Bright tunes with dark lyrics

Bright tunes with dark lyrics
Poster for Hong Kong singer Eason Chan's new Mandarin album Rice & Shine.

Mandopop
RICE & SHINE
Eason Chan
EAS Music
***½

Fans get a double dose of Hong Kong's Eason Chan on his new Mandarin release, Rice & Shine (inset). Split into two parts, he works with China's Radio Mars on Rice and with Singaporean singer-songwriter JJ Lin on Shine.

Conceptually, the album is similar to what the singer did on The Line Up (2002), where lyricists Lin Xi and Wyman Wong were responsible for two different halves of one album.

In this case, Radio Mars did the music and lyrics for Rice, while Lin's music was set to words by different lyricists for Shine.

The first collaboration with Lin that was plugged is Ni Gei Wo Ting Hao (Listen Up). It is a ballad that manages to capture something of Chan's essence and master lyricist Lin Xi complements the tune perfectly with his nuanced wordplay. It goes: "Listen up, you must smile when you feel like crying/Actually, you know that troubles solve troubles/When the new arrives, the old will be forgotten/Tiny complaints only prove that life is not boring."

JJ Lin has a knack for coming up with radio- friendly hooks but his work here, while easy to get into, also manages to be a little left of centre.

Another reason Chan wanted to work with Lin was because of the singer-songwriter's ability to dabble in various genres.

Apart from the ballads, a highlight here is the jauntily jazzy Fang Qi Zhi Liao (Give Up Treatment). Wu Ching-feng from Taiwan's sodagreen pens the sharp and darkly humorous observations here: "Lonely people are most afraid their phones won't get a signal" and "Society forces you to burn, modern day thinking/I'm no good, why else do I have so many troubles/What the heck, suddenly remembered I forgot to take my meds."

On the surface, Rice seems like the more upbeat counterpart to Shine.

Lead single Yu Le Tian Kong (High Light High Life) is a lively track shot through with sunshine. The lyrics, though, take a darker turn: "The sunlight is so dazzling/But my ideals are slowly rotting away."

In fact, the mood is not all that different from Shine. Most of the tracks fall into the mid-tempo range and there is a light dusting of electronica here and there.

Where Chan gets to have a little fun is on Yu Ren Kuai Le (Happy Fools) as he lays on the Beijing accent.

Again, the sun is shining bright in the lyrics but there is an undercurrent of darkness tugging away at the song: "The dreams we have we have we have we have have woken/The person we love we love we love we love has gone/We enjoy loneliness, bear censure, see through everything/Each day we pass by, the sunlight is dazzling, sunlight is dazzling."

The tracks on Rice feel more cohesive - perhaps not surprising, given that they were the work of one entity, but Lin's music on Shine feels a little more compelling.

The debate as to which half of the album works better is one that Chan's fans will relish.


This article was first published on May 22, 2014.
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