Review: Ellegarden – Riot on the Grill (2005)

The passing of time is often thought to allow a more honest judgment on history, events, creations, etc. Therefore in this time of hiatus for the Japanese band Ellegarden, I thought I would examine their album “Riot on the Grill”. This is my favorite of their albums released thus far, perhaps because most of their notable songs are on this album, such as “Missing”, “Red Hot”, and “Marry Me”.  Before I go into depth about the album in particular let me first introduce the band to those who may be unfamiliar with Ellegarden.

Ellegarden was created in 1998 by lead vocalist and chief song writer Takeshi Hosomi. Inspired by American and European artists, such as Weezer and U2, Ellegarden helped introduce Japan to the vibes of “lite-punk” music popularly epitomized in America by such bands as Blink-182 and Weezer. Ellegarden further defines their connection to the west through Takeshi himself a former resident in California. Thanks to his time and experiences in the United States, Takeshi has a good grasp of the English language and has had many experiences with American culture which shine through in his music.  This convergence is especially epitomized in “Riot on the Grill”.

The album “Riot on the Grill” was released in 2005 and found quick success on the Oricon indie charts, rising up to #3 and selling over 227,000 copies. Mixing Takeshi’s American influences and English lyrics with the band’s own perspective on the pop-punk scene, “Riot on the Grill” helps set the tone for their work for fans new and old. This perhaps is another reason why out of all Ellegarden’s albums I have personally taken such a liking to this album.

Starting off with the upbeat and catchy track “Red Hot”, we’re introduced via English lyrics to a scene universally relatable to young persons near and far. The narrator speaks of loneliness, change from adolescence to adulthood, and other such struggles of daily life. These lyrics are backed instrumentally by driving guitar licks and drumbeats that seem to hide or at least push aside these worries for the present time.  Following that a couple tracks later is another song written in English, which is the simple yet satisfying song “Marry Me”. This track highlights the narrator’s crushed dreams and hopes about a girl he loves who is marrying the stereotypical football quarterback. In his mind, the narrator is trying to develop a final plea to prevent the girl from marrying the boy, however he only depresses himself more by thinking she’s probably forgotten him anyways. Again this track has an instrumentally upbeat feel, but the emotionally conflicted feelings make the listener think twice about how to feel while listening.

Not all the tracks are written in English, so such analysis of the lyrics isn’t always present without translation. Thus I’ll move on now and highlight a couple tracks written in Takeshi’s native tongue. The two that really speak to me with each listen are “Missing” and “Niji”. “Missing” has the best introduction out of the all the songs on this album in my opinion. In “Missing” Ellegarden first entices the listener with steady punctuated guitar rhythms only to follow-up with the oft-repeated quick bass and drum stylings of punk rock. Takeshi’s vocals join in with the drums and create a melodic overtone that is delightfully infectious. Even if the listener doesn’t understand Japanese, this song will have you trying to sing along, as its tone is feel good without verging on sappy, a fine line for pop-punk acts. “Niji” for me is where Ellegarden truly shows their Weezer influence, and helps deflect the Blink-182 comparisons that are so otherwise so plentiful. Longer than most of the songs on the album, coming in at 3:27, we find Ellegarden come together with full power, while Takeshi’s vocals serenade us through the verses in anticipation of the excitement to come. Again with Japanese lyrics, I cannot say for sure the meaning; however, for many fans of Japanese music especially you’ll be able to grasp a feel for the tone and at the very least make the song have its own meaning for you.

In many ways, “Riot on the Grill” is Ellegarden’s breakout release both in sales and in the band’s development.  At this time in Ellegarden’s career they are still just a band prepped to strike big, so more maturation is to be done certainly in future releases.  Of course, this youthful nature is what allows the band to be brazen and have fun just making great music.  Furthermore “Riot on the Grill” is a great introduction into Ellegarden because it certainly typifies most of Ellegarden’s work.  For instance, predominant use of English and a clear appreciation for Western pop-punk bands heavily defines this album, and defines the band in general. This synthesis of cultures in musical form allows for “Riot on the Grill” to be a very accessible album for music fans. To go one step further, “Riot on the Grill” clocks in at 30 minutes, delightfully features early-00’s punk/pop sounds, and was produced on an indie label – what young pop-punk fan wouldn’t want to give this a listen?

Score: 4.5 out of 5

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