[Album] EXILE – EXILE LOVE

exile.jpg

~Tracklist~
01. What Is Love
02. I Believe
03. Beautiful
04. Hibiki
05. Kimi Ga Iru Kara
06. Make Love
07. SUMMER TIME LOVE
08. Sora Kara Ochitekuru JAZZ
09. love
10. sayonara
11. Kawaranai Mono
12. Toki No Kakera
13. Touch The Sky feat. Bach Logic (CD+2DVD-Only Bonus)
14. 24karats -type EX- (Sowelu, EXILE, DOBERMAN INC) (CD+2DVD-Only Bonus)
15. Lovers Again -Orchestra Version- (CD-Only Bonus)

~Album Review~
EXILE released their sixth album, “EXILE LOVE” on December 12, 2007. Their album achieved astounding first day sales – the second highest recorded since daily sales indicators were added in February of 2007. Their firs day sales of 210,000 are second to only Mr. Children’s first day sales for HOME.

The album starts out strongly with a great sounding track, “What is Love.” It features vocals the fade in and out amongst the fast strings and synth sounds. It’s not until the first chorus where EXILE’s R&B comes front and center. Even then, the instrumentation is one of the tracks strengths. On the other hand, the song’s use of “What is L O V E?” doesn’t sound very good, mainly because of the trouble in pronunciation of the word. It’s quite detrimental to the track, despite excellent English elsewhere. Considering its the hook of the song, good pronunciation should have been emphasized. The extro more than makes up for the chorus, with EXILE’s lead vocals accompanied by frenetic strings. Over all, a solid introduction to the album.

“I Believe” was released as a winter single preceding the release of the this album. It doesn’t have the great production and layering of the previous track, but it’s still of good quality. The song is pretty low-key, with decent vocals that don’t really push the envelope. The melody is probably the track’s strengths, but the instrumentation doesn’t help carry that strength across to the listener very well, nor do the lead vocals. As a single, “I Believe” was lacking, and if you’ve heard it before, it can easily be skipped without hurting your listening experience.

“Beautiful” makes a good transition from “I Believe;” the song is mid-tempo R&B with a so-so hook. The track doesn’t sound very impressive in the verses at all. In fact, the verses are very spartan, which does not accompany weak lead vocals well. However, the chorus cues the start of a fuller instrumentation that helps lift the song up. The crescendo is also a great part of the song, but the extro sounds plain awful and Engrishy. “Beautiful” is the weakest of the first three tracks, but it’s a far cry from terrible.

“Hibiki” is the B-side to the “SUMMER TIME LOVE” single; it’s a ballad powered by violins and an R&B beat. It’s a typical ballad filler for a J-pop album. However, this song is weak compared to many of EXILE’s other album tracks, mainly because of the lack of full layering of background vocals. Background vocals are present, but they’re not out in full force. The end effect is a mild ballad the ends up feeling bland. EXILE is capable of better, so this track really falls into the background of the album.

“Kimi Ga Iru Kara” is a B-side from wintry “I Believe” single, and the song ends up sounding wintry as well. “Kimi Ga Iru Kara” has a better variety of instrumentation than “Hibiki,” but is not as good as “I Believe.” These three songs feel so close in nature, and are very slow; it’s hard to recommend listening to all of them. “I Believe” is probably the best choice to listen to, the other two aren’t quite up to par for EXILE.

The album has lost a lot of its initial momentum by this point, as well as a sizable fraction of its starting quality. “Make Love” forces an awkward transition to a dance track that edits the vocals to a large extent. The album gains back momentum, but the track really isn’t that good. It feels over powered. It has a good hook chorus and great vocals, but the synth instrumentation is too much. The song ends up feeling like an extended interlude. In context of the album, the song may be listenable, but the track would have trouble standing alone.

“SUMMER TIME LOVE” is the best song on the album, and the best single released during this era of EXILE. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you’re probably wondering why I dared make such a statement. I’m sure many people will have a variety of favorites from the album, but this song has the most power, a great hook that lacks detrimental Engrish, excellent instrumentation, a semi-present beat that doesn’t overpower the song, and a fabulous chorus. The song sounds full and upbeat, which are two of EXILE’s strengths. The crescendo and the final chorus are simply cherries on top of the thickly layered icing; the song not only starts out strong, but finishes with a large bang. Unless you can only listen to EXILE’s ballads, SUMMER TIME LOVE is a must listen.

“Sora Kara Ochitekuru JAZZ” slows the album back down to mid-tempo from the last powerhouse track. This song is definitely jazzy, it feels a lot different from many of the album’s other tracks mainly because it lacks a powerful R&B beat. However, jazz is most definitely not EXILE’s strength. The lead singer does pull off the song nicely, but the song can’t help but feel a little sparse and bland compared to other album tracks.

“love” is the album’s full blown mid-tempo R&B ballad. How to describe the flaw with this track? It’s almost intangible; the song sounds fine, but it feels like it could have easily been so much more than just fine. At times, it feels like the vocals and the instrumentation are on the verge of surprising the listener, but there is no surprise in store. The track sounds very typical of EXILE. Considering that they’ve done better ballads, this song really isn’t worth a listen outside of the album.

“sayonara” is, well, you guessed it… ANOTHER BALLAD! By this point the album has inundated the listener in ballads. The best ballad, “I Believe” wasn’t even that good, but nevertheless, EXILE is trying to cater to their fans, who they believe love their ballads. “sayonara” sounds too soft compared to the other ballads, despite at least sounding different. Rule of thumb: EXILE does pop, not acoustic. The vocals aren’t strong enough for acoustic songs, and lack true personality. That means “sayonara” really does not sit well with the rest of the album.

“Kawaranai Mono” is another ballad. I’ve said all I want to say about EXILE’s ballads. At this point, they’ve beaten out all interest the listener has in their ballads. This is really hurting the variety of their album. I can understand an emphasis on ballads on an album about love, but this is over kill. The goal of pop music is to reach out to a variety of listeners in order to attain a large fanbase, and this album is not doing so at all. It’s floundering, in fact.

“Toki No Kakera” is at least upbeat, but as the B-side on “24karats -type EX-,” it is not amazing. The production is noticeably lacking in this mid-tempo track, and the vocals don’t sound perfected. The song is just okay.

“Touch The Sky feat. Bach Logic” is a bonus track, and rightfully so. It’s too R&B and too out of place among EXILE’s other tracks. It’s certainly variety, but it’s variety that’s created at expense of the quality of the music. It’s not really pop at all.

“24karats -type EX-” is dancey and dark with diverse vocals, rapping, and interesting instrumentation. It’s a great way to round out the CD + 2DVD version of the album because it ends the album with power, on a high note. Sowelu gives the track flavor that really helps give the album flavor.

Now, here is where EXILE’s album-selling gimmick comes into play. One album version had two extra songs and the DVDs. However, the other version has the fan favorite and recent heavy download seller, “Lovers Again.” This orchestra version of “Lovers Again” has quite probably helped EXILE move a significantly greater number of albums. It’s that popular. And the song is probably worth your listen in its latest reincarnation.

After listening to the album in its entirety, you may realize how much you have just listened to TAKAHIRO’s lead vocals. The pure concentration of his voice on this album is staggering. He’s leading the song’s, and pretty much unabashedly backing himself up. The problem with this is that his voice, although pretty, soothing, and great for R&B, does not have a great deal of power or range. True, this album strives to differentiate the tracks and give them unique renditions of TAKAHIRO’s vocals by changing up the pace, but oftentimes, this fails. Some tracks, such as “SUMMER TIME LOVE” are excellently produced, and transcend this inherent flaw, while others simply succumb, falling into the abyss of EXILE’s many, many songs in its discography. These vocals are the one main flaw worth noting on this album (other than the flooding of ballads). Over all, it’s a step up from their last studio effort and a decent J-pop release.

84% B

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