MINORU NIIHARA – One (1989 Triad)
Original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara was let go in 1988 so they could have a stab at a success with an American singer. While they went their way (and did not cross over onto the charts as they hoped), Niihara recorded his first solo album appropriately titled One. He worked at Cherokee studios in Hollywood, where there must have been a lot of rock stars hanging out. The credits on One include: Mark Slaughter, Reb Beach, Doug Aldrich, the rhythm section from Journey (Steve Smith and Ross Valory), Kal Swan, David Glen Eisley, and the Tower of Power horns!
That being said, you might expect a straightforward hard rock album right out of 1989 like so many you remember from that year. You’d be partly right. However the lyrics are mostly in Japanese, and while the intent might have been to make a straight-ahead commercial rock record, it goes a bit sideways on some tracks.
It sounds like some of the same opening sounds as on Alice Cooper’s Trash album (also 1989) are used on first instrumental “Overture”. Then it goes soft rock, with guitar strings tinkling like a fragile piece of glass, backed by heavenly keyboards. In a jarring shift, the first proper song “Let’s Get Together” doesn’t meld well with this intro. It also sounds a bit out of time, a relic from a couple years prior. But Minoru is on top of it. “Let’s get together! Have fun tonight!” goes the boppin’ English chorus, with plenty of the expected thick backing vocals from the Hollywood cast and crew. Although it already sounded dated for 1989, “Let’s Get Together” is a fun track clearly aiming for a party concert vibe. Not bad — production is clunky, and there are a couple key changes that sound off, but it’s otherwise a fun song that does what it’s there to do.
American rock vibes dominate “Stand Up to the Danger”, sounding a bit like “Loud and Clear” by Autograph. That could be Reb Beach just rippin’ it up on the solo, but the track is very standard for the genre. A neat ballad follows, the Journey-like…ahem…it’s a case of a language barrier, I’m sure, but the song is called “Come Over Me”. Very much like a Journey ballad, and it’s probably Valory and Smith on bass and drums respectively. Maxine and Julia Waters on backing vocals.
A cool 80s bass groove sets the tone on “I Can’t Wait”. This mid-tempo car-cruiser is an album highlight, and a track worth getting in your ears. Great solo too (Doug?). Coincidentally, Minoru’s replacement in Loudness was a fellow named Mike Vescera, and he later recorded a different song called “I Can’t Wait” with Yngwie J. Malmsteen. One of Minbru’s weaknesses (and it probably comes down to English as a second language) is a reliance on cliche song titles. “I Can’t Wait”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “Dynamite”, and “Fool For You” are all song titles you’ve heard before.
Speaking of “Dynamite”, the next track on the disc — it’s a little more unique. With a bluesy opening, it soon lets loose with a blast of saxophone. The chorus is full-on pop. A little clunky in construction and production, but different and still cool.
A soft keyboard ballad called “You Can Do It” sits right in the middle of the album. Even though vinyl, and especially cassettes were big in 1989, One only saw release on CD. No “side one” or “side two” with this album. Once more the ballad would sound appropriate on a Steve Perry album, and the guitar solo is really smooth. Good song; Minoru’s style of singing is a bit overblown for a soulful ballad, but you can certainly tell he loves singing this way.
“Bluest Sky” is cool, acoustic and stripped back but “Stayin’ Alive” really scorches. It’s the closest thing to classic Loudness. It is the only clearly heavy metal track on the album. Probably Reb Beach ripping up his fretboard and whammy bar on the solo. Definitely Mark Slaughter on the chorus. The horn section returns on “Fool For You”, but Minoru’s over-the-top singing does not suit the funky metal stylings. He does well on “Too Long Away to Reach”, a little more restrained. But it is the third ballad that really does sound like Journey. So much that you’d assume it was Neal Schon on guitar.
Finally Minoru closes his solo debut on one more ballad, “I’ll Never Hide My Love Again”. This time it’s a big power ballad with a massive chorus, and because it’s dramatically different from the earlier ballads, it works. Definite vibes of King Kobra’s “Dancing With Desire” (1985).
See what I mean when I say that One sounds dated already even for 1989? That doesn’t make it bad, but not all pieces fit. There are some obtrusive keyboard overdubs, some of the ingredients just don’t mix. While Minoru is a fine vocalist, and he gives 110% here, some of the songs sound like they would work better if he laid back a bit. Then again, that could be the language barrier; the words he is singing might be totally appropriate to his vocal output. Everything in music is subjective anyway. Regardless of interpretation, Minoru Niihara’s effort is no less than his whole heart, and you have to give credit for that.