Published Dec 25, 2015Cui Jian ("ts-way Jen") taught China to rock, and invented yaogun, its local incarnation, in 1986. Frozen Light, his sixth album and first in ten years, is more than just a showcase of an elder statesman: Cui is still atop and ahead of the pack.
The titular/opening track, with its vocal flourishes reminiscent of U2's Bono, sets the album's tone, and toes the line between epic and cheesy: It's an epic, confident and sincere march. That sincerity is key to Cui's music, which embraces the power of a carefully and intricately constructed song, thanks to the way rock changed his life when foreign culture fell from space in the early '80s.
Cui doesn't sing in English, but he's hardly incomprehensible. He's never spelled out his messages; he knows rock can change the world, and it's at its most powerful when listeners draw their own conclusions. So even the almost-power ballads that might have seemed silly in others' hands are serious, genuine and affecting. It's not his fault we've lost our faith in rock.
Cui's overwhelmingly propulsive Blade-Runner-meets-Bruce-Springsteen sound evokes China itself — futuristic yet conservative, attractive but with off-kilter minor-key meanderings and rhythmic shifts representing the disorienting effect of living there. There are two clear standouts here: the dystopian "Outside Girl" (外面的妞), best experienced with its gorgeous video, and "Fish-Bird Love" (鱼鸟之恋), a duet with Tibetan singer Yunggiema, which updates "Don't You Want Me" and "I'd Do Anything For Love," with a pinch of "Bonnie and Clyde."
Frozen Light isn't just the sound of China, though: It's the sound of rock and roll's potential, too. (Sony China)