Solid State Survivor, released in 1979 through Alfa Records, is the second studio album by Japanese Synth-Pop supergroup Yellow Magic Orchestra. By all accounts, it's not one that the band themselves ever expected to make, given that their self-titled debut from the year prior was meant to be a one-off. However, the international success of that motivated them to turn the project into a full-time act, resulting in the creation of a sophomore album.
Perhaps aware of the limited shelf life of their debut's novelty, this second record shifts the band's sound away from the breezy-sounding overt mockery of Orientalism in favor of a more rigid, mechanical style, though still maintaining their playful core. The Classical Music and disco elements from before are considerably deemphasized in favor of taking a page from the Post-Punk and New Wave Music movements that had risen to prominence in the west at the time, featuring a more earnest interplay of eastern and western elements that act as a showcase of how Japanese musicians could utilize musical styles from the Anglosphere while still remaining distinctly Japanese.
Tying in with this change in approach, the subject matter of the songs sees a concurrent shift in focus, with the band's lyrics becoming more introspective (though still sparse) and featuring a variety of ruminations on the rapid technological advancement that was taking place around the world. The songs on Solid State Survivor touch on themes of both technological utopia and technological dystopia, opening with an upbeat portrait of Tokyo as a rising mechanical mecca and ending with a tense landscape of a society decaying under the weight of their own inventions' impact. Even the instrumental pieces (which dominate the record) carry this same alternation between optimism and pessimism, which combined with the lyrics results in an album whose view of the future is highly cautious, showing enthusiasm about the great potential offered by the contemporary tech boom before immediately being forced to confront the reality of what'll result from the inevitable bad actors who abuse it. Such an approach has since resulted in the album being regarded as one of the first major cyberpunk works, preceding the western rise of the subculture and predicting the themes that would dominate it; consequently, YMO have since been recognized as "the original cyberpunks" by media analysts.
The combination of this cultural innovation and insight and the band's already established international clout resulted in Solid State Survivor becoming a massive success upon its release. In terms of sales, the album topped both the Oricon LP and Oricon CT charts for a whopping 82 and 65 weeks, respectively, remaining a top-seller into 1980 and beating out Godiego's Magic Monkey, which had been the best-selling album of 1979 in Japan. As 1980 went on, the album would end up losing the No. 1 spot on the Oricon LP chart to ×∞Multiplies— another YMO studio album; the two would hold the top two spots for seven consecutive weeks, making YMO the only band to ever achieve such a feat. To this day, Solid State Survivor remains YMO's most commercially successful album, having sold over two million copies since its release.
Despite this commercial success, the album was YMO's first to not be released outside of Japan, with A&M Records choosing to skip it over. Instead, the tracks "Behind the Mask", "Rydeen", "Day Tripper", "Technopolis", and "Solid State Survivor" were integrated onto the US release of ×∞Multiplies, with "Absolute Ego Dance" additionally featuring on UK copies, in both cases replacing several other tracks (most of them being the mutilingual "Snakeman Show" skits). Exactly why this was done has never been explained, but the two most likely factors were the rapidly approaching release of ×∞Multiplies in Japan and the band's popularity among the urban crowd in the US, which led to them being lumped in with disco just a month and a half before Disco Demolition Night and its emboldening of the American backlash against the genre (with ×∞Multiplies featuring more rock-oriented tracks that would contrast any perception of YMO as a disco act).
Regardless, the international version of ×∞Multiplies displaced Solid State Survivor outside of Japan for quite a while. In the UK and Australia, the band's Japanese label Alfa Records took it upon themselves to give Solid State Survivor a proper release in 1982 (following their in-house release of Technodelic the previous year), but it'd take another ten years for the US and continental Europe to see it, via Restless Records' CD reissues of the band's back-catalog (which, with the exception of their debut, was based around the Japanese releases).
Solid State Survivor was supported by two singles: a double A-side of "Technopolis" and the Title Track and "Rydeen". While it wasn't released as a single in support of this album, "Behind the Mask" would later see a single release in the US and UK in support of the altered versions of ×∞Multiplies, going on to become a popular subject of song covers after an unrealized attempt by Michael Jackson to bring his own version of the song onto his landmark album Thriller (Jackson's version would eventually be remixed and released in 2010 on his posthumous album Michael, with the original demo appearing on the 40th anniversary edition of Thriller).
- "Technopolis" (4:14)
- "Absolute Ego Dance" (4:37)
- "Rydeen" (4:26)
- "Castalia" (3:31)
- "Behind the Mask" (3:36)
- "Day Tripper"note (2:40)
- "Insomnia" (4:57)
- "Solid State Survivor" (3:58)
I'm just alive beneath these troping eyes:
- Alliterative Name: Solid State Survivor.
- Animal Motifs: "Rydeen" was based on the rhythm of a running horse, and synthesized galloping noises can be heard throughout the song.
- Anti-Love Song: "Day Tripper" details the narrator's experiences being dragged around by a tease.
- Bilingual Bonus: Averted; this is the first YMO album where the English-language track titles lack Japanese equivalents, and is one of only a minute number of YMO releases to hold the distinction.
- Book Ends: "Day Tripper" features a series of loud electronic screeches at the end of the intro and as the outro.
- Concept Album: The record has an overarching theme of the increasingly prominent role technology plays in people's lives as it continues to evolve, and how the initial excitement of this new tech will quickly be betrayed by its inevitable misuse.
- Coordinated Clothes: The band feature in identical red Mao suits on the front and back cover.
- Cover Version: "Day Tripper" was originally a non-album single by The Beatles. Notably, YMO's version only covers the first two verses of the song, omitting the third verse about how the title character "only played one night stands" as well as the concurrent chorus about her being "a Sunday driver."
- Cyberpunk: Widely considered the Ur-Example of the genre, indulging in its themes about technological dystopia while predating its western rise in the early 1980's.
- Disco: The genre isn't as overt of an influence here as it was on their debut, but it's still present to some degree. "Rydeen" is the most overt showcase of this, with the bridge featuring a thudding series of blips and wooshes inspired by Giorgio Moroder's electronic brand of Euro Disco. Most later albums would drop these remaining traces altogether, save for a few post-disco trimmings on Naughty Boys.
- Distinct Double Album: A single-LP variant: side one touches on themes of technological utopia (highlighted by the fact that the first three tracks all share the same BPM and base rhythm), while side two discusses themes of technological dystopia.
- Dual-Meaning Chorus: More like dual-meaning outro with "Behind the Mask", with one being able to interpret the final line as both asking whether the subject or narrator is the one "behind this mask" and the narrator admitting to themselves being the masked one all along.Is it me
Is it you
Behind this mask, I ask
- Empty Eyes: The second verse of "Behind the Mask" describes the subject of the song as possessing these:There is nothing in your eyes
That marks where you cried
All is blank, all is blind
Dead inside, the inner mind
- Face on the Cover: A shot of the band in red Mao suits playing a game of mahjong with two mannequins features on the front cover; the back is an alternate shot of the trio playing around with them, with Sakamoto kissing the female mannequin and both Hosono and Takahashi hoisting up the male one as if fighting it.
- Fading into the Next Song: "Technopolis, "Absolute Ego Dance", and "Rydeen" all segue directly into one another through shared rhythms and hard cuts.
- Feelies: The original LP release was pressed on translucent yellow vinyl, a move carried over from promotional US copies of the band's debut (retail copies of the US mix though used standard black vinyl); the gimmick would be repeated with Service four years later.
- Gratuitous Spanish: Sandii randomly shouts "¡siesta!" at one point during her vocal bridge on "Absolute Ego Dance".
- Idiosyncratic Cover Art: This album reuses the band logo from the US mix of their first album, albeit with some color adjustments to better contrast with the cover image.
- The Insomniac: "Insomnia", as the name implies, is narrated from the point of view of one.
- Instrumentals: As with Yellow Magic Orchestra before it, most of the songs on the album are instrumentally-based, with lyrics being a rare occurrence; "Rydeen" and "Castalia" in particular don't have any vocals whatsoever.
- Japan Takes Over the World: This sentiment is examined on "Technopolis", which portrays Tokyo as a technological mecca (a perspective that was somewhat popular in the west at the time, only continuing to grow until the asset crash in 1991-1992). The song's music video takes a more overtly comedic approach, opening with YMO summoning a UFO in the middle of the city and featuring a shot of Tokyo Tower taking off like a rocket near the end.
- Last Note Nightmare: The band's cover of "Day Tripper" ends in a set of loud electronic screeches, jarring with and subverting the upbeat tone of the song itself.
- Limited Lyrics Song: Thanks to the main focus being on instrumentals, the album only sparingly uses vocal parts on the songs that have them; "Absolute Ego Dance" hardly has any lyrics at all, with the vocal bridge consisting mostly of nonverbal exclamations.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Technopolis"— and by extension the album— opens with a vocoded shout of "Tokyo!" before the instrumental begins.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Behind the Mask is an upbeat, spacey tune with lyrics about emotional isolation and depersonalization.
- Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Parodied and gender-inverted with the mannequins on the album cover, which are dressed up as an ineffectually clownish Chinese officer and a dominating western seductress.
- Mythology Gag:
- Both music videos made in association with this album feature nods to the "Computer Game"/"Firecracker" video:
- Near the end of the music video for "Technopolis", the view switches to one of the animated paper lamps.
- The music video for "Rydeen" reuses the pixel art backdrop previously seen during the android mannequin shots.
- The fact that the album's first three tracks all use the same BPM and core rhythm give the feeling of them making up a single three-movement suite, harking back to the use of a similar technique on side two of the previous album.
- Both music videos made in association with this album feature nods to the "Computer Game"/"Firecracker" video:
- New Media Are Evil: Played with; while the album expresses anxiety about the negative effects of new, rapidly-emerging technology, it is based more on the potential for misuse than on the technology's existence itself.
- New Sound Album: Compared to Yellow Magic Orchestra, the songs here are more rigid and conventionally structured, lacking the overt Classical Music and disco elements of the preceding record in favor of the band's own idiosyncratic take on Post-Punk and New Wave Music.
- Non-Appearing Title: The only aversions on the record are "Technopolis" and "Day Tripper" (and even then the latter's a Cover Version of a Beatles song); "Behind the Mask" and "Insomnia" come close with "behind this mask" and "I'm insomniac," respectively, but don't state the exact titles.
- One-Woman Song: "Day Tripper".
- One-Word Title: "Technopolis", "Rydeen", Castalia", "Insomnia".
- Other Common Music Video Concepts: The music video for "Technopolis" is mostly a Travelogue Montage, featuring footage of Tokyo at the time with occasional videotape effects.
- Performance Video: The video for "Rydeen" is primarily a tape of the band performing the song against a bluescreen backdrop, interspersed with occasional video effects.
- Post-Punk: A major influence on this album, expressed in the terser, jerkier style and increased rock elements on many of the songs. The band's cover of "Day Tripper" could very well pass for a Devo song out of context. That said, the band doesn't go into the genre whole-hog, still being obstinately Synth-Pop first and foremost.
- Product Placement: A glass Coca-Cola bottle can be spotted on the mahjong table on the album cover.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Insomnia" was inspired by an actual bout of insomnia that Haruomi Hosono was dealing with at the time.
- Rearrange the Song: "Behind the Mask" was originally penned by Ryuichi Sakamoto for a 1978 Seiko quartz watch commercial; it was later revisited by the full band for this album, with returning English lyricist Chris Mosdell contributing as well. The original 1978 version would eventually be re-released in 2003, as the final track on the compilation album UC YMO.
- Red/Green Contrast: The band's red Mao suits on the front and back cover directly contrast the pea green backdrop.
- Round Hippie Shades: Yukihiro Takahashi can be seen sporting these on the album cover.
- Special Guest:
- J-pop singer Sandii provides the vocal bridge on "Absolute Ego Dance".
- Makoto Ayukawa of Sheena & The Rokkets plays guitar on "Day Tripper" and the Title Track.
- Spelling Song: "Technopolis" features vocoded choruses that simply consist of spelling the song title, slightly out of sync with the actual music.
- Stepford Smiler: The Title Track's chorus describes the "cracked smiles" of a nondescript population.
- The Tease: The title character of "Day Tripper" is described as one.She's a big teaser
She took me half the way there
She's a big teaser
She took me half the way there
- Title Track: The band's only record to have a straightforward example of one, with "Yellow Magic (Tong Poo)" and "Multiplies" both being shortened variants of their respective album titles rather than being identical (not to mention the fact that the "Yellow Magic" title is only featured on the US mix of the band's debut album; the original Japanese mix called it "Tong Poo").
- Tokyo: The focal point of "Technopolis".
- Tokyo Rose: Namedropped in the last verse of "Solid State Survivor", which mentions her as being "on the phone, dressed to kill."