Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review of Jacky Cheung’s new Mandarin album 醒著做夢 (Wake Up Dreaming)

After waiting 7 long years, Jacky’s fans received an early Christmas gift back on December 23rd – his new Mandarin album entitled Wake Up Dreaming. (Jacky’s previous album, By Your Side, came out in 2007). Of course, as a long-time fan, I wouldn’t miss this ‘monumental’ event no matter what, so I made sure to put in my order for his album as soon as it became available for sale.  Luckily, I already knew from past experience that it would take a while for the album to get here via ‘snail mail’, so I also bought the album on iTunes – this way, I could start listening to the album right away (yes, I was one of the fans who helped push his album to the number one spot on iTunes within minutes of its release...LOL).  Ever since then, I’ve listened to the album so many times already that I practically have all 10 songs memorized (no, I’m not kidding – his newest album is THAT good!!).

Now, for the record, I don’t usually loop entire albums over and over again since that’s not my usual style (even with Jacky’s albums I don’t do it often)….but this particular album is so good, it’s absolutely worth listening to more than once!  As I’ve been saying for the past couple months already, Wake Up Dreaming is definitely one of Jacky’s best Mandarin albums to date (in my humble opinion, it absolutely deserves a spot up at the top right alongside Jacky’s other ‘best of the best’ Mandarin albums such as Kiss Goodbye, True Love, I Can’t Forget You, Want to Blow With You in the Wind, No Regrets, etc.).   As usual, Jacky (and his production team) put a lot of effort into making his newest album as ‘perfect’ as possible, which I definitely appreciate as a fan – sure, 7 years is a long time to wait, but with this type of result, the wait was absolutely worth it!

With the year 2014 officially marking Jacky’s 30th anniversary in show business, I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate such an important occasion than coming out with such an awesome album!  Jacky is known for having high standards when it comes to his music and this album is no exception – from the initial selecting of songs to actually recording the final version of each song, the album actually took a total of 10 years to produce.  Jacky also wanted fans to have the best listening experience possible, so there was special emphasis placed on the musical arrangement for each of the songs -- in addition to the fact that 99% of the album was recorded using live instruments, Jacky and his record producer Andrew Tuason (杜自持) specially arranged for some of the sound mixing and recording of the songs to be done at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, England (yes, that’s the famous studio where the Beatles recorded all their albums, including the one that was named after the studio itself).  The meticulous attention placed on the musical composition for each song definitely shows, as the feeling that I get listening to each song is akin to hearing it being played live by a real-life orchestra (add Jacky’s voice in there singing the song and I feel like I’m at one of his concerts hearing him sing the song live on stage)!

I don’t usually do album reviews, but given how much I love this particular album (plus the fact that I like ALL 10 tracks on the album, which is extremely rare, since with most albums, there are usually a few songs that I don’t really care for), I felt it was only appropriate for me to ‘review’ this album.  One disclaimer though – by no means is this a ‘professional’ review, as I am not qualified to give any such review, since I am not a musician nor am I involved in anything related to the field of music.  Instead, the below are merely my thoughts on the album as a music fan (and a fan of Jacky’s of course!).

Without question, I absolutely recommend buying this album and listening to it more than once!  Of course, I don’t expect everyone to ‘fall in love’ with this album like I did, but I do hope that music fans who get the chance to listen to the album in its entirety will enjoy it just as much as I did and also will be able to appreciate the effort that Jacky put into it (he is listed as the producer of the album along with Andrew). 

Note that for the 4 songs that have MVs filmed, I included the Youtube links to the MVs in case those reading this review haven’t seen them.

One last note….I know there has been some talk about Jacky possibly winning some awards this year due to the overwhelming praise for this album….to me though, whether Jacky ends up getting any awards for this album doesn’t matter one bit.  He already stated in his numerous interviews promoting the album that his intention is to give music fans a quality album that they – and himself – can thoroughly enjoy.  He doesn’t care about awards – he just wants to continue making quality music, as that’s his way of repaying the music industry and his fans for all the support he’s gotten over the past 30 years (well-said, Jacky!!).


 Track 1:  用餘生去愛 (The Rest of Time)

Lyrics:  Lin Xi (林夕)
Composer:  Samuel Jean, McAyla Beatley, Catherine Martin, Scott Effman, Lukas ‘Nate’ Nathanson
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

As the first plug from Jacky’s new album, this song was first released back in October.  My initial reaction when I heard this song for the first time was:  wow, this has got to be one of Jacky’s most difficult songs to sing, as the key is really high, plus the musical arrangement is quite complicated.   Despite being hard to sing though, the song is actually very beautifully put together.  For me personally, I was first attracted to the song’s melody – it gave me a feeling of being very grand, yet at the same time, soft enough to have a calming effect.  In terms of the lyrics, I actually didn’t pay a whole lot of attention at first, as I was too caught up in the melody (and of course, Jacky’s voice blended in with the beautiful arrangement…LOL)…it wasn’t until the song’s MV was being filmed and I heard Jacky talk about the inspiration for the song that I went back and really listened to the lyrics closely.  During interviews, Jacky had said that in the middle of producing this song, he saw a story in the news that moved him so much, he decided to incorporate the story into the song.   The news report was on the wedding of a young couple (both only in their early twenties) in Taiwan:  the bride had stage 4 stomach cancer and only had a few months left to live – despite knowing that they didn’t have much time, the groom still proposed to his girlfriend and married her because he wanted to seize every remaining moment left to love her and give her happiness.  Such a sad, yet heartwarming story!!

After hearing the story, the impact of the song is definitely very different, as it stirs up emotions that I didn’t have the first couple times I listened to the song.  Now every time I listen to this song, I think about the meaning of the lyrics and the message that the song is trying to convey:  instead of arguing and fretting over small disagreements in a relationship, we should learn to cherish the limited time we have to love each other and be happy.   Indeed, the title of the song is very appropriate – ‘use the remainder of one’s life to love’…..

Track 2:  時間有淚 (Tears of Time)

Lyrics:  Keith Chan (陳少琪)
Composer:  Su Yi Cheng (蘇亦承)
Musical arrangement:  Johnny Yim

If we take the first track The Rest of Time and remove the real life backstory that I described above, the song also has a different significance – based on the way the music video (MV) was filmed, it actually creates a different story of its own.  In the MV story, The Rest of Time is part 1 (the beginning of the story) where a guy meets his love and they commit to loving each other for the rest of their lives. The MV features a special appearance by Jacky’s old friend Karena Lam (林嘉), with whom he has collaborated several times already (she starred in the MV for his hit classic Love Letter and they also starred in the film July Rhapsody together).  

From this perspective, track two – Tears of Time – is part 2 of the story where the couple encounters problems with their relationship and end up going through a painful breakup.  The MV is very beautifully made and captures the essence of the song, with the contrast in the colors and also the way the couple (played by Jacky and Karena) go from being affectionate and loving to not even wanting to look at each other.

Melody and lyrics wise, this song is definitely a lot sadder than the first track (though it’s definitely not the saddest in my opinion).  Out of all the songs on the album, I would have to say that Tears of Time is the most reminiscent of the traditional ‘love ballad’ that we are used to hearing from Jacky.  I recall Jacky saying during one of his recent interviews that this song was one of the first ones that he got back when he initially started gathering songs for this album 10 years ago (which means that the song is technically 10 years old!).  Of course, the musical arrangement and lyrics were revamped and rewritten, but the core concept and essence are the same.  This song proves that music is timeless….it doesn’t matter how long ago a song was made – if it’s a good song and people can relate to it, that’s all that matters.

Track 3:  你說的  (You Said It)

Lyrics:  Siu On (小安)
Composer:  Siu On (小安)
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

As the third plug from the album, this song is also the ‘end of the trilogy’ so to speak:  after their breakup, Karena has moved out and Jacky is alone at the house they used to share.  As he is looking around, everything he sees and does reminds him of her – simple tasks such as folding laundry, reading a book, drinking coffee, playing the piano, even looking at the mirror, etc., he is reminded that the two of them used to do all those things together.  In the MV, everything is almost dreamlike, as though Jacky is actually asleep and imagining Karena is there with him (which ties in nicely with the ending scene of the MV).  Speaking of the MV, it’s actually one of the best ones I’ve seen in a long time – I like how it was simple, yet classy and also conveyed the song’s message so well.

If I had to pick a favorite amongst the 10 songs in this album, You Said It would definitely be my choice!  Perhaps it is the catchy tune or the perfectly timed lyrics, or just the way Jacky sings the song….unlike the other songs, I actually ‘fell in love’ with this song the very first time I heard it!  It’s interesting that out of the 4 ‘plugged’ songs from the album that have had music videos released, this song has been the least promoted and has the least amount of ‘fanfare’ (so far at least).  But that’s ok though, since I understand that it’s hard to give the same amount of attention to very single song, especially when all the songs on the album are so good!

Track 4:  我愛上你 (Fall In Love With You)

Lyrics:  Keith Chan (陳少琪)
Composer:  Frederik Cornelius, Elisa Smekens
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

This is one of the ‘fast’ songs in the album and probably one of the most ‘cheery’ songs in terms of music and lyrics, though the style is very different from the rest of the songs.  The first words that come to mind when I listen to this song are:  “cute” and “fun” (which is why I like to call this the ‘cutesy fun’ song…LOL).  Now I have to admit that I wasn’t too attracted to the song at first because I felt it was a bit too cutesy and didn’t really fit Jacky’s style (or the style of this particular album)…but then after listening to the song a few more times, it really started to grow on me. 

The funny thing is that Jacky also commented on this song in one of his earlier interviews.  He half-jokingly ‘admitted’ during one of the interviews that the style he used to sing this song was ‘incorrect’.  He basically said that he should have used a ‘cutesy’ style that was more appropriate for his current age rather than use a style that sounded too young…LOL.  Well, the style did sound a little different but it’s actually a good thing, since it’s important for an artist to explore different styles and have variety to their music.  

Overall this is a good song with a ‘jazzy’ feel to it that is fun to listen to and gives off a sweet, romantic feeling, though it might take a few tries to warm up to…

Track 5:  我只想唱歌 (I Just Want To Sing)

Lyrics:  Riley Lam (林若寧)
Composer:  Siu On (小安)
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

Out of the ‘fast’ songs on the album, this one is definitely my favorite, mainly because it is the song that is most representative of Jacky -- to the point that sometimes I have a hard time convincing myself that Jacky didn’t write the song himself (listen to the lyrics carefully and you’ll understand why I feel this way).  It’s pretty common knowledge that Jacky loves singing – for other people, singing might be a job, but for Jacky, it’s part of who he is as a person.  If given the chance, he could sing non-stop all day and continue to sing until he can’t sing anymore – THAT’s how much he loves singing!  (I actually love hearing the stories that his friends tell about how Jacky always ‘hogs the mike’ when they all go karaoke because he loves singing so much and seems to know every single song…hahaha!).

Here is where I have to give kudos to the song’s lyricist Riley Lam – the lyrics he wrote are absolutely brilliant!!   Each line of the lyrics describes perfectly Jacky’s attitude toward singing (as I was reading the lyrics, I couldn’t help stopping at each line and saying to myself “yup, that’s Jacky!”)  The other impressive part is that Riley incorporated the names of a few of Jacky’s past hit songs into the lyrics and blended them in so well that I didn’t even realize it until I heard Jacky talk about it in one of his interviews (I don’t always have the lyrics in front of me when I’m listening to songs, especially the first few times).  For those who get a chance to listen to this song, keep your ears open for mention of the following Jacky classics:  初吻 (First Kiss), 吻別 (Kiss Goodbye), 情已逝 (Love Has Died), 不老的傅(The Legend That Never Ages), 愛火花 (Love Sparks), 頭髮亂了 (Messed Up Hair).

In my opinion, this song is definitely a ‘must listen’ for all Jacky fans, especially long-time fans who have followed him from his early career to now – it’s a pretty good recap of the different stages of Jacky’s career and also brings back a lot of great memories of past times.  Oh and I love the chorus, which starts with the sentence “I just want to sing” and ends with “If I don’t sing, what else can I do?”

Track 6:  控訴 (The Accused)

Lyrics:  Siu On (小安)
Composer:  Siu On (小安)
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

This is probably the only song on the album that I don’t have much comment about.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy listening to the song and I like the melody, but for some reason, I don’t feel as ‘connected’ to this song as I do to the other songs on the album….I don’t seem to feel much for the song after listening to it.  I’m thinking perhaps the reason is because the lyrics are too complex, which kind of takes away from the relatability of the song.  Seeing that Siu On was the one who wrote the lyrics, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the lyrics are not as easy to understand. I remember Jacky mentioning during one of his interviews that sometimes Siu On’s lyrics are hard to understand – he said that when he received the first draft of a few of the songs where Siu On wrote the lyrics, he had no clue what the songs were trying to say (lol…the way he said it was actually quite funny – the final drafts of the songs came out much better of course!).   Overall, this is a good song, just not really my taste.

Track 7:  我醒著做夢 (Wake Up Dreaming)

Lyrics:  Lin Xi (林夕)
Composer:  Harry Mikael Sommerdahl, Jasmine Baird
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

As the title song of the album, I actually feel that this song deserves to be the first plug (I was actually kind of surprised that it ended up being 4th plug).  The song starts off soft, but then quickly builds to a climactic chorus and continues to retain that grand, climactic feel throughout the song.  To me, the best way to describe the song is that it is very grandiose and takes a lot of effort to sing – which also means that this is another difficult song that not everyone will be able to sing with the fervor and emotion that Jacky put into it.

I actually can’t wait to hear Jacky sing this song live, as I’m sure it will blow audiences away.  The only bad thing is that because the song requires a bit of ‘shouting’ at the top of your lungs, it is very difficult to sing if you’re not feeling well (it’s hard to reach the high notes and the various climactic points of the song).  This is the reason why Jacky decided not to sing this song during his opening performance at the KK Box Music awards ceremony in Taiwan a few weeks ago – he had been dealing with a bad cold for 2 weeks already and wasn’t at 100%, so he decided last minute to sing Tears of Time instead…actually, at first he was going to cancel his performance, but because he didn’t want to disappoint his fans, he decided to still sing, but chose a song that he knew he would be able to handle (and yes, he sang beautifully – if he hadn’t said that he had a cold, no one would have been able to tell that he was sick!). 

The MV for Wake Up Dreaming is just as grand as the song itself!   The visual effects utilized in the MV are quite stunning, with the contrast between fire and water, the burning bed, all the water machinery, etc. – it’s too bad though that the final version of the MV cut out a lot of the effects that were showed during the filming process.  Regardless, watching the MV while listening to the song definitely enhances the overall experience.

Track 8:  來得及 (It's Not Too Late)

Lyrics:  Abrahim Chan (陳詠謙)
Composer:  Lindy Robbins, Toby Gad, David Archuleta
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

This is definitely another “must listen” song for me!  First, this song is unique in that it is Jacky’s own interpretation of Gospel music, which is a style that he hasn’t tried before (in terms of his albums).  If you listen closely to the song, you’ll hear what sounds like a choir group doing the background vocals – well, that actually WAS a real life gospel choir group!  However an interesting fact that probably not many people know is that Jacky blended his own voice into the background vocals – the reason for this is because the choir group consisted 100% of Westerners who don’t know a single word of Mandarin (I’m assuming they had to rely on some type of English pinyin lyrics to sing their piece), so the pronunciation during a few segments was a bit off…given Jacky’s high standards, he decided to ‘clean up’ the background vocals himself.  I actually could not tell at all just from listening to the song, but I heard Jacky talk about this during one of his radio interviews – after that, I listened really carefully to those segments and indeed, I could make out Jacky’s voice in the background vocals.

Another reason why I highly recommend this song is because, well, it’s another one of my favorites from the album.  I love the upbeat melody of the song as well as the encouraging lyrics – it’s a very uplifting, positive song and it makes me feel good each time after listening to it.  The song itself talks about the negative feelings that result from various unhappy events in life (i.e.: failed relationships, business ventures gone sour, losing unfairly in a competition, etc.) and how we should step back and deal with these issues in a more positive way.  Basically, the message is that life is too precious to waste so much time lamenting over things that upset us – instead of dwelling on the bad, we should focus more on the good.  My favorite part of the song is the chorus, which goes something like this:

How about this, let us change the way we look at things
Don’t let anger create a jail for yourself
There are already a lot of tragedies in life
So why can’t we cherish each other more
Release yourself now, it’s not too late, not too late

I also like the last stanza of the song, as I feel it sends a strong message of hope and optimism:

Perhaps you are in a sea of darkness right now and it feels like you’ll never reach the light
I’ve experienced this, so I would like to tell you right now
Take your most beloved and think about them
What kind of a person do you want to end up being?
It’s not too late [for] all kinds of forgiveness

Track 9:  白自在 (Vain Ease)

Lyrics:  Lyrics:  Riley Lam (林若寧)
Composer:  Amir Masoh
Musical arrangement:  Andrew Tuason (杜自持)

This is another fun, fast song that is upbeat and enjoyable, with a very interesting title (note that the English title is the ‘official’ title in Itunes).  I’m actually not sure why the title was translated in that manner, as it doesn’t seem to relate to the song (except for the ‘ease’ part, since the entire song is about being carefree and at ease).  Though the song may not be as uplifting as track 8 (It’s Not Too Late), there’s still a good message contained in it about being at ease with oneself and not worrying so much about everything.  The song can also be considered a reflection of Jacky’s carefree attitude toward life and career, especially right now (interestingly enough, both songs on the album that reflect Jacky’s attitude toward life and career were written by Riley Lam…).  The song teaches the lesson that basically, we shouldn’t get so caught up in the little things, especially what others may think or say about you…instead take it easy and let the chips fall where they may.  Easier said than done in my opinion, but still a very practical lesson nonetheless! 

Track 10:  不錯 (Not Bad)

Lyrics:  Keith Chan (陳少琪)
Composer:  Lindy Robbins, Marci Marinangeli, Jeffrey B. Franzel
Musical arrangement:  Anthony Chue, Lindy Robbins, Marci Marinangeli, Jeffrey B. Franzel

For me, this is the saddest song in the entire album, both from a melody as well as lyric perspective.  The song tells a story of 2 people who love each other but cannot be together and the resulting pain of having to let go.  It’s a very melancholy song, one that gets me teary-eyed just listening to the sad melody, even moreso hearing the lyrics – and of course, with Jacky’s emotional singing, it’s hard not to be moved by the song as a whole.  This is also one of the first songs that attracted me from the getgo in that I already liked the song the first time I listened to it.  And similar to Tears of Time, this song is also reminiscent of Jacky’s traditional ‘love ballad’ style.

One thing that is worth commenting about with this song is the title, as I feel both the Chinese and English versions of the title don’t match with the song at all.  The title “Not Bad” by itself sounds too positive – in fact, when I first read the title (prior to listening to the song for the first time), I thought this was going to be another one of those upbeat songs, so I was a little surprised when it turned out to be a sad, melancholy song instead.  I haven’t heard Jacky mention much about this song so far in his interviews (and I honestly don’t know if he will, since the focus seems to be on the 4 plugged songs), but I’m definitely curious to know how the title of the song was decided upon.  Hopefully I’ll find out eventually down the road…

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