You can cry, you can smile at the same time

Yukihiro Takahashi, Yellow Magic Orchestra’s drummer and (usual) lead singer, died a year ago today of pneumonia. Most of my followers are bored to fucking tears hearing about my undying love for his album Neuromantic, and specifically the track “Drip Dry Eyes” from that album, but I’m going to talk about it anyway because I rarely give sincere praise to anything, and when else am I going to do so?

It certainly seems apropos to do so given Takahashi’s contradictory status as somehow the member of YMO who’s the best at creating pop music, while also its most obscure, having none of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “classical musician” film soundtrack auteur cred or Haruomi Hosono’s absurd longevity and influential status over so much of popular music.

But specifically I do want to talk about “Drip Dry Eyes” because, as much as I’ve unsuccessfully force-memed about that particular song over and over again, playing some pathetic character with an all-consuming obsession with it, I do genuinely, sincerely love it to bits.

Part of that is because it basically just reminds me of childhood in a very roundabout way, which you’ll need to bear with me on and will take some explaining given that, as far as I’m aware, the first time I heard this damn song was in 2021.

The version of “Drip Dry Eyes” that is on Neuromantic is not the first version released – Takahashi and lyricist Chris Mosdell wrote it for Sandii, who released her version (produced by Hosono) on her album Eating Pleasure in 1980. Here it is:

The original is what can only be described as an extremely synth-heavy, angular and jagged cod reggae. I like it now more than I did the first time I heard it, but the striking thing about it is that, despite everyone involved bar Mosdell being Japanese, it still comes across with a vibe exactly like a Trojan Records reggae cut, with the name that sprang to mind for me being Susan Cadogan, who Sandii appeared to be doing her level best to impersonate, consciously or not. Like I say, I like it better than I used to, but the angular vibe doesn’t really suit it, and the extra verse in this compared to Takahashi’s (that strains what is, generously, a fairly tortured metaphor fully to breaking point) does it no favours.

Trojan reggae was something I had played incessantly around me while I was little, thus force-meming that into my consciousness much in the same way I’ve desperately tried to force-meme Drip Dry Eyes into every other fucker’s. At one point I actually texted my brother to ask if there’s a reason it sounded like something my dad would have played, despite there being absolutely no earthly way he would have had a copy of Eating Pleasure under any circumstances. (His response was, verbatim, “because it sounds like everything Gregory Isaacs released when money was put behind his songs”, which to put it nicely can be taken multiple ways.)

As it happens, the other thing I had force-memed into my consciousness when I was young was the album Avalon by Roxy Music, who coincidentally my dad was also a fan of (and of new romantic music, which now thinking about it kind of makes me appreciate the old bastard. His music taste is probably the least offensive thing about him.) Almost poetically, then, when Takahashi re-recorded Drip Dry Eyes for Neuromantic, half of Roxy Music were on it – specifically keyboardist Tony Mansfield and saxophonist Andy Mackay, who Takahashi wisely replaced that extraneous final verse with a lovely solo from. Here is Takahashi’s version, and its rather bizarre video:

The city pop-esque production simply fits so much better with the song. There is still a recognisably “reggae” aspect to it, but the softer, more downbeat synths work far better – as does Takahashi’s voice. With all due respect to Sandii, the one thing she doesn’t manage to put across during her version of a song that is, at its most base level, literally about crying is sadness or regret. Takahashi does it perfectly, striking a tone that’s more resigned than anything else, exasperated even. It needed to be softened to really put it over the top, and Takahashi did it. There’s also a significant, and blindingly obvious, Ultravox influence over the track – Takahashi being an Ultravox obsessive around this time to the point it reportedly drove YMO bandmate Sakamoto up the wall, and much of Neuromantic (and much of Takahashi’s work on BGM, including the straight rip-off “Cue”) sounding for all the world like Ultravox sans Midge Ure.

But all this aside, the basic upshot is this – I probably love it because, aside from it just being an extremely well-written and well-produced song by someone who managed to be the sometime frontman of an incredibly influential act while also being hideously underrated and unknown, it just sounds like a confluence of every bit of music I grew up with. It sounds like Roxy Music playing reggae. Which, more or less, it is.

Happily, at least, it can get a wider airing now Alfa Records (which has overall been doing an excellent job of sharing its library with western markets of late, particularly via YouTube) has remastered and re-released Neuromantic, as well as many of Takahashi’s other albums and much of the YMO discography, on western streaming services. If you have even the slightest enjoyment of Avalon-era Roxy Music or Ultravox, or other similar acts, I heartily recommend Neuromantic as a very accessible starting point. And will, ad nauseam, for anyone who will listen.

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