating: 4
Release date: 11/22/2007
Favorite song: MY HEART DRAWS A DREAM
TracklistRatingWords; Music
SEVENTH HEAVEN5hyde
Pretty girl4ken
MY HEART DRAWS A DREAM5hyde; ken
sunadokei4tetsu
spiral3yukihiro
ALONE EN LA VIDA5hyde; ken
DAYBREAK'S BELL5hyde; ken
umibe4hyde; tetsu
THE BLACK ROSE3hyde
Link -KISS Mix-5hyde; tetsu
yuki no ashiato4hyde; ken
Hurry Xmas5hyde
Similar to the last album but not quite as unstructured; the album opens strongly with a few upbeat pop tracks, and ends on a pop note as well. All the dark heavy stuff is thrown in the middle. And for all the hubbub from the band that this was a pop album, it sure is gloomy. The band moves in a few new directions as well: the really synthy, dancy opening of SEVENTH HEAVEN, the hyper jazz of Hurry Xmas, and the elogant and Spanish-guitar influenced ALONE EN LA VIDA. And the rest of the songs, while perhaps not as unique, are just as strong. Even yukihiro's song is very listenable this time around. yuki no ashiato is the only one I can't quite make up my mind on. It's a sappy ballad to end all ballads and I don't know if it's perfect or just mediocre. ken's ballads have always been rather hit and miss with me and this one is just plain hard to figure out. His lonely, desperate ALONE EN LA VIDA is probably the best album track here though, with a gorgeous string arrangement and excellent harmonies in the final chorus. And nothing beats hyde's Hurry Xmas as an album closer. This song just sucks you right in with its catchiness and over-the-top arrangement. I think I have to rank KISS just a tad above AWAKE for all the new directions and interesting sounds present, even if the material is about equal quality.