New rock doc We Are X charts the birth, death and resurrection of Japan’s cult megastars, X Japan. After rising to fame in the ’80s and ’90s on a wave of rebellious rock ’n’ roll backed up by a flamboyant image, they suffered a dramatic split when vocalist Toshi was brainwashed by a cult. A series of tragic events followed, which came to add extra emotional weight to their legacy.
Now reformed, they’re courting international success, with their first album in 21 years looming on the horizon. We Are X is a massive milestone on that mission, providing vital context for their spirited rock songs and melancholy ballads alike. Here’s your guide to the soundtrack.
La Venus (Acoustic Version)
La Venus offers a tantalising glimpse of X Japan’s upcoming album. Recorded especially for the end credits of the film, the ballad carries all the band’s classic hallmarks, showcasing Toshi’s soaring, operatic vocals and Yoshiki’s intense keys. Yoshiki has dubbed it ‘X Japan’s song signature song for the next era.’ It lays bare the emotional vulnerability of a band who have been through a lifetime of tragedy.
Kurenai (from The Last Live)
Kurenai is one of X Japan’s most rock ’n’ roll tracks, kicking into gear with frantic garage-band drums and wild ‘80s solos. This version is imbued with deeper meaning – it’s from the band’s massive farewell show in 1997, where emotions ran high and tears fell on and off the stage. It would be the last time they’d play with beloved guitarist Hide, who died just months later.
Released as a single in 1996, this keening ballad nonetheless brings to mind the ‘80s, and its video is all soft-focus, candles, drapes and romance. Dig beneath the surface, however, and it drips with a mournful pathos, its entreaties to stay ringing with a deathly despair that goes beyond sadness and into emptiness. The song feels like a natural successor to 1989’s piano-led epic Endless Rain.
A Piano String In Es Dur
If Forever Love sounds like the composition of a haunted man, then A Piano String In Es Dur goes even further. A minor piano refrain gives way to a hopeful orchestra swell, only for it all to come crashing down at the end. Taken from Yoshiki’s first classical album, recorded at Abbey Road and released in 1993, it shows the versatility and depth of his talent. Watch out for goosebumps around the minute mark.
The title track of their fifth album – the last before their split – Dahlia is a head-rush of punky drums and speedy riffs, with an unexpected jammy detour in the middle. Though it continues apace for a full seven minutes, Toshi’s vocal tones belie the uncertainty and drama of the Japanese lyrics, which invoke the violence of nature and the difficulty of the human condition. It’s one of X Japan’s best-loved songs.
Crucify My Love
Also taken from Dahlia, Crucify My Love is a gothic ballad underpinned by Yoshiki’s florid keys, like Disney done darker. The song is let down by the English lyrics, which come across as clichéd and sometimes nonsensical, but the musicianship is pure X Japan, with Toshi and Yoshiki capitalising on their strong partnership.
Taking in tribal percussion, hints of Middle Eastern melody and slap bass, this instrumental was written by Hide and bassist Taiji, and showcases the interplay between the two. It’s not the most exciting song in X Japan’s arsenal, but it does give you a sense of the pair’s personalities, and their status as rockstars at the height of the band’s fame.
Standing Sex (from X Japan Returns)
This is a full-throttle romp with riffs ripped straight from the Sunset Strip, and drugs ’n’ booze-fuelled lyrics to match. Yoshiki’s thumping drums are very much in attendance, as the song speeds up and threatens to run away with itself. We Are X director Stephen Kijak has revealed that it’s his favourite X song, which he often plays while he’s driving fast down the highway.
Another one of their ‘shout it from the rooftops’ ballads. It’s bombastic, over-the-top, and unapologetically musical-like in its string arrangements and dynamics. The chorus could be on Eurovision, and the guitar soloing in the middle adds an extra layer of theatre that would make Meat Loaf blush.
Longing / Setsubou-no-yoru
With solemn strings and the sound of waves crashing on a beach, this orchestral piece sounds like the soundtrack to a silent movie about longing and desire. Standing Sex this ain’t. David Lynch created a video for the song, set in a surreal, weather-beaten wasteland.
Art Of Life (3rd Movement)
For their fourth album, X Japan wrote an album entirely comprised of one, 29-minute song, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This section starts with momentum, and returns to the familiar theme of questioning existence. But its time in the sun comes with the chorus at the three-minute mark, the chord progressions and minor vocal twist making for a moving, arms-aloft moment. Listen to the full song for the complete effect.
Endless Rain (from The Last Live)
Guns N’ Roses released November Rain in 1991. X Japan released Endless Rain in 1989. Coincidence? Listen to them both and judge for yourself. Seven minutes of balladry builds to a stirring crescendo and evocative twin guitar harmonies. The crowd singalong you hear on this recording still happens at every show today.
X (from The Last Live)
In one of X Japan’s most adrenaline-filled songs, they cast aside their existential angst to revel in the release and rebellion of being in a band. During the chorus, the crowd always yell, ‘X!’ jumping in unison and forming the X sign by crossing their arms above their head. Infectious, runaway, spirited fun.
Without You (Unplugged)
This was written especially for the film, and proves X Japan have lost none of their love for big, emotional gestures of grandeur. Carrying echoes of Jade in its opening piano chords, the song flowers into a delicate musing on memory and eternity, returning to the themes embedded in the band’s DNA, with Toshi hitting some truly high notes. Lifelong fans will no doubt hold this close to their hearts.
The We Are X official soundtrack is available worldwide on March 3, via Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings (opens in new tab).