Deep Forest – Made in Japan

By 1999, Deep Forest had already seen some huge hits with their first couple of albums, and had now settled into a somewhat comfortable space, pulling musicians together from around the world and adding electronic sounds and beats. So having taken many of the Comparsa guests on tour the preceding year, the live album Made in Japan was a natural next step.

It opens with Ekue Ekue, which is one of the better tracks from Comparsa (1998), and you can definitely hear an impressive live energy in the performance. Where it suffers a little here is from a fundamental cheesiness, and it’s the same for Green and Blue, too – it’s a good song, but not necessarily the best version of it. By 1999, Deep Forest had been supplanted by many younger and more successful musicians as France’s favourite export, and some of their melodies just sounded a bit naff. It’s sad, in a way, because you can hear that the singers are having a great time, but they do just sound a bit rubbish in places, particularly when the synth noodling extends a song by a whole minute.

The less energetic pieces are better – Deep Weather feels infinitely less frantic, while still retaining some of the live emotions of earlier tracks. While the Japanese version squeezes in another Comparsa track next, there is, fortunately, some space left for some earlier songs, as a series of tracks from Boheme (1995) follow. First is Bohemian Ballet, which is one of my favourites. The live vocal doesn’t quite work for me, honestly – despite the fact that I don’t speak any Hungarian, so can’t understand a word of it, the singer clearly can’t either, which means the emotion and energy feels a bit misplaced sometimes. It’s still a good song, but I’d maybe have given the singers a bit of a break at this point.

For Deep Folk Song, they do, and while it’s a bit of a mess at times, it’s pretty faithful to the album version. Then it’s back to the faux-Hungarian, with the lovely Freedom Cry. The delivery on this one is better, actually working pretty well, to my untrained ear. Yes, the accordion playing is a little bit too much on this one, particularly towards the end, but it’s a nice song.

The Boheme section closes out with Cafe Europa, a sweet instrumental from the tail end of the album. It’s strange, in a way, that they weren’t confident enough to mix the albums in with each other, particularly given the way that each seemed to have been a little less good than its predecessor. This is one of the better tracks from Boheme, though, and fits well here, although I wonder if the piano wankery at the end might have worked better visually than it does on audio.

Forest Power is next, taking us back to Comparsa. It’s a worthy performance, with a lot going on, but again, you have to wonder whether the visuals might have made a difference here – there just seems to be a lot of the performance that’s missing somehow.

By 1999, Deep Forest had already seen some huge hits with their first couple of albums, and had now settled into a somewhat comfortable space, pulling musicians together from around the world and adding electronic sounds and beats. So having taken many of the Comparsa guests on tour the preceding year, the live album Made in Japan was a natural next step.

It opens with Ekue Ekue, which is one of the better tracks from Comparsa (1998), and you can definitely hear an impressive live energy in the performance. Where it suffers a little here is from a fundamental cheesiness, and it’s the same for Green and Blue, too – it’s a good song, but not necessarily the best version of it. By 1999, Deep Forest had been supplanted by many younger and more successful musicians as France’s favourite export, and some of their melodies just sounded a bit naff. It’s sad, in a way, because you can hear that the singers are having a great time, but they do just sound a bit rubbish in places, particularly when the synth noodling extends a song by a whole minute.

The less energetic pieces are better – Deep Weather feels infinitely less frantic, while still retaining some of the live emotions of earlier tracks. While the Japanese version squeezes in another Comparsa track next, there is, fortunately, some space left for some earlier songs, as a series of tracks from Boheme (1995) follow. First is Bohemian Ballet, which is one of my favourites. The live vocal doesn’t quite work for me, honestly – despite the fact that I don’t speak any Hungarian, so can’t understand a word of it, the singer clearly can’t either, which means the emotion and energy feels a bit misplaced sometimes. It’s still a good song, but I’d maybe have given the singers a bit of a break at this point.

For Deep Folk Song, they do, and while it’s a bit of a mess at times, it’s pretty faithful to the album version. Then it’s back to the faux-Hungarian, with the lovely Freedom Cry. The delivery on this one is better, actually working pretty well, to my untrained ear. Yes, the accordion playing is a little bit too much on this one, particularly towards the end, but it’s a nice song.

The Boheme section closes out with Cafe Europa, a sweet instrumental from the tail end of the album. It’s strange, in a way, that they weren’t confident enough to mix the albums in with each other, particularly given the way that each seemed to have been a little less good than its predecessor. This is one of the better tracks from Boheme, though, and fits well here, although I wonder if the piano wankery at the end might have worked better visually than it does on audio.

Forest Power is next, taking us back to Comparsa. It’s a worthy performance, with a lot going on, but again, you have to wonder whether the visuals might have made a difference here – there just seems to be a lot of the performance that’s missing somehow, particularly as the guitar and vocal works draws to a crescendo towards the end. Then Hunting, with a great live vocal, but again, a whole load more messing around that probably worked well when you were there in person, and the crowd very obediently shout back at the singers when they chant random things, but really drags a bit on the CD, I’m sad to say.

That is, with regret, the general story with Made in Japan – it’s a worthy live performance, but the vast majority of tracks are taken from what I think most would agree is the least good of those early Deep Forest albums. Where are all the great hits from the debut eponymous album?

Oh, there they are. Forest Hymn didn’t quite make it onto the original release of Deep Forest, but made it onto later reissues, and it works well here. The thing is, there’s no reason why the early material wouldn’t fit amongst the works from Comparsa, and that’s illustrated well here. It’s definitely a Comparsa remix, but it’s an older and more established piece, and it entirely works.

Then, finally, comes Sweet Lullaby, although it starts in slightly odd form with a rippling acoustic guitar and vocal. After a minute or so, it’s back to where it belongs, with the original weird pad leads and vocal samples. It’s an interesting take, which would work well if it weren’t for the fact that this remains, still, Deep Forest‘s only live album. As it builds, it gets better, but you do have to wonder a little why they chose to release this performance above any others. Or maybe performing live was such an irregular occurrence that this, basically a live performance of Comparsa with a few extra bells and whistles, was the best we could have hoped for.

Quite why that was the penultimate encore rather than the last one is beyond me, but Madazulu, from Comparsa, is what we have to close the album. But having said that, Madazulu is probably the best track on the album, so maybe it isn’t such a questionable choice after all? Of all the decisions they made here, closing with this track is probably one of the least daft. You can hear all the energy of the performance here – maybe it isn’t such a bad album, after all?

Well, Made in Japan is a bit of a mixed bag, if the truth be told. If you like Comparsa, this is fine, but just not very different. If not, there isn’t a lot of other material here. Either way, the fact that it exists is fine, but it just seems a bit pointless without the visuals, that surely must have been amazing? Nice, but it’s fair to say that it’s a bit pointless.

This album is still widely available. There’s a Japanese version with some extra tracks from Comparsa, if you want them. I haven’t heard it, but I would struggle to believe it adds much.

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1 thought on “Deep Forest – Made in Japan

  1. Pingback: Greatest Hits – Covid Edition | Music for stowaways

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