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X Japan pianist/drummer is now a global commodity

by Steve McClure

If you’ve walked by the Laforet building in Harajuku recently, you might have noticed a huge banner that draped the structure’s exterior featuring a masked character, looking something like a pro wrestler, poking his head out of what appears to be a body of water.

The banner read, “This is the man who has been summoned by Tetsuya Komuro,” and went on to explain that on Sept. 1 a new member would be joining globe, the three-person unit that Komuro has led since 1995. Globe is one of J-pop’s biggest-selling acts, so this was big news indeed.

Who would it be? Globe’s lineup was already pretty eclectic: Besides producer/songwriter/keyboardist Komuro, there’s vocalist Keiko and Franco-Japanese rapper Marc Panther, who does his thing in English.

Maybe it would be Ami Suzuki, the one-time mega-popular idol who fell from grace after she sued her management company. Earlier this year, there were rumors that Komuro was going to mastermind her comeback.

Perhaps it would be a showbiz “talent” — as opposed to a musician — like Masatoshi Hamada, the comedian with whom Komuro collaborated a few years ago on the single “Wow War Tonight,” which was a major hit, notwithstanding Hamada’s utter lack of vocal talent.

Or would it be someone from outside show business altogether? How about Japan’s most famous Elvis fan, Junichiro Koizumi, who may well be looking for a new gig soon, depending on how well his upcoming roadshow goes down in Pyongyang.

On Sept. 1, I was invited, along with various other media people, to a news conference at a hotel in Odaiba, that futuristic district located on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, to hear who globe’s new member would be.

I expected a huge event with hundreds of media people, but there were only 20 or so on hand to be introduced to the new four-member globe. I got a definite impression of things having been organized at the last minute, which was surprising given the big names involved.

Why, I wondered, had I allowed myself to be dragged out to Odaiba to cover a story about globe, which, if truth be told, has never been my favorite musical agglomeration (due in large part to dopey song titles like “Always Smoking Cigarette”).

Then it was revealed that globe’s new member was Yoshiki, former drummer/pianist of disbanded rock group X Japan. And, in my book, that definitely qualifies as Big News. With the addition of Yoshiki, globe has become a bona fide supergroup.

Komuro and Yoshiki explained that they’ve known each other for several years and at various times have discussed the possibility of working together. But it was only in July that Yoshiki decided to accept Komuro’s invitation to join globe, the impetus being their mutual interest in the dance music subgenre known as trance.

But isn’t putting two big talents like Komuro and Yoshiki together just asking for the kind of ego-driven spats that always seem to plague supergroups, a la Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young?

“We have completely different personalities,” says Yoshiki. “So probably it’s gonna work.”

As for Komuro, he describes his new partnership with Yoshiki as a combination of “over-ground and underground.”

The new version of globe has already started recording material co-written by Yoshiki and Komuro, with a single due out in November and an album next spring. A nationwide tour as well as live dates in Asia are also on the agenda.

Yoshiki plans to alternate between drums and keyboard in his new incarnation as a globe member. When I asked him how he’ll be able to juggle being a member of globe with his other projects, such as his new band, Violet UK, he replied: “I give all my projects 100 percent.”

Watching Yoshiki and Komuro banter back and forth, with junior partners Panther and Keiko looking on respectfully, I got the definite impression that the new musical partnership between these two guys could raise globe’s music to an entirely new level. As one of Komuro’s people pointed out, the idea of having Yoshiki joining globe came from the musicians themselves, and not their record labels or management companies.

Yoshiki and Komuro are two of J-pop’s most talented musicians (they’re also very canny businessmen). But once you reach the level of success they have, the musicians with whom you work are less and less inclined to criticize your creative decisions or offer their own input. Here’s to hoping that the Yoshiki-Komuro partnership will encourage both guys to make some truly great music.