on August 31, 2005
As the title implies, most of the songs on Tokyo Rose are about Japan, or, more accurately, about the relationship between Japan and the United States. The songs are full of poignant social commentary, but it seems that another reviewer has already discussed this, so I'll focus more on the actual music. The album has plenty of slow, beautiful, melodic songs (notably "Cowboy" and "White Crysanthemum"). The song "Calypso" sounds like it should be about Carribean girls stylistically, even though the arrangement is much more complex than such songs typically are, as should be expected from Van Dyke Parks. The most energetic and fun songs on the album are "Yankee Go Home" and the magnificent "Trade War", both of which can stand up to an infinite number of listens on repeat (believe me; I've tried). "America" is similar to "Van Dyke Parks" from "Song Cycle" and "Stars and Stripes Forever" on "Discover America" in the way that Parks rearranges a familiar song to fit the album thematically. It works remarkably well here; I never realized how pretty that song was until I heard it here. There are no bad tracks on the album (has there ever been a bad track on a Van Dyke Parks album?). My one complaint when I first heard the album was that Parks' voice wasn't what it used to be, but I got over that eventually. I should also recommend highly that you listen to this album with headphones if you want to hear it in its full glory.
on June 13, 1998
The theme of Van Dyke Parks' "Tokyo Rose" is suggested in the title: Japan. The songs on the album all deal with Japan in one or another way. This hit a chord with me because of my parents' association with Japanese-Americans during WW2. I would like to share my impressions of these songs.
"America" reworks a familiar anthem with Japanese chordings and overtones. Then the title song: This is named for an English-speaking Japanese woman, Tokyo Rose, who broadcast demoralizing messages from Japan to our GIs during the war. "Yankee Go Home" portrays American post-war occupiers who come up against anti-Americanism there. Those of the Vietnam era can easily understand the point of the line: "When you discover your hand's in the fire, you pull it back quickly, and then you retire." "Cowboy" is about Hawaii, the change from idyllic rural cattle-ranches to golf-courses used by wealthy vacationing Japanese. "Manzanar" is the name of one of the infamous centers to which American citizens of Japanese origin were forcibly relocated in 1940; it is in Arizona, I believe. Suddenly the boy's girlfriend ("Tell her she is all-American in Japanese") is gone. "Calypso" portrays Japan as a playground for GIs: "This is no Philippines." "White Chrysanthemum" introduces "Poor Old Ned" who fought the Japanese in the war, but who "knew his life had just begun/ when the Nissan plant went in down by the run." Jobs are more important than memories of racial hatred. "Trade War" is a spoof on maintaining "freedom" by using our military superiority to force people to buy and sell the way WE want. "One Home Run" likens life to baseball and reminds us that baseball is now a favorite sport in Japan.
on November 14, 2012
if i had a choice of three alboums for eternity or just a year on a desert island: this would be one of the albums. My six year old son, odysseus, plays this album on a daily basis for the last four months. and you know what? it doesn't get old. lines like "MacArthur...the man not the park in L.A."; the song about baseball in japan "yankee go home" the magical hybrid score of Calypso witht he immortal line, "for a man who is on a mission other matters should come to mind take the missionary position make me faint" then the song about King kamehama asking captain cook when they are looking at cattle "what the hell are they for?" Need i go on? there are lines that could only be written by a true mad genius who's funny bone turned into a fermenting tree blooming right smack dab in the medulla oblongata. all those people--indeed if any listen to this guy anymore--who give him less than four stars really should be fed rotten bananas for the rest of their lives. no one better. no one more naturally idiosyncratic. and no one who can make you laugh and ttink at the very same time (well dylan and the dead milkmen used to but that's long ago and far away--van dyke parks his here to stay). amazing.