‘To Love’ — Faye Wong’s Last Official Album

After all is said and done, Faye Wong (王菲) is about her music, her albums, live performances, and MVs. To even begin a discussion of her music is daunting. Where do you start? It’s nearly impossible to comprehend, but the entire body of her work is excellent. By far, though, in terms of recordings and pure sound quality, her CD albums are probably at the very top. Again, the problem is where to begin. They’re all, every album, every track, phenomenally good. It’s difficult to find a weak track in the entire bunch. Her last official album, released nearly five years ago, in November 2003, is perhaps as good a place as any to begin. (She did produce an album a year later, in November 2004, but it was a live recording of her Hong Kong Coliseum 2003 Christmas Eve concert.) It was the first official album that I purchased, after “discovering” her in 2005.

Each image is from one of the MVs, in track order.

The album title is To Love (Jiang Ai 將愛, Sony, Nov 2003). Here’s a list of the first ten tracks, which are all in Mandarin. Each is linked to a video.

1. To Love (Jiang Ai 將愛, written & composed by Faye)

2. Empty City (Kong Cheng 空城)
3. No Staying (Bu Liu 不留, written & composed by Faye)
4. A Beautiful Mistake (Mei Cuo 美錯)
5. Passenger (Cheng Ke 乘客)
6. Sunflower (Yang Bao 陽寶, written & composed by Faye)
7. Merry-Go-Round (Xuan Mu 旋木)
8. April Snow (Si Yue Xue 四月雪, composed by Faye)
9. Make Up (Ye Zhuang 夜妝)
10. Smoke (Yan )

If you’re new to Faye’s music and don’t have this album, I’d suggest focusing on listening in the first go around, rather than watching the video. The visuals are eye-catching and may be distracting if you want to get a feel for the full richness of her voice.

Many don’t realize the extent to which Faye is involved in the creation and development of her albums. For example, she wrote and composed three of the songs: “To Love,” “No Staying,” and “Sunflower.” And she composed a fourth, “April Snow.” Also, for the first time, she co-produced the entire album. The result is stunning. Every track is a masterpiece, unique yet an integral part of the whole. The opening drums in the title track will absolutely blow you away. And from there on in, to the very last track, you’ll be in for the ride of your life. In future articles, I’ll get into some of the songs, but for now, I’ll leave it to you to enjoy and appreciate.

The ultimate test for an exceptional album or any great work of art is staying power. You don’t ever get tired of listening to it, and every time you do, you discover something new, something you’d missed or overlooked. This is the way it is with Faye’s albums, they never get old, and that’s the way it is with To Love. After five years, there’s really nothing in the pop music landscape — in China or the world — that comes even close to rivaling what Faye has accomplished in this album. (And the same could be said for her other albums as well.) The creativity, the beauty, are unrivaled. And, I might add, this is the way it is with Faye herself. Her photos, films, MVs, and live appearances all have a quality that’s not unlike Mona Lisa’s smile, a mysterious depth that fascinates without end.

Closing notes: I couldn’t find MVs for the last three tracks, which were in Cantonese: “MV,” composed by her ex-boyfriend Nic Tse (Xie Tingfeng 谢霆锋), “In the Name of Love” (Cantonese version of “Jiang Ai”), and “Withered Flower” (Cantonese version of “Passenger”). My guess is that they were never made into MVs. “MV” is an especially beautiful song that spotlights Faye’s ability to use her voice as an instrument, and this song is an intricate dance between her voice and the other instruments.

The sound quality in these MVs is quite good and fine for normal listening. However, to get a feel for the beauty and quality of Faye’s music, you really need to get your hands on original-release CDs. New ones are hard to come by. Even this, her latest, is rarely available in new condition. Used copies come up once in a while in online sites such as Amazon, eBay, etc. The next alternative is re-released versions, and these are readily available at reasonable prices. Often, the quality “seems” better because of re-engineering made possible by advances in technology, but the changes may alter the sounds a bit, and for purists, this may not be acceptable.

Needless to say, the sound quality will also depend heavily on your listening equipment. The better your equipment, the greater your enjoyment. My favorite mode is via headphones, in this lineup: CD tracks ripped losslessly onto my hard drive > Foobar2000 audio player > USB > HeadRoom Desktop balanced headphone DAC/amplifier > balanced Sennheiser HD650 heaphones.