The Bouncer: Love is the Gift – Shanice Wilson
The Bouncer: Love is the Gift – Shanice Wilson
October 22, 2000
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Let’s face it. English adaptations of Japanese vocal themes from Square tend to be a variable bunch. Whether it’s because of unnecessary sentimentality, poor translation or pronunciation of lyrics, or formulaic and boring instrumentation, most adaptations tend to be less successful than their originals. Many categorise Final Fantasy IX‘s English version of “Melodies of Life,” the Kingdom Hearts series’ “Simple and Clean” and “Sanctuary,” and Jade’s adaptations of Final Fantasy X-2‘s “1000 Words” and “real Emotion” as examples of this. Some might find it enjoyable to have vaguely comprehensible English versions of songs made available in games, yet a number of others prefer to cherish the Japanese versions instead, simply because they are often greater musically and emotionally.
There are, however, some treasures out there. Final Fantasy XII‘s English adaptation of “Kiss Me Good-Bye” was so highly regarded, partly because of Kenichiro Fukui’s skill as an arranger yet largely because of bilingual Angela Aki’s subtle performance, that it was even used in the Japanese version of the game. Donna Burke’s adaptations of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles‘ “Sound of the Wind” (aka “Kaze No Ne”) and Chocobo Racing‘s “Diamond in my Heart” (aka “Treasure Chest of the Heart”) were also the source of considerable praise. None of these quite compared to The Bouncer‘s adaptation of Reiko Noda’s “Owaranaimono” (translated as “Forevermore”) in Shanice Wilson’s “Love is a Gift,” however, quite possibly the most remarkable English adaptation to date. Why? Its principle, the vocal performance, and the strength of the instrumental parts…
“Love is the Gift” is based on a simple yet profound principle. That is, worthy musical creations are rarely those that emulate existing ideas, but rather those that modify them. Given “Forevermore” was a successful creation — a charming pop ballad complete with a sweet vocal performance, fruitful classically-oriented instrumentation, and an unforgettable melody (as well as an unrelated introduction, which ought not be mentioned outside parantheses) — it must have been very tempting to provide an imitation of it by merely making a few potentially harmful functional changes such as changing the lyrics around for the English part yet otherwise simply copying the principles and musical ideas offered by the original form. That is, creating a faulty replica that lacks the depth, integrity, or authenticity the original theme possessed, though is able to falsely flaunt itself as a worthy creation in its own right to those unfamiliar with the material it based itself on. Replicas are neither as valuable nor precious as genuine articles, despite their occasionally amusing ability to deceive those that lack knowledge, though experiments — modifications of ideas offered by previous works and imagination to offer a unique and potentially successful product — almost always have intrinsic worth even if they are destined to fail.
Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi understood exactly this while trying to produce a deep musical score for The Bouncer. Thus, they went out on a limb by creating an experiment to ensure “Love is the Gift” was a unique and inspired creation that didn’t degrade itself and “Forevermore” by being an inferior derivative creation of dubious quality. This gave birth to a jazz- and RnB-influenced fusion that retained an aspect of sentimentality and obviously emphasised love, but did away with the traditional orchestral forces and dreamy singer that “Forevermore” featured in favour of something less restrained yet altogether richer. With the employment of moderately famous Western artists Narada Michael Walden and Sunny Hilden as co-arrangers and co-lyricists, Matsueda and Eguchi made the sensible move of taking a backseat in the production while experienced professionals realised their inspiration and utilised many of their magnificently crafted melodic and harmonic ideas from “Forevermore.” Another crucial move was collaborating with Shanice Wilson, a widely respected American RnB singer with a tremendous vocal range, to sing the theme. With the potential for both a magnificent vocal performance and some stylistically remarkable instrumental vocal parts born, the experimentation looked set to be successful. Musically, it was.
The strength of Shanice Wilson’s performance cannot be stressed enough. She makes each verse truly her own, adopting a tone with a complex array of emotions associated with it — sounding restrained yet uninhibited, tender yet raw, passionate yet carefree, in a series of paradoxes that represents an honest and relaxed recollection of the multifaceted nature of love in an optimistic atmosphere not completely free from pain. Her performance wonderfully emphasises the fluidity of the carefully shaped vocal lines, as she sings with precise intonation and restrained vibrato while improvising on the sustained notes with unobstructive jazz-influenced melissma. Just when her delivery begins to be verging on the soppy side, she moves into the chorus, which is a rich and variable proclamation that ‘love is the gift’ driven by raw passion. Prior to the final statement of the chorus, there is a soul-influenced bridge section that peaks at the 3:13 mark, as Wilson demonstrates her unbelievable vocal range by singing at the very top of her register, reaching an extremely high note, sustaining it, and adding some decoration, all with flawless intonation, an unforced tone, and incredible passion, in perhaps the highlight of the performance. The final rendition of the chorus sees Wilson reconcile the contrasts of emotions in a musically and emotionally remarkable conclusion before leaving the song in a subdued, comfortable, and enlightened state.
In terms of the other forces, nothing exceptionally noteworthy is added, but all the features allow “Love is the Gift” to be a stylistically unique and texturally balanced theme. Most of the harmony is provided by an electric piano, which adds a unique timbre and modern feel to the theme, while light percussion and flowing synth effects support. It’s the format that would normally be associated with cheesy pop ballads, though the subdued nature and strong execution of such forces makes everything seem much less manufactured. To emphasise the jazz influence, some fragmented soprano saxophone licks are carefully interspersed to provide a cool yet colourful setting theme. While many unfavourably associate soprano sax with cheesiness, the strength of the performance together with the way it subtly corresponds with the vocal line makes it a fitting and amicable addition. Backing singers also feature in a number of places after the second verse enters, emphasising the soul influences of the arrangement, which provides a support that allows Wilson’s voice to really elevate. Overall, Narada Michael Walden and Sunny Hilden offer nothing incredibly musically inspiring harmonically, though all features support Wilson’s voice, add to the remarkable nature of the stylistic fusion, and generally add a smooth and relaxing feel to the piece. While it may not win ever win the attention or praise of those taking music majors, it does everything that is needed in a high-quality way.
Unfortunately, the presentation of the single is a little off. While there are four tracks, only the short version of “Love is a Gift” is truly worth listening to, considering the others are derivations that add very little to the experience. The extended version of “Love is the Gift” suffers from a poor transition into the two minute extended part where there is an abrupt modulation to the subdominant after a perfect cadence, ultimately meaning the song struggles to carry on as it already sounds finished; the subsequent section, which fears a gorgeous introductory saxophone solo after Wilson’s voice reenters, otherwise doesn’t offer all that much new and runs the risk of boring some before it ends at the 6:34 mark. Equally thoughtless additions are the instrumental versions of the tracks, which are simply karaoke tracks, not original instrumental arrangements; while these are typical additions to Square vocal singles and highlight the strength of the instrumental parts, they are nonetheless meaningless and empty-sounding filler, unless there is some odd pub out there that runs Square karaoke nights, which seems seriously unlikely. It would have been much better if some original vocal and instrumental arrangements were included, the Japanese version of the theme “Forevermore” were featured, or some of Shanice Wilson’s non-game songs were included. With 4:16 minutes of goodness, and another 16 or so of derivations, the single does feel a bit pointless.
Though “Love is the Gift” is an inspired idea that was beautifully realised in a musical sense, its commercial presentation is its downfall. Not only does it feature in a single that has only one asset, despite misleadingly appearing to have several, but also suffers from being unavailable at all well-known online game music stores, probably now out-of-print because of being a commercially unviable product; few Westerners buy game music, after all, and this particular one is unlikely to appeal to Japanese game music lovers because it is in English and adopts a Western style. Worse still, for some stupid reason Square decided to not include “Love is the Gift” in The Bouncer Original Video Game Soundtrack, the pathetic and greatly limited domestic release of The Bouncer‘s soundtrack, including only “Forevermore”; not only is this likely to annoy gamers who appreciated the English version of the game’s vocal theme and undermines the soundtrack further, but prevents eager listeners from getting hold of a half-decent hard copy of the single. To compensate, Square Enix Music Online hopes that the appearance of the single on our radio station and the inclusion of some samples on its album page satisfies.
To conclude, “Love is the Gift” is a beautiful and remarkable piece of music, but a horrible product thanks to greedy materialistic minds. The piece deserves attention, but the single isn’t a worthy purchase for most.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Chris Greening. Last modified on August 1, 2012.