One of the big names I see thrown around in the J-rock scene these days is ONE OK ROCK. Aware of their rise to somewhat mega heights and international acclaim, I took it upon myself (an avid ROCK fan) to check them out, to try and see what it is exactly that’s causing all this buzz. When being fully honest, I’ve avoided them, knowing full well that they are fronted by a Johnny and photos of them to me just scream ‘try-hard’. But hey, never judge a book by it’s cover right? So, under the pretense of doing a review, I cleared my preconceptions, opened my mind and listened to their latest album “Ambitions“. All I have to say is…
ONE OK ROCK are just about the LEAST “rock” thing I’ve heard in years.
“Ambitions” album cover
I came from listening to their latest “Ambitions” (the Japanese version to be specific) frustrated, bored and felt I needed a cold shower to wash off the unbearable stench of lame. Wow, what an intensely tragic excuse for a ‘rock band’. It left me with that feeling you get when you hear a youth orientated pop radio station mention the word “rock”, I instantly knew the kind of demographic this group are aimed for: Non nerdy, rock-discovering, edge-less, 12 year olds, primarily of the female persuasion, because, as far as I can tell, this is just a boy-band with guitars.
Lets have a look at the single “We are“. About a decade ago, Linkin Park pulled out this sound, to great commercial success, and in turn, mockery from rock fans (who remembers the countless “I’m gonna go listen to Linkin Park” memes?). This sounds exactly like this- to the point of it being comical. The major difference is that for all their cheesiness, Chester Bennington is undeniably decent at being a ROCK vocalist. The vocalist here, Takahiro Moriuchi is, for the most part fine- for someone who is overly-trained and clean, to be a stand in. He’s an idol, and his voice sounds like an idol. It’s very hard to find such vocal stylings remotely convincing in a group that considers themselves to be ‘rock’. His heart is there but his delivery is shallow and pub-covers-band like at best.
“We Are” Music Video:
This album has two pretty big western guests that both outline who the real demographic here is. Those being… wait for it... Avril Lavigne and 5 Seconds of Summer. These two names should be enough to be a case closed but lets talk about it, shall we? Avril Lavigne (who funnily enough was flamed by western SJW‘s for her “Hello Kitty” music video for cultural appropriation… looks like her plan to appeal to a Japanese audience worked and didn’t offend afterall!) is actually the most entertaining part about the album. Her twangy nasal delivery adds a bit of charm and hilarity to the absolutely dreadful ballad “Listen” which would likely fit as a song on a cringe compilation. More baffling here is the inclusion of 5 Seconds to Summer on the closing track “Take what you want“… not because they don’t fit the mold, its that they fit it so well the listener can’t even tell the two groups apart. Again… a boy-band with guitars. For teenage girls.
However, what is interesting is that in the west, 5 Seconds to Summer are generally taken as this and only this- a light, safe, for tweens rock band. No-one is trying to claim they’re this big amazing thing, at least, no-one outside their teens. Tell your rock friends you like 5 Seconds to Summer and you’ll be a laughing stock. So why is ONE OK ROCK so highly regarded? Why do netizens consider them “for juvenile delinquents” (I wish I was making this up). Is it just another case of “it’s Japanese so it’s fine“? This is one of the only reasons I could suggest explain their international success (well, other than their Rorouni Kenshin tie in). Such questions, such questions.
As for the rest of the album, its basically an aural onslaught of average. Riff after generic riff that never really hit home, unbalanced vocals that drown out any kind impact the music could have had, and drums that sound like a kid with his first kit. The amount of ballads is ridiculous, the keyboard work dated. Emotions are lost through the group’s flimsy delivery, production is muddy, flat and safe. The most excruciating moment is on track “20/20” when the group attempts a ‘heavy’ breakdown and believe it or not- our vocalist actually says the word “sick”. Yep, “SICK“. This track is followed directly with the wimpy “Always come back” which I cringe at imagining fans holding up candl… erp I mean phones at shows thinking they’re experiencing something ‘life-changing’. And so on and so forth, until the album ends and you immediately forget everything you just heard.
In conclusion, ONE OK ROCK and their latest album “Ambitions” is definitely not rock. It barely works as a pop album, as I’d imagine most pop listeners would prefer something a little more mature, poignant, and far less cheesy. These hardcore fans who find them to be a second coming, can you explain it to this reviewer more? How does this one group stand out above the sea of similar bands? I find the album title to be a little off-putting too, there seems to be nothing ambitious here except for perhaps a sales target. I do not see any kind of serious rock fan ever being able to sit down and honestly find this album, or this group to be ‘legit’, and this reviewer is certainly not convinced.
ONE OK ROCK DOES NOT ROCK (except if you’re a teenage girl).