In just a decade, Jay Chou’s rise from a mere songwriter into the de facto king of Mandopop has been nothing short of stunning and Chou’s landmark 10th album 跨时代 or The Era finally arrives to face great expectations.

The shy and quiet singer is so famous now that just the news of the Taiwanese pop king’s impeding album release caused other heavyweights in the scene like Cao Ge and Wang Lee Hom to delay their album releases to avoid a head-on clash.

The unusually long 19-month wait for The Era was was due to Chou’s filming commitments like The Treasure Hunter, TV series Pandamen, as well as a Hollywood production, The Green Hornet , also starring Cameron Diaz and Seth Rogen.

To add to the wait, the album’s release was apparently delayed 4 days from the original May 14 date, as Taiwan had to work overtime to produce enough to supply to China, where advance orders couldn’t be fulfilled. The alternative of producing copies directly in China was turned down because of fears that the pirates would flood the market. Despite the precautions taken, however, the efforts backfired as all but one track from The Era were still leaked onto the Internet on May 15.

The title track opens the album with a mix of fast beats, a synthesized human voice and Chou’s classic rapping. An overproduced, messy song, it doesn’t quite inspire confidence in the rest of the album. Fans may remember it for the vampire-themed music video (MV) for 跨时代 (The Era) produced at a whopping price of NT 10 million (S$ 45,000), Jay’s most expensive MV yet.

Fortunately, it gets better as you move on, with standouts such as “烟花易冷” (Fireworks Cool Easily), “雨下一整晚” (It Rains All Night), and “爱的飞行日记” (Flying Diary of Love)

“烟花易冷” (Fireworks Cool Easily) is a sad haunting ballad sung in Jay’s distinctive “zhong guo feng”(中国风) style. For those unfamiliar with such songs, they feature traditional Chinese orchestral instruments, old vocal techniques and literary lyrics. You can almost imagine it being one of the secondary tracks on an epic period movie like the Curse of the Golden Flower, which he acted across Gong Li in and which yielded a very popular theme song for him.

Despite using purely Western instruments like the piano, flute, cello and drums, Jay has managed to completely transform “烟花易冷” (Fireworks Cool Easily) into a “zhong guo feng” style song by his use of poetic lyrics and distinctive singing style.

“免费教学录影带” (Free Instructional Video) is the one of the rare few songs that Jay mixes English words in with the Mandarin lyrics. This playful song has a blues feel and is in the vein of “牛仔很忙” (Cowboy On The Run) from his previous album, “我很忙” (On the Run).

Love ballad “雨下一整晚” (It Rains All Night) starts off typically with a guitar before seamlessly switching to a full Chinese orchestra midway for the remainder of the song. Chou also deftly changes his singing style to his“zhong guo feng”style and back again without breaking a sweat.

The high points of The Era don’t quite match up to what Chou is capable of when he’s in the mood like his phenomenal “葉惠美” (Ye Hui Mei). There is no doubt that Chou can do much better if he is fully concentrating on his music, instead of filming bit roles in movies.

The Era is still a pretty solid album from Chou, and a pretty great encouragement to attend his 2010 World Tour Concert which kick starts in Taipei this June and comes to Singapore on the 23th-25th of July.

The UrbanWire gives The Era 3.5/5 stars.

Album: 跨時代 The Era

Artiste: 周杰伦 Jay Chou

Language: Mandarin

Record Label: JVR Music

Release Date: 18 May 2010

Track list:

  1. 跨时代 (The Era)
  2. 说了再见 (Said Goodbye)
  3. 烟花易冷 (Fireworks Cool Easily)
  4. 免费教学录影带 (Free Instructional Video)
  5. 好久不见 (Long Time No See)
  6. 雨下一整晚 (It Rains All Night)
  7. 嘻哈空姐 (Hip-Hop Stewardess)
  8. 我落泪。情绪零碎 (I Cry. My Emotions Are In Pieces)
  9. 爱的飞行日记 (Flying Diary of Love)
  10. 自导自演 (Self Directed and Acted)
  11. 超人不会飞 (Superman Can’t Fly)