Ayumi Hamasaki’s Rule [2/25/09]

So! Rule, the upcoming theme of the live action Dragon Ball Z movie, leaked in full. I must say that after efforts like “Mirrorcle World” and “STEP you,” “Rule” is surprisingly mediocre. The verses are alright, and the bridges are slick, but the choruses are pretty messy.  Ayu’s singing, or rather yelling all over the place.  Whereas I enjoyed that in “Mirrorcle World,” here it does little to improve the song. Despite featuring a refreshing change of pace in the rock instrumental (something Ayu’s been in dire need of), I can’t really recommend this song to anyone besides rock fans or Ayu lovers.

That said, I can’t wait for the other A-side on Ayu’s upcoming single.  A dancey pop tune is just what the doctor ordered!

84% B

[Single] Ayumi Hamasaki – Mirrorcle World


01. Mirrorcle World (Original Mix)
02. Life (Original Mix)
03. YOU (10th Anniversary version)
04. Depend on you (10th Anniversary version)
05. Mirrorcle World (Instrumental)
06. Life (Instrumental)
07. YOU (10th Anniversary version -Instrumental-)
08. Depend on you (10th Anniversary version -Instrumental-)

~Single Review~
On April 8, 2008, Ayumi Hamasaki released her 43rd single “Mirrorcle World” in celebration of the 10th anniversary of her debut. The lead track, “Mirrorcle World (Original Mix)” has already reached the top five on Japan’s largest mobile downloads chart, Chaku-Uta. Although the NINKI ranking (a popularity poll) was not very high for “Mirrorcle World,” the song’s download success suggests that physical sales will still be high for the single. Already, sales have been good, mirroring the charting pattern of her own single, “glitter / fated.”

Read The Rest of the Review

[News] Namie Amuro – New Look / Rock Steady PVs

Head on over to http://vidal.jp/ and skip the first screen, then head to the video / collaboration section. Once you’re there, you’ll be able to choose which PV you wish to watch. Once rips have been created, I will post youtube links here.

These are great PVs with great style direction; highly recommended.

New Look

Rock Steady

[Single] Acid Black Cherry – Fuyu no Maboroshi

~Track Listing~
01. Fuyu no Maboroshi
02. Koi Ichiya

~Single Review~
Acid Black Cherry released their single, “Fuyu no Maboroshi” on January 16, 2008. Most likely, the song will snatch the group the envious number one ranking on the Oricon chart. Although the single’s sales were strong, they were quite low for a number one single; if the single had been released another week, it may not have gotten number one. That does not mean “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is not good, however.

Quite the opposite, actually: “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is hard rock expertly mixed with orchestrated strings. Although it starts slow, once the rock hits, the song does not let up. Once the rock enteres in, the result is an epic sounding piece that sounds reflective, dramatic, and emotional all at once. Despite the song being dominated by rock after the first verse and bridge, the melody shines through in the strings. The over all vocal effects and layering are quite excellent as well, fitting quite well in the discordant yet organized atmosphere. Although the production sounds older, it works well mainly because of the rock. The song may be hard rock, but it has unity, organization, vocal power, and a memorable melody. “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is exactly what J-rock should be: well-done rock that is accessible for the general public because of its pure musical strength.

“Koi Ichiya” begins with a futuristic intro that paradoxically, sounds like it has dated production. The use of keyboard and synthetic effects continue throughout the song, even when rock flows in, front and center. “Koi Ichiya” has a lot more energy than “Fuyu no Maboroshi” and while it a solid melody and decent production, the song does not have the same coherence as “Fuyu no Maboroshi.” Still, “Koi Ichiya” is quite impressive for a B-side because Acid Black Cherry mixes a variety of elements together to create good music.

As I reviewer, I must put a warning on this single; even if “Fuyu no Maboroshi” is great music, the fact remains it’s rock. If you can’t stand the thought of J-rock, you might as well pass it by. However, if you don’t mind rock, you’ll probably like “Fuyu no Maboroshi:” there’s enough to the single to make endearing besides the just plain rock.

93% A

[News] Namie Amuro – New Look/Rock Steady/What a Feelin’ CMs UPDATED

60s Themed CM – “New Look”

Watch a HQ version here.

70s Themed CM – “Rock Steady”

Watch a HQ version here.

~Single Information~
Teamed up with Vidal Sassoon hair products, Namie Amuro is releasing a triple A-side on March 12th featuring musical styles from various decades: the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s (source). “New Look” features 60s pop, sampling one the Supreme’s most memorable hits, “Baby Love,” which is also one of Namie Amuro’s personal favorites. The song was produced by T.Kura & michico and exemplifies the bubblegum pop of the 1960s with a message about following style trends (source).

The next A-side, “Rock Steady” features 70s dance music with samples from Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady.” The song is produced by Muro & michiko, known for their work on Namie Amuro’s own Suite Chic. According to sources, this song strove to emphasize not only the 1970s funky dance, but also the empowerment of women that occurred at that time(source).

The final A-side, “What a Feelin’,” has not had its CM released to the public, but is known to be 80s music sampling Irene Cara’s “What a Feeling” and produced by Osawa Shinichi and michico. This is Namie Amuro’s first time working with Osawa Shinichi, which has resulted in a sound that embodies what popular music in the 1980s were all about: electronic dance(source).

In each of these three songs, Namie Amuro is taking old hits and making them into new, relevant J-pop. Popular trends from these decades being modernized will also play into the fashion CMs, which borrow footage from each of the PVs for each of the songs.

The planning and execution of this campaign are enormous in scale; the shooting for the 60s’ “New Look” PV was confirmed to have occurred in June of 2007, which suggests this campaign has been in planning for over eight months (source). Additionally, early efforts by the Vissal Sassoon ad campaign are huge, with use of widespread commercials, billboards, and more. Considering the scope of this effort and the success of Amuro’s most recent album, “PLAY,” this single is poised to be a success.

~Track Listings~
CD only (3 songs)
3. What a feelin’
Price: 1,260 yen
Item #: AVCD-31394

DVD (From CD+DVD Version)

3. What a feelin’ (MUSIC VIDEO)
Price: 2,000 yen
Item #: AVCD-31393/B

Thanks to NATE for the info, and catslaughing for translating the news articles.

Namie Amuro’s Official Site
Vidal Sassoon’s Website

[Single] WaT – Yume no Tochuu / Tokimeki☆doobeedoo

「夢の途中」/e2「TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo」- WaT
~Track Listing~
01. Yume no Tochuu (夢の途中)
02. Tokimeki☆doobeedoo by e2
03. Yume no Tochuu (夢の途中) (Instrument)
04 Tokimeki☆doobeedoo (Instrument)

~Single Review~
After releasing their own solo singles, the boys of WaT have gotten back together to release the rather unremarkable single, “Yume no Tochuu / Tokimeki☆doobeedoo.” The single has peaked at number two on the daily charts and should be able to make a top three position. But charting well doesn’t mean WaT’s latest is amazing.

“Yume no Tochuu” features violins, piano, guitar and a mild beat. WaT’s voices are high and sweet as ever in this mid-tempo song, but that only makes the verses drag. Their voices, along with the background music of the verses, is very insubstantial. The choruses easily solve this problem, using a wider variety of instruments besides piano and guitar, as well as through the accompaniment by background vocals. The song also features a good, endearing crescendo, but that doesn’t hide the fact that “Yume no Tochuu” sounds like mid-tempo pop all the way through that lacks real feeling.

“TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” starts out with a distinct 90s J-pop sound because of the questionable use of synthetic beat. This feeling persists through the verses, but is eliminated in the bridges and in the choruses, which add-in better effects to improve the song’s sound. “TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” is catchy, but over the top at times with its cute hooks and the use of “I love you.” Even poppier than “Yume no Tochuu,” “TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” is fast, juvenile pop with decent hooks, nothing else; considering WaT has done this style better in “Ready Go!,” “TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo” cannot be recommended.

WaT is a capable duo, and perhaps both Eiji Wentz and Teppei Koike and are capable soloists as well. Here, however, they have not done well as they have creating a single that lacks their usual flair. Of course, the usual WaT sound and vocals are there, but “Yume no Tochuu / Tokimeki☆doobeedoo” lacks WaT’s usual polish. If this single is meant to foreshadow their next few singles, I’m quite afraid.

74% C

[Single] Kana Nishino – I Don’t Wanna Know

~Track List~
01. I Don’t Wanna Know

~Single Review~
Kana Nishino, a new Sony artist will be releasing her debut single, “I” on February 20, 2008. However, preceding that release, Kana Nishino released “I Don’t Wanna Know,” an English download exclusive to iTunes US. The song is essentially the English version to “I.”

“I Don’t Wanna Know” is an interesting song that borders on discordant at times. The vocals and lyrics aren’t especially strong; Kana Nishino is hard to understand as her pronunciation is Engrish at best. This means that you can’t understand much other than the chorus and the bridge. And her vocals don’t exactly soar above the rest of the rock track, letting the words mix into the music too much at times. Those problems are not present in the Japanese version of the song, so it is the superior version. Still, the hook “I don’t wanna know” is catchy and memorable, and the instrumental’s rock guitar riff base is great. The track is synthetic, rock, and dark all at once. Over all, “I Don’t Wanna Know” is probably regular J-pop single filler, but displays a nice new sound from a debut artist.

82% B

[News / New Artist Spotlight] Kana Nishino – I (PV)

『I』西野 カナ (Nishino Kana)

The PV is particularly strong for a debut artist, with excellent effects and a dark, underwater setting. Despite a lack of choreography or dancing, the PV features a great wardrobe, great imagery and good direction: nary a moment is boring. When you mix captivating visuals with well produced sound, you come out with a a well rounded PV. “I” is a great debut, probably one of the best since JYONGRI’s “Possession.” Although Kana Nishino’s vocals aren’t particularly strong, the rock riffs and synthetic instrumentation work well with the layering to create a good song. “I” may be difficult to love first listen as it features harder, somewhat discordant rock, but the production and arrangement work well in the end.

Kana Nishino is an artist to look out for. Her debut single, “I,” will be released February 20, 2008. I’ll be sure to review the single around it’s release.

The Single Information / Cover:

~Track Listing~
01. I
02. In Stereo
03. Just a friend

You can visit her official website here.

A big thanks to moviebuffwwc for the tracklisting and Lemonlime for the news.

[News] Stephanie – Friends PV

Stephanie certainly has rocked it up in her latest song, “Friends.” Much like her B-sides, this song depends on guitar riffs and ignores Stephanie’s whistle notes in favor of a fast paced song. Although the PV isn’t amazing, the differentiation of shots and the motion does help mix things up a bit (it is shot all in one room). Over all, not too bad at all.

Sorry about the video getting taken down. In the future, please comment if that happens.

[Single] GReeeeN – BE FREE / Namidazora

~Track Listing~
02. Namidazora

~Single Review~
GReeeeN released their fifth single on January 16, 2007. The lead A-side, “BE FREE” experienced great download success before the physical release of the single, topping Chaku-Uta downloads easily. Building off of the success of their hit, “Ai Uta,” and their previous song, “Hito,” “BE FREE / Namidazora” focused on GReeeeN’s unique sound.

“BE FREE” is the stronger of the two tracks on the single. Even though the vocals aren’t strong (GReeeeN is not a vocal powerhouse, so if you are looking for an amazing vocal performance look elsewhere) the production and composition on the song is topnotch. The combination of keyboards with the melody during the intro that persist throughout the whole song create a memorable tune. And despite weak vocals, the hook, “BE FREE” is suprisingly strong because of synthetic editing of voices. Because of these factors, “BE FREE” has amazing moments that allow it to become a great ringtone, but as a full song, some moments weigh done the brilliant ones. The vocals are stylistic at best. The good thing is, that’s all that I can say is bad about “BE FREE.” It’s well-done, it’s just a pity to see the weakness be the group itself.

While “BE FREE” was mid-tempo, “Namidazora” is a slow ballad. The chorus sounds much more strained because of the poor vocals, and the verses deteriorate to rapping. Despite excellent composition, the production on this track isn’t as good as “BE FREE’s;” without vocal editing and with rapping, “Namidazora” isn’t a memorable, emotive ballad even if it has great composition and keyboards. The extro is nice, but not enough to make “Namidazora” sound great or better than “BE FREE.”

With GReeeeN, the only glaring flaw to find is their vocals. They aren’t as strong as say FUNKY MONKEY BABYS’, but GReeeeN’s composition is better. What can GReeeeN do to resolve that problem? They’ve done about all they can here on this single: rapping and vocal editing. Because of the way the music industry works, GReeeeN makes more money singing their own songs than hiring other people to sing them, so they’ve done all they can. If they can continue with vocal editing and hip vocals, they should be able to maintain popularity. “BE FREE” should atone to that, as it is a solid pop song that doesn’t rely on its vocals.

91% A-

[Single] Yuna Ito X Celine Dion – Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~

~Track Listing~
01. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~
02. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (USA Mix)
03. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (Ito Yuna Solo Version)
04. Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (Instrumental)

~Single Review~
Every once in a while, there comes a release that makes it a joy to be a reviewer, letting me look forward to reviewing the song. Well, believe it or not, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” is one of those songs. The single, featuring the amazing combination of J-pop starlet Yuna Ito and experienced American (Canadian by birth) pop songstress Celine Dion, was released on January 16, 2008. The single had larger than life expectations to fit, and it is my joy to confess that yes, the two met them. They have done splendidly.

The lead version of “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” is the version featured in the PV. The song features a great instrumental and vocal combination. Compared to the USA version, the instrumentals are fuller here and Celine Dion is more on the back burner. That’s not a bad thing; Celine Dion still sings the English parts of the chorus with soaring vocals, and Yuna Ito takes over for the Japanese parts. The song is split quite evenly; even though the song may be Celine Dion (it feels like a lot of her discography) the two share the spotlight here. Celine Dion even sings phonetically in Japanese, backing Yuna Ito up. That only strengthens a catchy chorus that is both memorable and emotional. Although at times over the top with full violin, guitar, drums and synthetic instrumentation, Dion’s and Ito’s vocals are over the top as well; they feel at home on this power ballad, and that comes off across. Over all, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” is catchy, despite not sounding extraordinarily special.

“Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (USA Mix)” features less full instrumentation that is much more guitar based, leaving the vocals in the spotlight. Although the violins do make an entrance during the bridge, the song never attains to that J-pop feeling the original version did. That’s probably because the chorus just feels much barer without those elegant string sections at the end. That’s not to say this mix isn’t good, at moments, this mix is better than the other one; but the background vocals don’t meld as well and the chorus just isn’t as strong. The weak link in the chorus turns out to be Dion, who vocals still soar, but lack the depth they had with Ito’s full background vocals. They try to harmonize here and a gospel even enters the fray near the end, but “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (USA Mix)” just isn’t as good and as big.

The Yuna Ito solo version of “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” features a new verse and bridge, all in Japanese. Ito does a good job taking up the helm of the song here without Celine to lean on. However, Ito’s voice was clearly not meant to sing the powerful notes that Celine’s does, and her voice sounds out of place when she sings Dion’s “you gave me a world to believe in.” Even though clear and pretty, Ito’s voice does have that melisma. For that reason, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~ (Ito Yuna Solo Version)” sounds inferior to both other versions.

In the end, “Anata ga Iru Kagiri ~A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN~” sounds incredible. Celine Dion heard an artist who is usually hit or miss and guided her towards a big hit.

94% A

[Single] AAA – MIRAGE

~Track Listing~
02. Love Candle
03. SUNSHINE (Live in Budokan 2007.09.22)
04. MIRAGE (Instrumental)
05. Love Candle (Instrumental)

~Single Review~
AAA released their 17th single “Mirage” on January 9, 2008. The single debuted at number one on the Oricon charts and sold around 25,000 copies its first week on sale. That makes “MIRAGE” AAA’s highest charting single, but it also makes it one of the lowest number one debuts ever.

I’ll start this review on a personal note, because I think it’ll help give my review better context. I’ve followed AAA since 2006 right after their debut, and I’ve been impressed with their music many times over. Then 2007 hit, and I became disenchanted with their songs. Although their earlier songs were catchy, poppy, and dancy, I’ve felt their more recent releases have failed to capture that magic. Blame it on their rushed release schedule (17 singles since 2006? That’s obscene). However, that said, “MIRAGE” does remind me why I still like AAA, even if it isn’t as superb as the energetic “BLOOD ON FIRE” or the powerful “Let It Beat!”

The intro to “MIRAGE” is prolonged, but works well preparing the listener for the instrumental stylings of the song that border on trance. Sadly, the intro isn’t anything amazing after the first few seconds of Middle Eastern sounds. The verses aren’t that special either, featuring bare solos from the members. The bridges do up the temp noticeably, which carries over to a fuller, catchy chorus. The song may have a good chorus, but even that doesn’t sound as good as many of AAA’s past releases. The song is pop, but AAA’s done better.

“Love Candle” is a ballad that works off of the voices of the guys of AAA juxtaposed against the girls in the background. AAA specializes in dance music, and when they release songs like “Chewing Gum” and “Love Candle” they mystify me. They definitely don’t have depth to their voices, or believable emotion, which really undercuts the ballad. The nice element of the song that does make it sound nice and sweet is the depth achieved through use of background vocals. Because of those background vocals, courtesy of AAA’s girls, the bridges and the chorus sound surprisingly good.

This particular Budokan live of “SUNSHINE” is good; AAA can sing live. Of course, the studio track is superior, but the live recording has energy and a responsive crowd. As such, the live of “SUNSHINE” is a must have for the die-hard AAA fans, but passable for everyone else.

Over all, “MIRAGE” feels like just another single from AAA. I sincerely wish they’d slow their release pace down and take time on production. If this single was further polished and practiced, I believe it could have been better. And yes, had it been better, it may have been able to sell even more, making it more than the lowest number one debut in Oricon’s history. One can only hop they’ll slow their release rate after the release of their best album, “ATTACK ALL AROUND.”

78% C

[News] Utada Hikaru – Stay Gold (HQ Version)

Yet another “Stay Gold” post?

Yes, well, if you haven’t gotten it yet, Hikki is one of my favorite singers, so I try to keep up on her newest releases / news.  Here, we have the HQ version of “Stay Gold” which really helps us hear the beautiful piano and carefully layered vocals. Only real problem in sight is that the song doesn’t have the strength to carry it out as long as it is (it feels like too many repetitions of the chorus). As such, “Stay Gold” sounds soft, making it sound more like a B-side.

In other news, “HEART STATION” hits Chaku-Uta ringtones on January 21, 2008. The song is supposed to have an older R&B feel with a mid-tempo beat.

And thanks to mimi for posting the link to the video!


~Track Listing~
01. Ishindenshin
03. Royal Chocolate Flush
04. November -Interlude-
06. To Be In Love
07. Hadashi no Kisetsu
08. Chandelier
09. Hybrid Breaks -Interlude-
10. Dance Dance
11. Taiyou no Chizu
12. Soba ni Ite…
13. Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde
14. Taiyou no Malaika

~BONUS Second Disk Track Listing~
01. MEGA MISIA MIX 10 10th Anniversary EDITION

~Album Review~
MISIA released her eighth original studio album, “EIGHTH WORLD” on January 9, 2007, and the album debuted at number on on the Oricon daily chart, although it most likely won’t hold that lead for the whole week.

The first track, “Ishindenshin” leads the album well as it is a mid-tempo R&B track with a great instrumental backing. The synthetic introduction to the song is great and memorable. With synthetic vocal-like recordings inserted in, as well, the intro sounds dark, something that continues to come into play throughout the song. Although the verses pretty much use only a beat, the still maintain that dark feeling that the choruses and extros only strengthen. Over all, vocals aren’t amazing, but the song is quite good, especially for a MISIA album track.

The next song, “ANY LOVE” is a slower song that feels somewhat faster paced than a pure ballad. “ANY LOVE” features R&B sounds, a catchy chorus, and a bridge which features some of MISIA’s higher notes. That combination makes “ANY LOVE” both catchy as an R&B track and pretty as a slower one. The PV for ANY LOVE, shot in Africa with children, probably best represents that duality of the mid-tempo R&B track, “ANY LOVE.” “ANY LOVE” sounded like one of her better single tracks, and it is one of the best songs on the album.

The next song, “Royal Chocolate Flush” raises the energy on the album another notch. “Royal Chocolate Flush” is pretty much a pure dance song that abandons cohesion and melody at times in favor of getting the listener into the beat and dancing. As a dance song, that’s no necessarily a bad thing, but it makes “Royal Chocolate Flush” a bit of a tough listen, especially in the verses and bridges. Even with the cohesive energy of the song, “Royal Chocolate Flush” feels a bit disparate at times without an easy to find melody throughout. For dance lovers, “Royal Chocolate Flush” should be an easy favorite, but it might baffle some others.

The next song is an interlude to ease the change in pace the album takes, which is an excellent decision considering the hard beat nature of the songs preceding “November -Interlude-.” The best way to describe “November -Interlude-” is as an low quality recording of MISIA in the studio with a live band. The effect is very interesting, but the important part is there is a beat here, but it’s not as large as “Royal Chocolate Flush”‘s was. As a transition “November -Interlude-” works well.

With the pace change introduced by the interlude, “MISSING AUTUMN” fits in well. The song has a softer beat, but edges closer towards a ballad with soft guitar rifts in the background coupled with piano and violins. Adding in the repetition of “missing” helps make the song sounds nice, however MISIA doesn’t fully live up to her huge vocals here and instead only makes it halfway there. Even if “MISSING AUTUMN” sounds nice, it doesn’t distinguish itself enough.

To follow up “MISSING AUTUMN,” MISIA introduces another soft ballad that contains verses based off of piano: “To be in Love.” The bridge of the song is especially poignant, where the violins momentarily stop. The first chorus, however, is not as good as the final few; closer to the end, MISIA gives up her vocals to put on a great display. Because of this, “To be in Love” isn’t perfect, but by the end, it shows what MISIA’s ballads are all about. She can sing, and “To be in Love” shows that.

“Hadashi no Kisetsu” is another slower song hat doesn’t really distinguish itself as well as “To be in Love.” The keyboards are a nice touch to the song that give the song a very new age lounge feeling, but the song isn’t relaxing with control of the listener’s attention. MISIA sings well, but she doesn’t captivate, which makes “Hadashi no Kisetsu” one of the albums worst songs despite somewhat pleasant instrumentals.

“Chandelier” is a jazzy track that leads in with the drums and keyboard. As more and more instrumentation comes in, the song becomes more MISIA-esque with its violins. After the bridge, the song hits its first chorus a bit anticlimactically. If “Chandelier” is anything, it’s pleasant and does well at continuing the different lounge feeling of “Hadashi no Kisetsu.” This exploration in MISIA’s music is welcome; considering the length of her discography, she needs to innovate in order to keep her listener purchasing her music. Although “Chandelier” is far from innovation, it does take MISIA a step in the right direction. The end of the song is more emotive than the rest of the of the song, and probably a lot stronger because of it. But the extro just drags out as MISIA ad-libs weakly.

Because the album changes its tone again, “Hybrid Breaks -Interlude-” was placed next. It works well at building up from the slower, softer feeling of the past tracks to the powerful, up-tempo upcoming tracks. Starting with guitar riffs, and adding in synth and keyboards, the song is excellent preparation for “Dance Dance.”

The intro of “Dance Dance” sounds like the 80s with its synthetic nature. That intro is a motif throughout the song, that spices up what may prove to be a fairly ordinary song. Without that feeling, “Dance Dance” feels too mid-tempo and too powerless for its own good. “Dance Dance” relies on the recurring intro sample throughout the song to inspire dancing, which sucks because had the song been fully tweaked, “Dance Dance” could easily be a powerful dance track.

“Taiyou no Chizu (太陽の地図)” is a soft upbeat song with a present guitar and string melody that works well with MISIA and her background vocals. The only really problem with the song? It feels a little laid back in some respects, which doesn’t really make the track stand out. The more glaring problem, then, is the Engrish throughout the song, and then when the English isn’t Engrish, it’s still not the best hook MISIA could have used. It’s a decent pop track and a decent B-side that will find its way into some listeners’ hearts.

“Soba Niite…” was originally used as the B-side for the “ANY LOVE” single. Surprisingly, the song stands up very well on its own. With power, “Soba Niite…” is one of the more memorable ballads on the song, despite being one of the barest. A pure ballad, “Soba Niite…” is a nice rest from the R&B of “EIGHTH WORLD.”

If “Soba Niite…” was a rest from R&B, then “Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde” reintroduces R&B to the album (but not too harshly). The song features a soft beat that sounds like it could have bongo based, as well as piano and keyboard. Although the verses and the bridges feel very run of the mill, the choruses of “Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde” are splendid because MISIA uses her light, airy high notes to give off a relaxing feel. With background vocals that help embellish the rest of the song, “Kimi wa Sougen ni Nekoronde” is able to make itself fun and catchy.

“Taiyou no Malaika” begins with a piano intro, which transitions fairly well from the past track. As MISIA’s vocals emerge, so does an organ and eventually drums and past the first chorus, strings. “Taiyou no Malaika” uses the same sounding violins as the rest of MISIA’s recent music, which really undermines the most touching points in the song. That, and the hook of the song, “Endless love” is hard to make out because of MISIA’s pronunciation. Despite those detriments, “Taiyou no Malaika” is the best ending track to the album as it sounds pretty.

The megamix of MISIA’s career could be more expertly remixed (it doesn’t begin until over a minute in) and does not feature music from all of MISIA’s career (it’s heavily weighted towards recently). Easy to dance to because it features songs in the vein of “BACK BLOCKS” and “Royal Chocolate Flush,” the megamix does have cohesion. The ending is also thematically and temporally appropriate, stating “she’s discovered a new world.” Well MISIA, since your musical debut, you have been evolving as an artist, so yes, you’ve discovered a new world of music.

“EIGHTH WORLD” is not a step up from “Ascension,” MISIA’s last album, but it doesn’t feel like a step down, either. Over all, this album is consistent, with few songs really missing the concept but also with no tracks that are pure ecstasy. The biggest source of this consistency would probably be the violins MISIA use, which oddly always sound too similar considering how often they’re used. She could easily differentiate by exploring different orchestrated sounds, different instruments, and different genres. Although part of “EIGHTH WOLRD” retreated to MISIA’s dance era of her music, she does experiment with lounge-like sounds on part of her album. Because of that, “EIGHTH WORLD” feels different from many of MISIA’s other works. It is also worth mentioning there are less new tracks than usual on “EIGHTH WORLD,” with “Royal Chocolate Flush” acting as the main problem, releasing four of this album’s songs on a single. Still, “EIGHTH WORLD” feels new and R&B. MISIA does well, but not quite well enough. If she improve her production and gives her sound a new style with an her own feeling, she should be fine.

81% B-

[Album] Yuna Ito – HEART


~Track Listing~
03. losin’
04. Know-how
05. Precious
06. Tender is the Night
07. Fragile
08. Nobody Knows
09. Faith
10. Stay for Love
11. Truth
12. Perfume
13. Precious -wedding extended ver.- (Bonus Track)

~Album Review~
Yuna Ito released her debut album one January 24, 2007. The album was the culmination of six singles, two of which were related to Yuna Ito’s REIRA personality for the NANA movies. With mixed success with her first six singles, Yuna Ito’s possible success with “HEART” was in question. In the end, though, “HEART” went on to become a smash hit, selling 523,715 copies. Buoyed by the success of her singles, Yuna Ito captured the third best selling female original studio album effort of 2007.

“WORKAHOLIC” is the pacesetter for the album. It’s pop that sounds somewhat generic, due to the use of keyboards, a strong beat, and strings. That generic nature, alongside the feeling that this song could be playing on the radio in the 90s hinder “WORKAHOLIC”‘s strength as a pop song. However, defying explanation, “WORKAHOLIC” is probably the most enjoyable album track on “HEART.” It’s fun, fluffy, and poppy. Nothing wrong there. Although there are a few shortcomings (i.e. the hook, the instrumentation, etc.) the song comes together quite nicely in the end, starting the listener on a high note.

The string backing of “WORKAHOLIC” helps ease the transition to the sweeping ballad, “ENDLESS STORY.” “ENDLESS STORY” is just pure beauty and exhilaration as far as pop ballads go. Yuna Ito’s voice is clear and understandable, the melody is memorable, the climax is grand, and the hook is perfect. Yuna Ito’s producers hit gold with this track, really showing off her power throughout the song through a combination of layering and instrumentation. “ENDLESS STORY” is one of the reasons people bought “HEART,” and after listening to the track, it’s not hard to see why.

The follow up to “ENDLESS STORY” is the sleek R&B song, “Losin’.” Despite featuring an Engrish phrase (which is bad considering Ito is an English native speaker), the song is catchy and maintains momentum well. The synth-tinged guitar sample works well with Ito to create a track that borders on ethereal at times. “Losin'”‘s undeniable strength would be its chorus which is just so catchy, mainly due to the combination of speed, layered vocals, and the hooks featured. Over all, “Losin'” is another track where Ito can really shine.

“Know-how” is a track that is easy to pass by, as its sandwiched between “Losin'” and “Precious.” And let’s face it, that’s not a bad thing considering how plain “Know-how” sounds. Despite the brightness of Ito’s vocals lightening “Know-how” up, the track just doesn’t shine. It has no depth, little layering, and little to enjoy. Yuna Ito can handle singing backed by modern lounge type instrumentals, but this track really fails at showing off her vocals and fails at being memorable.

“Precious” is another take on the ballad by Ito, this time with a gospel sound courtesy of a full choir. Working with such a large sound, Ito’s vocals fill this track with power and sincerity. With a memorable chorus and a great sound filled with keyboards, violins, piano, and drums, “Precious” proves itself to be an excellent song in the end.

“Tender is the Night” does well maintaining the flow from the last track, but that’s about all it does. Considering the concentration of ballads on this album, it’s of utmost importance for the ballads to be different and good. “Tender is the Night” only succeeds at one of them, mainly due to the choice of instrumentation. It’s not good, mainly because Ito’s voice is not truly utilized here and the song doesn’t have the softness to explain that. The song ends up sounding a bit like a bad 90s power ballad with R&B effects thrown in to make the song contemporary, as well as a saxophone.

“Fragile” starts off with an intriguing use of violins that continues to be a motif throughout the whole song. However, that’s about the best thing about that track; despite an initial surprise bout of musical quality, the song falls on its feet. “Fragile” isn’t terrible, it just sounds like another pop R&B song that could be found in the 90s. Ito’s vocals are better here, but they’re not at their best.

Continuing the trend of 90s-esque songs, “Nobody Knows” doesn’t sound particularly good. It features the same style instrumentation as “WORKAHOLIC,” but with less style and power. Let’s put it this way: “WORKAHOLIC” wasn’t that good in the first place, but for something to imitate it and do poorly doesn’t bode well. “Nobody Knows” sounds off at points and feels worse than album filler.

The next song, “Faith,” was a single song, but it does not capture the same magic as Ito’s other ballad songs. Still, compared to the album ballads, this softer violin and piano based ballad sounds pleasant and sweet. It demonstrates Ito’s vocal prowess and also has a great melody, best exemplified by the violin intro.

“Stay For Love” has a beat similar to the verses of “Faith,” but doesn’t come together as a solid R&B song. Instead, it stays in the realm of mediocrity, never gaining strength. If the combination of Ito’s vocals and the backing track weren’t jarring, the “Stay For Love” might come across as smooth R&B, but as it stands, the song is sub-par.

“Truth” features a rockier version of a power ballad, where Ito’s voice soars against the fitting vivid backdrop. Although “Truth” failed to recreate the success of “ENDLESS STORY” that’s probably more the fault of NANA 2 than Yuna Ito. She sounds great here, and the ballad builds up with a great climax. Her voice exemplifies her characteristic clarity and power here on “Truth,” making it another great ballad from her. Although it’s another ballad, it’s strong and it’s different, which helps prevent it from repeating the themes of past tracks.

The final track, “Perfume” isn’t special. It is a sweet end in to the album lyrically, but musically it fails to impress. Of course, Ito’s vocals are on their A-game, but the production is just not there to back her up. “Perfume” feels average because like many of the other album tracks, the song lacks great production that make Ito’s vocals pop. Here, she feels like just one of many J-pop songstresses, when in reality, she is something special.

The wedding version of “Precious” simply makes the song more fitting for its primary use: as a wedding song. It’s not necessarily better, but perhaps more fitting. The song isn’t re-recorded, but instead only has its instrumentals replaced. It’s not bad, but this version of “Precious” is not better than the original.

Word to the wise, an album should not focus on the outdated sounds of a decade of the past and throw away the positive single songs that could have helped cover up that mess. Ito did not utilize “stuck on you” and “pureyes,” two upbeat pop tracks that could have easily diversified “HEART” and given it more feeling and energy. Instead, her production team decided on filling the album with only so-so tracks, with little to love. Even if the album has well polished singles, the lacking quality of the album tracks severely hurts “HEART.” In the end, in J-pop, this effort is not enough to distinguish Ito. If she doesn’t change tactics, she may never see the sales she saw with “ENDLESS STORY” – or even “Precious” – ever again. Ito’s capable, but she needs to re-evaluate her music.

70% C-

[News] Utada Hikaru – Stay Gold -Radio Rip-

It’s nice to finally hear “Stay Gold” after waiting months. It’s premiere was originally in ASCIENCE hair-product commercials, but it was aired in an incomplete form.  Although this rip’s quality is low, you can hear the delicate layering, the piano, and Utada’s deep voice.  A nice soft A-side that sounds different from Utada’s other ballads, “Stay Gold” features a soft R&B edge throughout the verses.

[News] YUI – Namadairo Preview

YUI’s next single, “Namadairo” due out February 27, 2008, will be used in the drama 4 Shimai Tantei Dan. The youtube video above is our first look at the song. Right now, “Namadairo” sounds like something YUI’s released before, but still good. But before we post a full review, we’ll need to hear the whole song…

[Album] Koda Kumi – Black Cherry

~Track Listing~

02. Get Up & Move!!
03. Ningyo-hime (人魚姫: Mermaid Princess)
04. Yume no Uta (夢のうた: Dream Song)
05. Tsuki to Taiyou (月と太陽: The Moon and the Sun)
06. Puppy
07. Koi no Tsubomi (恋のつぼみ: Bud of Love)
08. WON’T BE LONG ~Black Cherry Version~
10. Candle Light
11. Cherry Girl
12. I’ll be there
13. Unmei (運命; Fate)
14. With your smile
15. Milk Tea (ミルクティ)
16. Twinkle (First Press Only)
17. GO WAY!! (First Press Only)
18. WON’T BE LONG ~Red Cherry Version~ (First Press Only)

~Album Review~
“Black Cherry” was released on December 20, 2006. It topped the Oricon album charts for four weeks (two of which were combined into one week of sales due to holidays). In total, “Black Cherry” did not match the success of Koda Kumi’s two previous best of albums, however, it sold 1,024,452 copies in total, something no female artist in 2006 was able to do.

“Black Cherry” starts out with an introduction and properly titled as such. This particular intro of Koda Kumi’s has a great beat like that of “BEST~Second Session~” intro, but it is not as good as its predecessor. That certainly sets the tone for the whole album. Kuu attempts to sound her best, but ends up presenting a scattered showing of her music. The intro has some engrish going on (”I ready…”) and a bit of redundancy (”one unity”), but over all, it sounds pretty sensual.

“Get Up & Move!!” flows very nicely from “INTRODUCTION” as both have a hard beat. “Get Up & Move!!” is an R&B dance track that is similar to “Get it On” and “Shake It Up,” with a sexy Indian spice in its tone. Despite a strong showing throughout the verses, and choruses, Kuu’s rap is very weak, “this is for the party people.” Despite the bridge’s and chorus’s strong hooks, the song doesn’t ultimately make the listener “get up to move” with energy. With a little more practice, Kuu could become a better rapper, but as it stands, her rap cannot be taken seriously. Her rapping is a bad aspect of an okay song.

Next up, the album moves into “Ningyo-Hime,” an interesting choice for a third track on the album. “Get Up & Move!!” certainly introduced the listener to a sexual sound continued here, but the rock riffs don’t create a ton of continuity with the last track. The prominent beats in “Get Up & Move!!” are pretty much absent in Ningyo-Hime, which sounds like rock through and through. That said, Kuu shines through here, playing to one of her strengths: versatility. Even though she’s not commonly associated with rock tracks that doesn’t mean she can’t lower her voice a few notches and rock out with flair. The choruses more than make up for the lagging verses because of their pure speed and energy. In the end, “Ningyo Hime” may not fit as a well on “Black Cherry” as it did on “4 hot wave,” but thankfully the song still manages to sound strong.

The album’s transitions continue to baffle the listener as they move into “Yume no Uta;” unless there is a thematic link between the last few songs, which is a minute possibility, the transitions have been strained at best. “Yume no Uta,” a power ballad, does not belong next to “Ningyo-Hime,” a rock song, as the listener is not prepared for such an abrupt change. Nevertheless, despite a poor transition, “Yume no Uta” is a strong ballad. Sadly, its strength is swept out from under it compared to the booming rock song before it. Considering its reliance on the over-the-top instrumentation, this doesn’t bode well for “Yume no Ua.” The situtation is as though Kuu’s instrumentals are overly broad/epic for “Yume no Uta,” and Ningyo Hime easily uncovers that. “Yume no Uta” ends well, with plenty of emotion in Kuu’s voice. Against the odds, this song still manages to somehow impress. It has power many of Kuu’s other recent ballads fail to attain because emotion is present, which helps this song stay on its feet.

Finally, a transition that makes sense! Now that makes two for five… wow. “Tsuki to Taiyou” is another ballad that feels much smaller than “Yume no Uta.” That doesn’t hurt “Tsuki to Taiyou” but instead makes it feel more like a soft love song. It is one of the better album tracks. Instead of going epic, Kuu goes for a spartan atmosphere, equipped with a guitar and some simple synthetic elements. The synthetic editing of Kuu’s voice at the beginning is an interesting lead in, to say the least. Along with some Engrish and much needed emotional vocals, the song does surprisingly well. One of its most prominent weaknesses? Repetition. For an emotional song, unless it is being poetic (a la “Be My Last,” but even so…), it is not the best tactic. However, it does help make Tsuki to Taiyou a catchier track, I suppose. It is not as memorable as “hands,” but “Tsuki to Taiyou” is another welcome addition to Kuu’s legion of ballads.

The next track, “Puppy,” is a bit of jump from “Tsuki to Taiyou,” but it’s not terribly drastic. “Puppy” is another strong album track, with a Western influence in its beat (can anyone say Rihanna’s “S.O.S.?” The beat is exactly the same, even if the instrumentals are different). It’s pretty catchy with its synthetic elements, but Kuu’s voice has seen better days. The track could definitely use some help in the production department, as it is jarring at some points, a fact that could easily be easily be fixed. However, the climax of the song is pretty good. It’s above average, but it’s still the quality of an album track.

“Koi no Tsubomi” pops up next on the album, continuing the momentum of the last track well. Mid-tempo and full of synthetic instrumentals, “Koi no Tsubomi”’s poppiness can be overbearing at times, but it’s still lovable. The song is completely Japanese and therefore Engrish free, which is a definite plus. Add in the fact that the chorus is surprisingly catchy and you have a nice care free song. Over all, the keyboards and light beats of the song characterize the beginnings of love very well. With such bright sounds and a well structured chorus with a memorable melody, “Koi no Tsubomi” will get in your head (it falls into the same boat as “Cherry Girl”). “Koi no Tsubomi” easily manages to put the album filler to shame.

“WON’T BE LONG ~Black Cherry Ver.~ gets rid of EXILE’s vocals in favor of having Kuu as the lead throughout the whole song. She does sound excellent throughout , but the fact that song is a duet is still evident. Her singing it alone with some corny rapping in the background do not hide this fact and in the end, “WON’T BE LONG” doesn’t sound as good as it could. This leaves “WON’T BE LONG” sounding lonely without EXILE. Add to that spotty instrumentals that lack the production values of some of her other tracks, and you have a desperate attempt at a dance remix. This track is bad enough to skip – this version of “WON’T BE LONG” is much too jarring to listen to and jam to.

“JUICY” is an interesting take on a modern dance R&B track. It’s mid-tempo and breathy, oozing pure sensuality. What does this all mean for “JUICY?” It means it’s good. There’s so much to love here. For example, take the line, “I’m Juicy..whoa,” which is just priceless. The song also has a chorus that incorporates mini-moans, which is an unexpected addition to say the least. Let’s not forget that “JUICY” flows effortlessly from the last track, as well, which helps strengthen the song over all. “JUICY” may not be the star of the album, but it epitomizes what this era of Kuu’s music is about. The vocals aren’t superb sadly: they’re just there and shallow. However, the Engrish of “JUICY” does prove endearing. And the short little rap isn’t half bad. All in all, “JUICY” is a mixed bag.

“Candle Light” is an abrupt change from “JUICY” where yet again, the transitions flounder. “Candle Light” just feels weak in comparison to “JUICY” and Koda Kumi’s voice sounding extremely strained does not help. Whereas in other songs Koda Kumi sounds emotional, in this song it just comes across as bad. Some have described “Candle Light” as sweet sounding, but Kuu’s voice sounds anything but sweet. She hits all the notes, but the feeling isn’t there. And her voice is just too scratchy. Another bad part of the song is the piano, which is the only instrument. The piano sounds pleasant, but it’s under-utilized by Kuu. Maybe Kuu’s just used to the guitar backing her up, but in this song, the piano undermines Kuu’s voice.

We’ve reached the high point of the album, at least energy wise. The transition sucked once more, but “Cherry Girl” is enough to cover it up and forget about “Candle Light” altogether. “Cherry Girl” is a much different type of pop than “Koi no Tsubomi” (sexy!pop vs. fluffy!pop), and does take a while to get into, but the finale is just great. Generic at times, “Cherry Girl” still manages to elevate itself above mediocrity just because of the catchy end. The choruses may not do anything early on in the song, but the manner in which the song crescendos is excellent. On another note, the guitars work really well with Kuu’s voice on this track, creating a sexy mix of rock and dance. Koda Kumi sounds great and sexy to boot. The bass helps pick up her vocals as well, contributing to the infectious nature of the song.

“I’ll Be There” was the star of “4 hot wave,” and it remains the star of “Black Cherry.” Certainly, some other single tracks give it a bit of a run for its money, but the song still overcomes even those contenders. Koda Kumi sounds remarkably comfortable in “I’ll Be There,” as though this song is what she is meant to be singing. The guitar accompanies her beautifully, the laid back feel suits Kuu’s voice well, and the English is top notch. It may be a summer track, but it’s a great listen in any season.

“Unmei” proved to be one of Koda Kumi’s most popular ringtones of 2007, probably because it was a power ballad that won over the hearts of many of her listeners. Kuu’s vocals do not work well with the traditional instrumentation found throughout most of the song, but despite it all, the song comes off as decent. She sounds like she is trying to sound epic, and she goes into her high voice. The finale is arguably the best part of the song, where the instrumentals finally match Kuu’s voice. Nevetheless, her vocals far from her best, and this portion of the song is short-lived. It’s a case of too little too late.

“With Your Smile” is another lackluster track. The Engrish is no where near endearing (smile me does is not appealing), and her lyrics have seen better days. No matter where this song is placed, it is still overshadowed by “I’ll Be There,” which feels like it did everything “With Your Smile” attempts better. This song may be strong pop-number with some good beats, but it does not have the confidence of “I’ll Be There.” In that respect, “With Your Smile” is above average album filler.

“Milk Tea” is not the track that should have ended the album; Kuu literally sounds like she’s trying to make herself sound sweet, but that does not work out well, especially considering that this song does not have typically pop instrumentation. “Milk Tea” is too short, it’s chorus isn’t terribly catchy, the laid back instrumentals could be better, and the lyrical structure is irking. Not her best. Whatever effect she aimed for, it was lost in the process of making the music.

If you have a regular edition of the album, you won’t have the following tracks to listen to. Consider yourself blessed, for none of theses extras are that impressive.

Why they chose the English Version of Twinkle to put on this album (and it’s without Show no less) is beyond baffling. The English is incomprehensible at points and the Engrish in the chorus (Twinkle twinkle can’t you see) is not catchy. This is album filler. Nothing more.

“Go Way!!” (using those double exclamation points again, eh Kuu?) is better than “Twinkle,” but even so, that isn’t saying much. It’s average J-pop, with it’s lyrics and instrumentation. It just feels bland, and as a pop track, that is a very bad quality to possess. Maybe because this track is first press exclusive it’s just filler. That is a distinct possibility.

“WON’T BE LONG ~Red Cherry ver.~” is worse than the Black Cherry version. It uses the original instrumental, which does not work when the song is sung solo. Why couldn’t they have just made one superior track and called it a day? I’m very dissappointed in these two songs.

Expectations for Kuu’s “Black Cherry” were high after releasing a slew of successful and well done singles in 2006. After the strong “BEST~second session~,” “Black Cherry” was disappointing. The single tracks are noticeably better than the album tracks by a wide margin, which makes me feel as though this album was rushed, or Kuu’s artistic capability is turning sour. This situation makes grading the album hard: her single tracks are superb, even if this album lacks consistency, unity, and an “it” factor (all which the first track tells us this album strives for…ironically). This album should come with a warning: proceed with caution. You’ll find songs you’ll like here, but you’ll also find songs that you’ll abhor. As an album then, “Black Cherry” is sub-par listening.

73% C

[News] HEART STATION / Stay Gold Cover Revealed


That’s right, this is the cover for her new single, “HEART STATION / Stay Gold,” due out February 20, 2008. You should notice firsrt that the cover only has the name of one A-side on it; considering that Utada usually includes both titles (if any at all), she might execute a single design similar to “For You / Time Limit,” where she created two covers, one for each A-side. As for now, this cover is another interesting addition to the mystery behind “HEART STATION.” Sources are scarce, but we do know it’s a pop song made to “wipes away the heart’s tears” (JOSHIN / UBLOG). Considering the thunderbolt on the cover and the over all brightness of the heart among darker blue, “HEART STATION” may be one Hikki’s rarer upbeat songs. Here’s to hoping.

Look out for “Stay Gold” to hit the radio on January 8th – there should be a full, albeit LQ, version available then. And let’s not forget that Hikki has yet to reveal the tie-in for “HEART STATION.”

[Album] BoA – MADE IN TWENTY (20)

~Track Listing~
01. Lady Galaxy
02. Nanairo no Ashita ~brand new beat~
03. Winter Love
04. STILL.
07. OUR LOVE ~to my parents~
08. no more make me sick
09. Revolution-code 1986-1105 Feat.RAH-D
10. Your Color
11. Prayer
12. Candle Lights
13. Gracious Days
15. Winter Love (Live ver.)

~Album Review~
“MADE IN TWENTY (20)” topped the Oricon charts when it was released on January 17, 2007, and the album went on to sell 348,093 copies in total.

The album starts out with “Lady Galaxy” which is a futuristic R&B track with edited background vocals that sound like they’ve been computer processed. It’s a fairly strong start to the album, although it sounds a bit repetitive and familiar at points. The bridge of the song sounds exactly like it was cut from My Humps and converted to fit this song. Regardless, this is most likely a strong dance track with some catchy portions (she says I love you in 5-6 languages, listen for Te Amo, Aishiteru, I love you…). The chorus of Lady Galaxy is also pretty catchy. However, the parts where she’s talking like it’s an airliner sounds like M-flo… Basically, this song has been done before in so many ways, which sadly foreshadowing the rest of the album. There is a difference from borrowing and recreating the magic which BoA fails to really see. However, if you’re new to this music, “Lady Galaxy” is A-grade.

The transition to “Nanairo no Ashita ~brand new beat~” isn’t terrible, although it is quite a jump; the notable similarity between the two is the background instrumentation. “Nanairo no Ashita ~brand new beat~” has a softer version of “Lady Galaxy”’s instrumentals. And that described Brand New Beat very well. It’s a strong pop track, but it’s very “watered down.” Fans have even labeled the song “Bland New Beat.” The crescendo cannot save this song from mediocrity. It certainly has a good climax, but it’s just that, good, not great. The ending isn’t anything special, either. At least the chorus is pretty catchy with the whole “Brand New Beat” thing, but that isn’t enough to make a great pop song.

And so we smoothly move into the next track after a decent ending, beginning the ballad, “Winter Love.” The same sort of problem that plagued Brand New Beat severely hurts Winter Love, that boring factor. What makes “Winter Love” better than the pack of winter ballads that was released in 2007? At least BoA’s voice is pretty darn strong, which really shines in this song, although not as much as it does in her Korean tracks. Listening to her Korean ballads then this one just puts Winter Love to shame, even the ending. “Winter Love” sounds nice, but it isn’t anything more, especially considering some of BoA’s stronger ballads. It’s there and it sounds nice. “Winter Love” does have some emotion, as well. The mixture of BoA’s voice and the string and synth instrumentation is nice, especially with the powerful drum beat.

And the soft ending leads us into the next track, “STILL.”, a piano based track with very present dance synth. It’s not the strongest out of her album tracks, and it’s just there. “Winter Love” feels like it has more style than this song, which is a bit of problem; the song just feels like it’s been done before. It’s pleasant, but just that. The tune ends up sounding too familiar. Another problem with the song is that the ending does not sound much different from the beginning; it finishes where it began which should not be happening, a song needs to grow to captivate the listener.

The transition to “SO REAL” is probably the most strained yet: although the tempo is similar, the two tracks are at opposite ends of the dance spectrum. The choruses are pretty strong and BoA’s voice sounds very good in this mature environment. However, when reaching the end of the track, that climax that you’re expecting to arrive never comes. What’s more, the beginning and the end could be run together…they sound the same. The song begs BoA’s vocals to emerge further, but there is no such luck. Just another album track in the mix in this new style of BoA’s. At least she’s growing up, and the choruses are strong.

“Key of Heart” does not sound at all like the last track creating a noticeable flow issue. “Key of Heart” is another pop song backed by violins, a beat and keyboards. It sounds like BoA pop in the end, with a nice hook: “just a key of heart.” One of the big problems with the song, however, is the lack of sufficient background vocals in the chorus. Those vocals are there in the Korean counterpart of the song powering BoA’s vocal and greatly improving the song’s sound. Here, this version sounds empty and BoA’s vocals don’t fill the track’s atmosphere well. “Key of Heart” does one up “Brand New Beat” by sounding poppier and less bland with an impressive hook, but it isn’t enough. The song is missing what it has in Korean, which just makes it above average.

More piano…does not flow well from “Key of Heart.” “OUR LOVE ~to my parents~” starts out very slowly, with BoA singing quite softly, something we haven’t heard her do yet (Winter Love was a power ballad). BoA deserves props for doing something different from the rest of the tracks, but the downside to this variety is her head voice is not that strong. However, BoA does particularly well singing the English parts of the song. The crescendo and the end are much stronger than the beginning of the song, as well, with the background music showing the difference. That’s the type of music BoA should be creating; the only real downside is the feeling that vocals are flawed at points. There are some strong beats in this song, as well as a few eighties like moments, but over all, a stronger album track.

The album transitions well into the next dancier/poppier slow track, “no more make me sick.” The chorus does fix the fact that this song sounds like it could be done a little better by someone else, although that relies on synth elements to make it sound strong. The background vocals of the chorus separate it from the rest of the song. However, once more, the climax does nothing, leaving the end right where the beginning left off. Just average.

We get dancier with whistles, heavy beats, and a rap in the next track as we head to class with “Revolution-code 1986-1105 Feat.RAH-D.” That’s all nice and good, but what’s wrong with the song? It has that hip-pop feeling, but besides rapping, doesn’t do well at emphasizing that energy. The song is notable for being dancier than Lady Galaxy, but it’s still boring. As a dance song, that’s a glaring flaw.

“Your Color” simply does not transition from the last track in any beat, tempo, instrument, vocal… “Revolution Code” does not fit with “Your Color,” at all. With that bad transition behind us, “Your Color,” like most of BoA’s songs, has a very strong chorus that fits in well with the instrumentation. Problems? “Winter Love” is done better and both utilize the same vocal technique (their choruses are quite similar, vocally, in the fact that they emphasize power). “Your Color” has different background music than Winter Love, but that doesn’t do much to separate it from “Winter Love.” “Winter Love”’s vocals are stronger, bigger, and altogether more epic. That just makes “Your Color” feel very average, even though it’s a strong song on its own. The difference in the choruses would be how high BoA goes in “Winter Love,” otherwise, they sound quite alike.

“Prayer” is another forced transition, but it makes up for it by being a strong dance track with a strong chorus. Seeing a pattern in these album tracks yet? What’s special about “Prayer?” “Prayer” is darker than the other dance album tracks we’ve seen, although once again, the ending is almost exactly the same as the beginning. The english in this song is pretty good too.

“Candle Lights” does not transition well from “Prayer,” and is not the best track on its own. But for a B-side, it’s pretty good (”Candle Lights” was the B-side for the “Winter Love” single). The guitar is decent, but this track feels similar to “Your Color” and “Winter Love.” The guitar does help differentiate the song from the pack a bit, but BoA’s vocals exacerbate the problem. The choruses are very strong and consistent, but the song experiences no growth.

The changeover to “Gracious Days” is fine, and “Gracious Days” does sound different from the Candle Light/Your Color/Winter Love triade, which is a good thing. “Gracious Days” provides a breathe of fresh air that the listener needs as they near the end of the album. So close to the end, it was an honest surprise to see a good album track marking the end. I think the choruses towards the end are a bit stronger, although it’s nothing big. At least she continues her strength in the choruses of her songs. A fitting end for the albums without CD bonuses.

The live version of “Winter Love” is pretty good, although “Last Christmas” still sounds tinny and futuristic, which is different from anything else on this album.

Over all, this album is extremely average. The good news is that BoA is clearly maturing on her album tracks, looking to moving away from the pure pop she showered on us throughout 2006. However, these new dance R&B tracks suffer from the same plight that her 2006 single tracks suffered from: they sound bland, which is a problem in dance R&B. Add in the fact that some of them sound like popular songs in the recent past, and you have a glaring problem. BoA’s vocals and her great choruses provide some solace, but this album leaves BoA’s career in question. Sure, her music has transformed into something different, but it’s nothing spectacular. Where’s the growth in ability that we should be seeing? Her Korean release with anyband showed growth, but her Japanese releases felt like more of the same mediocrity. This album is very, very average. It’s not bad, nor is it great. If you’re a BoA fan, you should like the new tracks, even though this review has been harsh.

79% C+

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August 2020