40 Years Later – A Timely!! Retrospective

On the 40th anniversary of Anri’s 6th Studio album, Timely!! Patrick Fakeman takes a look (and fresh listen) at what is considered one of the most iconic city pop albums of Japan’s 1980s. 

1983 – It’s only when you look back at what was now 40 years ago that you can see just how much music in the western world was changing in this pivotal year. As is always the way when one decade slides to the next, the previous 10 years’ musical influences and accomplishments were starting to take grips on this new era. The US was firmly in a grip of the second ‘British Invasion’, with bands such as ABC, Duran Duran and The Police dominating the airwaves. This British, post-punk, more polished approach to music and fashion was hitting the sweet spot with US audiences.. 

Over in Japan, cultural changes and influences were equally impactful. The late 70s and early 80s saw a boom in the Japanese economy which brought with it a strong focus on fun, leisure activities and embracing the life in the ever-sprawling cities across the country. Much like the British influence on the US, Japan was embracing the western music of the 1970s – Disco, funk and Adult Orientated Rock were top of the bill and inevitably, found their DNA seeping into Japan’s creative musical minds. It was during the peak of this cultural and creative boom that we find Anri. 

Born Eiko Kawashima in August of 1961, Anri initially started her career as a model before switching to developing her craft as a vocalist, resulting in the release of her debut album 杏里-apricot jam- at the age of just 17. Its standout track, Olivia wo Kikinagara (オリビアを聴きながら) wasn’t a huge success, debuting at No. 65, but 杏里-apricot jam- symbolised something important for Anri in what was the first of over 40 albums and her relationship with For Life Records. They would go on to release over 25 albums over the next 22 years, including 1983’s Timely!!.

So there was the history lesson, let’s fast forward. Timely!! was released on the 5th December, 1983. Prior to the album’s release, the opening track ‘Cat’s Eye’ was already a huge hit, mostly thanks to its inclusion as the theme tune for Anime show of the same name. Re-recorded for the album, Cat’s Eye – New Take is a stripped back version of the Anime show’s theme. And I use the phrase stripped back lightly.. The track is a fast-paced J-Pop bop that sets the tone for the album’s opening third. The track reached No. 1 in the Japanese Oricon chart for 4 weeks, catapulting the already success Anri to not only a new audience, but stardom. 

The album’s next track, Windy Summer represents the first contribution from Toshiki Kadomatsu (角松敏生), who was one of the main producers on the entire Timely!! album. A prolific artist in his own right (see the wonderful album that is After 5 Clash for reference), Kadomatsu takes us on a summer journey of perfectly fused brass and slap bass with Anri singing of dream-like beach memories before a beautiful saxophone solo and the bold 20 second outro. The track ebbs and flows like a wave, settling us into what feels like a transitional part of the album as we reach Stay Be Me

Stay By Me, for this writer, is the epitome of the city pop approach and culture. Its funk and brass-driven heart, along with the guitar skills of the era’s superstar, Masaki Matsubara, take us on a voyage of lost love in the city night. You can literally see this song in every Japanese cityscape photography shot of the decade. 

A Hope On Sad Street represents Anri’s first writing and composer credits for the album. It takes us from summer loves to summer’s afterglow. Anri walks the streets remembering her love. Even the smell of coffee ‘touches (my) heart nostalgically’. Its (and Anri’s) romantic core remains intact despite her sadness, but like much of Timely!!, the up-beat composition of the track is in juxtaposition to the sad lyrical content. It’s a beautiful song. 

You Are Not Alone is next and not only represents the a coalition of work from singer / songwriter Tetsuji Hayashi (林哲司) and lyricist China Kan, but also a marked change in pace. Reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s She’s Out Of My Life from his 1979 Off the Wall album, You Are Not Alone is strongly R&B influenced, with Kan’s lyrics keeping the Timely!! theme of love, protection and loneliness. 

And speaking of loneliness…. The second single to be released from Timely!! is 悲しみがとまらない” (I Can’t Stop the Loneliness) which followed Anri her entire career as one of her most requested and popular songs. The section that immediately follows the saxophone solo, is one of the finest examples of tempo change before throwing us back into the chorus. Genius work from Hayashi, Kan and Anri.

Kadomatsu returns for Shyness Boy. Again we are treated to a sublime balance of synthesiser, brass and some fabulously subtle guitar work. Anri sings of taking the reins and encouraging her shy love. 

The final act of Timely!! begins with Lost Love In The Rain. A soft and slow celebration of R&B is fused with almost pillow-like softness from all the instrumentalists involved here. It’s almost a meditation. Layers of backing vocal gently bring us to the track’s conclusion until we are left with nothing but the sound of rain… 

Then back comes the funky slap bass of Driving My Love. We are back in the car with Anri as she drives to… well.. her love! I’ve always been torn with Driving My Love. Arguably it’s is a reasonably forgettable track but when you truly listen, the full orchestral accompaniment is sublime and almost so understated you would miss it. What wonderfully balanced work for what feels like a straight forward song, that really is far from straightforward.

 The last track on the 1983 release of Timely!! is Good-Night For You. A stripped down celebration of piano, close your eyes and you could be in a Tokyo high-rise hotel bar with a whisky. A perfect way to close what is an album of true adventure and experience. 

The 2008 re-release of Timely!! Also included Remember Summer Days, another Kadomatsu masterpiece. If you are reading this and are familiar with with the vaporwave and future funk scenes you will be aware of its influence on, particularly, the latter. A beautiful song that cannot be adorned with enough superlatives. It is as adorable as it is memorable. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t love it.

So there you go. A 40 year-old album that truly represents the breadth of talent that existed  in Japan’s composing and songwriting community in the late 70s and 80s. The work of Kadomatsu, Haytasi, Matsubara and Kan shines across Timely!! 11 tracks that pass by so quickly it is almost impossible to believe that there is that much talent and song-writing greatness squeezed into just 46 minutes of music. 

A summer album, released in the dead of winter, bringing the Japanese public a little taste of sunshine across those cold months. Timely!! by its very name and nature will always be just that… Timely. Always the right album at the right time, for whenever you play it. So if you do nothing else today, take some time to enjoy these tracks and remember summer days.

Now you’ll need to excuse me, I have to return some videotapes. 

Patrick Fakeman

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