Shiina Ringo is, arguably, one of my favorite female Japanese rockers, like, ever. Her work, solo or with her band Tokyo Jihen (aka Tokyo Incidents) is influential and eclectic, mixing rock with elements of jazz, classical, and popular music. And, I love all of it!
Shiina Ringo‘s first two (original) solo studio albums, Muzai Moratorium (1999) and Shouso Strip (2000), were her most rock-oriented releases, while her third solo album, Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana (2003), began to incorporate other influences which, in turn, fueled her other solo albums [Heisei Fuuzoku (2007) and Sanmon Gossip (2009)], as well as her five original albums with Tokyo Jihen [Kyouiku (2004), Adult (2006), Variety (2007), Sports (2010), and Daihakken (2011)].
In 1995, when Shiina Ringo was 16, her all-girl band Marvelous Marble competed in the 9th Yamaha Teens’ Music Festival performing the great song “Just Missed the Train” (written by amazing former child star turned singer/songwriter Danielle Brisebois). Shiina has covered other songs in her career, too, and, has even released a double album’s worth of songs originally by other artists, Utaite Myouri ~Sono Ichi~ (2002). Many other artists have covered Shiina‘s songs as well. In addition, Shiina has written songs for many other artists, including pop singer Rie Tomosaka, pop/rock duo Puffy AmiYumi, and singer/actress Chiaki Kuriyama (who played O-Ren Ishii‘s schoolgirl assassin Gogo Yubari in Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill).
I first heard Shiina Ringo‘s music on the soundtrack to the overwrought sci-fi film Casshern (2004). Her song was “Kuki (STEM) ~Daimyou Asobi hen~” (which appeared in a slightly different version on her third album Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana). So, I downloaded all her albums up to that point, fell under this woman’s spell, and, started looking forward to every new release since. Shiina‘s addictive music, solo or with Tokyo Jihen, is characterized by her nasally vocals (with rolling r’s and occasional squeaks) as well as her delightful quirkiness. She has so many great songs, but, for this post, I want to mention one of my favorites: “Gips” (or “Gibusu”).
“Gips”, a passionate power ballad, was Shiina Ringo‘s 5th single and was released simultaneously with the harder rocking “Tsumi to Batsu”. Both singles appeared on her second solo album Shouso Strip (2000). “Gips” opens with Ringo‘s soft warbling over minor key piano chords and a percussive sound that emulates a quickly beating heart. She sings two verses, in Japanese, but, you don’t need to speak the language to feel the raw passion in her voice. “Don’t you think?” she sings, in English, over guitar feedback, then, she cries “I wanna be with you!”, in English, as crunchy guitar chords and pounding drums engulf her. She continues, in Japanese: “Stay here forever, forever, forever / We don’t know what tomorrow will bring / So hold me tight / Hold me tight, darlin’.” But, again, you don’t need that translation to feel Shiina‘s tortured desire. But, if, by chance, the chorus isn’t enough, wait for the bridge, after which Shiina holds out a final note, ending in a desperate scream, as the frenzied backbeat crashes over piano and lead guitar, seemingly drowning her angst. But, the melodic chaos fades, and, the heartbeat returns, as Shiina sings the chorus softly, over minor key piano chords. Then, the frenzy returns as Shiina screams and squeaks, with aching passion, into feedback-drenched finale. “Gips” is one the best Japanese modern rock songs ever recorded. It’s perfect. It’s absolutely fucking perfect.
The first line of the chorus is actually written as “i 罠 Β wiθ u” where the kanji character 罠 is pronounced “wana”, but, the play on words [罠 means “trap”], I think, gets lost in translation. Β and θ, by the way, are Greek letters. The last line of the third verse (before the second chorus) translates as “Because you’re like Kurt, so wouldn’t that make me Courtney?” which makes this song sort of tragic depending how you interpret it; but, according to Generasia, the lyric is just because the boy the song is written for liked Nirvana.
“Gips” was covered by American singer/songwriter Marié Digby on her second album Second Home (2009). Digby is of Japanese heritage, and, the album was a collection of Japanese language covers of songs originally by Japanese artists. Her pop version is good, but, Shiina‘s raw passion is missed. Digby does a much better cover of “Kimi to Iu Hana”, originally by rockers Asian Kung-Fu Generation [a very cool band]. Other notable covers of “Gips” include versions by R&B singers JUJU [on Request (2010)] and Ms. OOJA [on Woman ~Love Song Covers~ (2012)]. Ms. OOJA‘s version is possibly my favorite cover, but, Shiina Ringo‘s original version is unmatched.
Sadly, the original video for Shiina Ringo‘s version of “Gips” is nowhere to be found on YouTube, nor is there any good live performances or audio only, so, the next best thing is Ms. OOJA‘s version. Ms. OOJA, despite being an excellent R&B artist with an amazing voice, offers a relatively un-R&B-like cover. Listen, at 2:41, to hear her sing “Kurt-oh”, and, at 2:49, “Court-oh-ney”. The only thing missing is Shiina‘s chills-inducing scream at the end of the bridge – Ms. OOJA keeps that note in tune. Watch and listen here:
Cool version, for sure, but, seek out Shiina Ringo‘s original version. Trust me.