Posts Tagged 'Review'

[Single] Acid Black Cherry – Fuyu no Maboroshi

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~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

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

「夢の途中」/e2「TOKIMEKI☆DooBeeDoo」- WaT
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~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

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~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

[Single] GReeeeN – BE FREE / Namidazora

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~Track Listing~
01. BE FREE
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] AAA – MIRAGE

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~Track Listing~
01. MIRAGE
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

[Album] MISIA – EIGHTH WORLD

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~Track Listing~
01. Ishindenshin
02. ANY LOVE
03. Royal Chocolate Flush
04. November -Interlude-
05. MISSING AUTUMN
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

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~Track Listing~
01. WORKAHOLIC
02. ENDLESS STORY
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-