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)
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)
“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.