Songs of life in middle age

His stint as a judge on the popular televised competition, The Voice Of China, as well as his marriage to actress Zhang Ziyi last year, have raised Wang Feng's profile outside China.

But he is first and foremost a singer-songwriter in his own right. He was named Most Popular Male Singer in China at Channel V's Chinese Music Awards for the album, Belief Flies In The Wind (2009).

His concerts have filled arenas from Beijing to Chengdu. His best-known tracks include Blooming Life (2005) and Flying Higher (2004), which, incidentally, opens with the line "Life is like a big river".

His ninth solo studio album, The River, is a reminder of his musical prowess.

Opening track Full is a synth rocker which juxtaposes to pointed effect places and things which are packed to overflowing with an aching hollowness elsewhere.

"The city is full of garbage/The sky is blanketed by smog" and, at the same time, "Yet other things are not filled/Things which should be full are not/What do we do now/This expanse of emptiness/How do we fill it".

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  • THE RIVER

    Wang Feng Ocean Interactive (Beijing)  Culture and R2G Music

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This is a record made by a man at the crossroads of middle age, taking stock and chronicling the ebb and flow of life.

His stance is defiant on the stirring ballad, Fleeting Time, What Can You Do To Me. One can well imagine a contestant belting it out in some competition soon.

On the title track, The River, his raspy voice is tinged with melancholia. But he remains unbowed as he wonders: "How much hurt can we bear before we can see past pain/How far do we have to walk before we return to the start."

The mood lightens up on Go Your Own Way as he sings: "You go your own way/I'll go your way as well/When I see your smile/I finally grasp this truth."

While on Why Not Be Happier?, he quips: "Why not be happier, baby/We're making love, not cooking a meal."

So, which is a reflection of his relationship with Zhang?

It might never be possible to tease out the truth of his personal life from his songs, but still, his music paints a picture of a passionate and sensitive man.

On the lively number, Untimely, he takes pride in being different: "I'm beginning to get old when it's popular to be young/I only wish to cry when happiness is revered."

Sometimes, it pays to go against the flow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Songs of life in middle age'. Print Edition | Subscribe