An idea that came to me as I explored old favourites uncovered in the course of my voyage of musical discovery it forced me to reflect on those projects that showed musicians of talent that truly excelled themselves when given hold of the reigns; projects that they aren’t known for, that wasn’t expected of them, and somehow ended up stronger as a result of that. You can learn a surprising amount about an artist and their influences by listening to the members hammer it out in other work. For example…
The Band: Megadeth
Like so many artists I’m covering in this column, I would hope these guys require no introduction. One of the infamous “Big Four” of thrash, this is a band that began with Mustaine being booted from a worse act only to have stuck around long enough to have had not one slump period but two; classic 90s albums like “Rust in Peace” and “Peace Sells…” remaining a must-listen in every self-respecting Metal fan’s collection.
The Surprise: Marty Friedman - Tokyo Jukebox
Hands up if anyone knows where Marty Friedman went after leaving Megadeth? Ah right, this is an article and I’m thus not able to figure out that answer. Is it many of you? I’m going to go with not many, because in fairness he did land himself in Japan, a country that still seems to pride itself on its insular nature. It’s here that he:
Became a studio musician.
Fell in love with Japanese Pop.
Became a live musician providing shredded solo’s for Japanese Pop artists such as Aikawa Nanase and Momoiro Clover Z (in which he’s become something of an honoured staple, introduced in the above mid-song as “the irreplaceable Marty Friedman”)
Became fluent in Japanese
Began hosting Metal shows in Japanese.
Starting flying the likes of Paul Gilbert and Kerry King to Japan for guitar battles on his TV show.
Dominated the Japanese charts.
Came up with an idea only he probably could: Tokyo Jukebox.
For the uninitiated, this is a no-holds-barred shred album comprised entirely of covers of popular Japanese Pop tracks. Yes, you did read that correctly. Opening with a mash-up of Maximum The Hormone’s “Tsume Tsume Tsume” and the theme tune from Neon Genesis Evangelion, it quickly hops on to shredded covers of tracks like the Electropop superstars Perfume’s “Polyrhythm”, Enka performer Ishikawa Sayuri’s “Amigi Goe,” Hideaki Tokunaga’s love ballad “Eki” and boy band SMAP’s “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana”. It’s a challenge he takes up readily, re-composing these tracks well known to a Japanese audience, toeing the line between making them his own and adding his signature mark on them, whilst not betraying the feel or tone of the original—a challenge I wouldn’t have thought possible without a respect and reverence for the original piece.
The result is something that brings out the best of both worlds; the music remaining comfortingly familiar but given a heavier beat and additional instrumental flourish whilst often highlighting the sometimes deceptively complex nature the originals may have had. I often find instrumental music can quickly become tiresome, but somehow even through the quieter and slower tracks it shifts and moves enough that this never becomes the case here, constantly progressing whilst retaining the core melody of the original at heart. There are moments who goes balls out, but he’s also at home taking a step back and permitting the strengths of the original to shine. It’s Metal, but Metal with heart and soul, which puts it in a very rare breed. Forget BabyMetal, in the space where Metal and Jpop collide, ex-Megadeth maestro Marty Friedman is sitting there with a big cheesy grin, guitar in hand, prepared to take you on a guided tour.