Jay Chou: Capricorn (Mo Jie Zhuo)

Despite the large number of Mandopop artists releasing albums at this time of the year, despite leaks and illegal downloads, and despite delays, Jay Chou’s new album has sold over a million copies. Why? People probably recall the young singer-songwriter who amazed us all with his fresh music, whether with his debut in 2000 or “Fantasy” in 2001. My question is what happened to him?

It isn’t that I’m not crazy about Jay. In fact, I immediately liked his music as soon as I first heard it. His clean hip-hop astonished me, his R&B left me dying for more, and his Zhongguo Feng was some of the best music I’d ever heard! Even though I only first heard the name “Jay Chou” a little over a year ago, I am most definitely a fan. However, if this album were the first I had heard, I would not feel the same way about him. It wasn’t horrible, certainly better than many of the other albums that will be released this Fall, but I expect much more from Jay! This album was disappointing for me.

1. 龙战骑士/Long Zhan Qi Shi/Dragon-Riding Warrior
If ever song on this album were as good as this one, I would be much happier! It’s a pleasant mix of hip-hop and rock music, in the style of “Huang Jin Jia,” and Jay’s rapping as good as it ought to be. I thoroughly enjoyed this song, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s my favorite out of the whole album. The album cover is also designed to match this song. I have one problem with this song, though. It’s a cookie-cutter Jay Chou song, and if you change the instruments a bit, I’m sure it wouldn’t be that much different from “Blue Storm” from “November’s Chopin.”

2. 给我一首歌的时间/Gei Wo Yi Shou Ge De Shi Jian/Give Me Time to Sing This Song
There’s a bit of an R&B twist to this song, but it’s still a love ballad no matter how Jay tries to disguise it. It’s not too bad, but the high parts don’t sound quite right, and he sounds like his voice is going to break. It sounds almost whiny, and the way Jay mumbles it, parts of it sound a bit like bad English. I’m certain parts of this song will go on someone’s list of misheard Jay Chou lyrics. This is one of the two songs Jay wrote the lyrics to for this album, though.

3. 蛇舞/She Wu/Snake Dance
Another of the more enjoyable songs on this album, you may recognize the female vocalist as Nan Quan Mama’s Lara Veronin (or at least I think she is, though for some reason the lyrics book doesn’t include a credit for the female vocals in this song), who, like the rest of Nan Quan Mama, is now under JVR. Like the first song, this is a hip-hop song, but instead of the rock influence of “Dragon-Riding Warrior,” this song has an Indian theme unlike any of Jay’s other music. Jay pulls it off well, and Lara’s vocals are also very good.

4. 花海/Hua Hai/Flower Sea
Hearing this song after “Snake Dance,” I am completely lost. It isn’t that I don’t expect extreme differences in style between consecutive songs on a Jay Chou album, but Jay has lost me with this song. I’m not sure what aspect of it I hate the most. It’s a love ballad for sure, and Jay’s voice sounds horrible in it! Don’t get me wrong, I really like Jay’s voice, but in this song, it just sounds like he’s dying! Listening to it, I rather wish he weren’t the only one doing so. I also hate the synthesized music at the beginning of this song. I can honestly see myself skipping this particular song a lot in the future.

5. 摩术先生/Mo Shu Xian Sheng/Master Magician
If you hated the cowboy song last year, you’re really going to hate the clown song this year. It starts off with Jay playing the piano, but then he starts yodeling. Can anyone say “Heidi”? If that’s not bad enough, for the rest of the song, he is singing in his “cute” voice, like he did last year with “A Cowboy Is Very Busy,” and he does, indeed, say “yeehah” in it. He even re-uses part of the chorus from “A Cowboy Is Very Busy.” The worst part, though, is that the song is, in fact, extremely catchy, and once you’ve heard the whole thing, it’s very likely that you’ll find yourself humming this song later in the day or when you’re trying to go to bed at night.

6. 说好的幸福呢/Shuo Hao De Xing Fu Ne/What About the Happiness We Promised Each Other?
This song is definitely not bad, especially after listening to “Master Magician.” It’s a sweet love ballad, and Jay’s voice at least handles this one better than “Flower Sea.” The music in the background is much better, but Jay’s voice still sounds a bit “whiny,” but definitely nicer than it does in the previous two tracks. The lyrics are very beautiful and heart-breaking.

7. 兰亭序/Lan Ting Xu/Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion
The title to this song is actually a reference to calligrapher Wang Xizhi’s ancient Chinese poem by the same name. It’s a fitting theme for one of Jay’s Zhongguo Feng songs. As has been the tradition for Jay’s Zhongguo Feng, Vincent Fang wrote the lyrics, so if you are just learning Chinese and you don’t understand what it’s about, that’s only to be expected. Rest assured, though, that the lyrics are profound and carry a lot of cultural value. This particular Zhongguo Feng song features an erhu. As he has done with his Zhongguo Feng songs in recent years, Jay is trying his best to pronounce the lyrics clearly. As a result, it may not sound quite like his voice at some parts, and there’s also a Chinese opera-style portion to the song. Overall, it’s a nice song, but compared to his other songs of the same style, it isn’t so great.

8. 流浪诗人/Liu Lang Shi Ren/Homeless Poet
I don’t believe I’ve heard a harmonica in the background of a Jay Chou song before. This is a duet with Gary Yang, a singer-songwriter who is also under JVR. It’s mostly Mandarin with some Hokkien in it. To be frank, this is not the kind of song that either Gary or Jay is good at. It’s kind of an attempt at the blues, but I don’t think they pulled it off well at all.

9. 时光机/Shi Guang Ji/Time Machine
This song is a cutesy love song. It has a mostly guitar tune, with one sound in parts that sounds like the special guitar sound in “Broken String.” It’s a nice song, but not really what I was hoping for. When I saw the saw the title, I was hoping for something unique and experimental, but this wasn’t it.

10. 乔克叔叔/Qiao Ke Shu Shu/Uncle Joker
Another clown-related song, this song is decidedly better than “Master Magician,” but still rather cutesy. I like the Latin American style of this song, but Jay’s cutesy singing is kind of annoying me in a Rainie Yang kind of way, especially all the other cutesy songs on this album. The lyrics to this song get a bit on my nerves, and so do the sound effects.

11. 稻香/Dao Xiang/Fragrant Rice
This is still cutesy, but definitely enjoyable. Jay wrote the lyrics himself, and they are very meaningful. If you hear a pause in this song, it’s not because your CD isn’t working right. Jay put it there on purpose. After listening to the rest of the album, you might need the lyrics of this song to make you less depressed.

So, should you buy the album? That depends on how much you love Jay. This year, I think you’re better off buying one of his older albums (eg. “Jay Album,” “Fantasy,” “Eight Dimesions,” or “Ye Hui Mei”) if you don’t already have them all. I’m still hopeful that next year, Jay Chou will remember how to write fantastic songs, but in order for him to come out with another solid album, he will have to cut down on the love ballads. He will also have to stop acting cute. He is wonderful enough without pretending, so it’s not right for him to try to be someone he isn’t.