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Ten Days In The Madhouse (CD+DVD) (Limited Boxset)
Denise Ho (Singer)
Ten Days In The Madhouse (CD+DVD) (Limited Boxset)
This professional review refers to Ten Days In The Madhouse (CD+DVD) (Limited Boxset)

After wrapping up her works so far at East Asia Records, Denise Ho delivers her most ambitious project yet with Ten Days in the Madhouse. Released with a documentary by Hong Kong director Yan Yan Mak (Butterfly) and an exhibition for charity, Denise shows that a multimedia project by a musician can be about something more important than clothing tie-ins. As the title suggests, the Ten Days in the Madhouse project is mainly out to show a kinder perspective of society's outcasts, including recovering mental patients. Having a Hong Kong pop album that's not all about broken hearts and dancing already earns it plenty of points for effort.

Similar to Andy Hui's 2006 album In the Name Of... (a very underrated album), each track in Ten Days in the Madhouse is titled after a person's name. This brought the album's first controversy when opening track "Castle Peak Thelma" (Track 1) was played at radio stations. The Chinese characters for Castle Peak (as in Hong Kong's Castle Peak Hospital, known for treating major mental disorders) are the same as the Japanese surname "Aoyama". This sparked the anger of Hong Kong fans of the Japanese singer, who accused Denise of exploiting their idol's name and undermining it with its connection to the hospital. Ironically, this ended up exposing some Hong Kongers' prejudice towards mental health patients by giving the term "Castle Peak" a negative connotation.

"Castle Peak Thelma" is actually about envying the character Thelma and her seclusion in Castle Peak from the craziness of the real world. Wyman Wong's lyrics are as haunting and beautifully written as the composition. Most notable is the star of the album, Denise Ho, who tones down the strong lower range of her voice and presents a more vulnerable side of herself to show the unspeakable pressure of the outside world.

Surprisingly, "Castle Peak Thelma" and all the other songs on Ten Days in the Madhouse are co-written and co-produced by Singaporean musician Hanjin Chen, who made a name for himself as one of Hong Kong's best R&B/hip-hop producers. Here, Chen shows his musical versatility not only by producing, but also composing songs of various genres. While he does offer some R&B-dance style songs, he also writes ballads and even light rock tracks. Of course, with multiple names credited under each track, Ten Days in the Madhouse is also a strong group effort.

The album isn't exactly the usual pop album. While it does feature music from pop genres such as ballads, it also deals with social matters that pop music normally wouldn't touch. What Denise and the team do at points is disguise the issues in a pop style, so one might listen to what sounds like a pop ballad and realize later that the song is about a far more serious theme. One of these songs would be "Young Werther" (Track 7), a dark power ballad whose Wyman Wong-penned lyrics is actually about pessimistic, misunderstood youths and based on the literary classic The Sorrows of Young Werther. Even the energetic dance tracks are about more than they sound. "The Book of Yeung Zi" (Track 3) may sound like the next concert dance song for Joey Yung, but the lyrics by Chow Yiu-Fai are actually about people who don't give up seats for the elderly on public transportation.

The biggest surprise of Ten Days in the Madhouse is that it's musically over-produced in order to disguise its true substance. The subject matters of the project risk being too serious for general pop fans to swallow, so the team disguises it with bombastic production values and over-the-top composition and arrangements in order to retain some kind of entertainment value. One can easily listen through the entire album and enjoy purely the musical aspect of these songs. However, those who go in knowing the ambition of the project but without the ability to understand the lyrics may find some of the ballads too gentle and cookie-cutter to stand out.

That is ultimately the one major imperfection of the album. Denise and her team are so caught up in the project and how the lyrics carry the subject matter that the music sometimes feels like second priority. Even though ballads such as "Charlie Suk-Yee" (Track 5) and "Edmondo" (Track 8) feature well-written lyrics that fit the conceptual scheme, they are overshadowed by some of the more exciting songs of the album and are too easily forgettable. Nevertheless, Ten Days in the Madhouse is the most ambitious Cantopop album since Juno Mak's Chapel of Dawn, and certainly deserves at least the same amount of praise for its musical aspects as its good intentions.

Recommended Tracks - "Castle Peak Aoyama" (Track 1), "Annie Baby" (Track 2), "Book of Yeung Zi" (Track 3), "Denise Queue" (Track 4), "Young Werther" (Track 7), "Kazami Shiro" (Track 9), "Misora Hibari" (Track 10)

by Kevin Ma

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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