It’s difficult to not subconsciously compare the careers of one YMO member against the other two. That’s not exactly fair to Yukihiro Takahashi, having to go up against two of the most prolific sonic innovators of their era, but I guess that’s a consequence of being in a band as incredible and influential as Yellow Magic Orchestra. That said, I don’t think the band would’ve worked without him. He always seemed to be the one keeping the group on point, and I feel like he had the greatest hand in shaping the group’s overall sound. Case in point, the three solo albums he did in the middle of the band’s run – Murdered by the Music (1980), Neuromantic (1981), and What, Me Worry? (1982), all of which veer real close to the classic YMO sound.
You don’t really hear much about any of his albums after that, which is a shame, but I think that’s somewhat deserved. Some of those mid-to-late 80’s releases were pretty dire. Most YT albums would have one or two songs worth saving, but completely straight-faced covers of songs like “What the World Needs Now is Love” are not exactly my cup of tea. I guess he didn’t feel the need to take many chances at this point, instead choosing to slowly transform into a romantic crooner, jettisoning the technopop impulses of his music entirely. That’s not really a good thing, as technopop was where Takahashi really excelled. Eventually they started to come back a little (check “MIS” from his 1992 album Life Time, Happy Time, a virtual callback to “Pure Jam”) and unsurprisingly his music started to feel a lot more lively as a result.
Lately when I’m in the mood for some Takahashi I throw on this album, a live one from 1998. Granted there is not much technopop about it, but regardless it’s one of my favorite discs he’s done. It turns out that Yuki was on a bit of a roll at that point – 1995’s Fate of Gold struck me as being his best album in a decade, and he had done several EPs and side projects that seemed to trigger a creative streak. The continuing presence of Steve Jansen also helped; the six-song Pulse x Pulse is particularly good. Even though this is a live album, it’s a very professionally produced one (done by Takahashi himself!), to the point where it sounds better than most of his studio discs. That carries on to the arrangements as well; here Takahashi has access to a full band, including woods, strings, sax, and backup singers, and sometimes there is a sequencer or dual guitars. Granted, a lot of that was present on the studio recordings, but the music on Run After You is given much more space to breathe. There is probably some degree of overdub magic being worked here (particularly in the multi-tracked vocals) but it’s easy to forgive as it’s the type of music that gets off on precision more than energy.
Most of the songs are from those recent releases; outside of three (“Something in the Air”, from Neuromantic, “Kid-Nap, the Dreamer” from Murdered by the Music, and the 1986 single “Stay Close”), all of this is from his 1997-1998 output. The one impression that I get right away is the slickness of it all; Takahashi is something of a fashion icon in Japan, and you get that air of sophistication and class here. Outside of the metallic “Run After You” and the techno-crazy “Sight of Ghost” there aren’t many rough edges here. That’s not to say there’s a lack of energy, just that everything is tightly controlled. What’s really surprising is how melodic some of this is; bookending tracks “Set Sail” and “Prayer of Gold” are big, sweeping ballads, and the poppier moments like “Iron Man” and “A River Dry” are laser-sharp. Even the 7+ minute jam on “Stay Close” is focused and features a bunch of great instrumental playing.
Above all, the main drawing point of Run After You is the consistency; while most of Takahashi’s solo albums have great moments, few of them are really solid from start to finish. There are a couple of tunes I maybe could do without (“A Ray of Hope” and “Boku Wa Matteiryo”, both of which plod around a lot) but as a whole the hit rate is remarkable here. Takahashi just seems to have this innate sense of how to write a good pop song, which must be a lot harder than it looks. After all, Sakamoto’s attempts at pure pop just felt wrong, and Hosono never tried that often – the great Hosono pop tunes like “LDK” and “Pleocene” really sound like oddball takes on what Takahashi does. Sometimes a little YT just feels right.