…is really potent when it comes to Arashi’s new music releases.
Whenever a new song/single/album is announced, the drill is usually like this: we’ll first hear short cuts of the track through members’ radio programs, then we’ll see PV preview as featured in countless morning news programs, then we’ll get short version of the PV days before the official release of the record, which means uncut clean versions of everything. Depending on the promotion strategy i guess, we’ll have them perform the song in Music Station ahead of or shortly after the release date.
Then they’ll go on tours, and for those who can’t attend the concerts, we gotta be content with recording versions or live performances from music programs until we get our hands on the concert DVD/BD a year later. That marks a full cycle which doesn’t seem to have a beginning and an end as it’s a never-ending cycle. Who knows being a fangirl can be this busy, time-consuming, money-depleting, sometimes exhausting, yet invariably rewarding?
Seeing the many stages there are to warm up to their newest song, it doesn’t worry me much if i didn’t dig it even after looping it for days. Usually the magic sparks around watching the full PV or live performance. Sometimes it takes a DVD/BD for me to appreciate an album track. Sometimes it takes a few more years before i finally hear it with new ears. Sometimes it just doesn’t work no matter what, although this never happens to a single ever since i became a fan in 2009. Thankfully. Because my biggest fear is the time their music no longer appeals to me, thus the inability to ‘connect’ with them.
Lead track: Kokoro no sora
Therefore, i was a liiiiitle apprehensive when radio cuts of Kokoro no sora were out and i just couldn’t feel it. Based on titles alone, it is my favorite, and albeit not sounding as imagined, it embodies the concept of Japonism perfectly well: as “Japan seen from the outside” it employs folk instruments (like shamisen or taiko drum, if i hear correctly); and as penned, composed, and arranged by Hotei Tomoyasu, the track is also filled with distinct rock elements (e.g. electrifying guitar riffs). You may think that rock and traditional music are worlds apart but they mesh nicely here, maybe also because the verses are relatively normal-sounding in that it’s relatively unaffected by both genres. Yet, for some reason i couldn’t click with it. Arashi’s music has been a genre-bender that more often than not i’ll come to like whatever sounds they’re producing; still, traditional music ain’t my cup of tea. But i’m giving ’em the benefit of the doubt — they’re my genre-breaker after all.
That coupled with the uninspiring jacket covers (after raving about Ai wo sakebe‘s), my excitement hovered at a low point. But then i saw the PV preview and boom! it went through the roof. Frankly, Arashi’s PVs are hardly groundbreaking that this one easily beats the previous ones by a long shot: the quality, (concert-ready) outfits, background sets, lighting, camera work, solo shots, choreo, Hotei-san… everything is so tasteful i can’t even. I was introduced to Hotei-aniki (been referring to him as that ever since his Shiyagare appearance) through the variety show. The episode was one of my favorites and the mini collab they did on the show was pretty awesome (even if the guys failed to reenact them just minutes later) that it’s really nice to see them team-up for real this time.
In addition, the choreo is partly done by our leader whereas the rap part is obviously penned by our resident rapper who seems on semi-hiatus. Ohno choreographs the interlude, which i believe mid-song’s instrumental/dance break session up to or including the rap section. I wonder if he brainstorms the moves with the main choreographer because they’re in tune with each other — a mixture of grace and manliness, beauty and oomph. Regardless, he definitely ups his game: this and TRAP are really really impressive. As much as i’m mesmerized by the foot-stomping steps, i love his wing-spreading motion the most. As for the rapping, Sho seems to revert to his old-school way, in which the parts are spewed out in deep voice as if he’s whispering right into our ear. As much as i love his mid-low register, i’m not really a fond of this style as it comes off extra rough and harsh in my ears; i prefer him rapping in neutral tone as in Kaze, Movin’ on, or Still… However, Sakurap is so scarce in recent years that i try not to nitpick too much and be grateful for what’s available. Kokoro no sora‘s has a little too much Os for my liking, but the badassery more than makes up for that.
And i haven’t mentioned our favorite guys yet, who are bringing intense stares to an entirely new level. They all look so macho here, even Aiba who usually looks forced in cool concepts. Ohno strangely isn’t 100% on ‘ON’ mode — cuz he can definitely kill it (e.g. Truth, Face down). The slaying ones are Nino and Sho though you may think it’s Jun. Well, Jun is stoic most of the time that it’s nothing new, whereas Sho is The Swag King of Arashi and Nino is unexpectedly charismatic where it counts. For instance, i’d be drawn to his interviews and concert speeches the most (when he’s not being a brat), as they can be incredibly deep and insightful.
Okay, i’m reaching 1000 words already for just one song (and the entire collection of three-edition Japonism has 21 tracks excluding the Arajapo Talk!) i really need to cut down the verbosity and TMIs orz
Last month’s release Ai wo sakebe isn’t included in the album, so excluding two of this year’s singles, there are 17 new songs and 2 old-new ones. Not sure if they’re going to sing every single track on the upcoming tours (i hope so!) because then there will be 22 songs which make up for 60% of the setlist(s) and i still want them to perform a few of the B-sides — they’re too good to not have a live performance of!
Album tracks: back to basics
Album’s opener is Sakura which i haven’t listened to in a while and thus envelopes me in the thrill i felt in the beginning of the year. Normally pre-released singles don’t really match the yearly concept albu, but cherry blossom is so Japanese that at least Sakura fits the bill even if by title only. No idea about Aozora no shita, kimi no tonari though heh. The theme goes beyond “Japan seen from the outside” notion as it may come with its own preconceptions as it’s also “back to basics” in terms of Japanese as well as Johnny’s style. CMIIW. Thus the utilization of folk instruments and/or retro sounds. I kept saying i got oldies feels from many of the group’s releases in the past few years; here, they fully embrace the retroness. As far as Japanese elements are concerned, as far as i could discern them, which is limited, they’re mostly present in terms of instrumentation and not so much in the main melody. In half the album, the arrangement is perceptible only in the intro and outro and kinda disappears in the middle sections. The other half is filled with oldies dance numbers and Arashi’s signature sounds.
The ones going full-fledged traditional are Miyabi-night, Mikazuki, and Ohno’s solo Akatsuki. Miyabi-night is danceable festival number; Mikazuki is a tanabata love song: delicate and heartfelt yet lullaby-fest, in which the vocals are slightly digitized. Also led in by stringed instrument (koto?) like Miyabi-night is Kimi e no omoi. The sentimental medium-slow track which got me only after two lines. The melody is so bittersweetly beautiful like Kimi ga waraeru you ni i can’t help but falling head over heels. Plus, i’m a sucker for soothing/swingy ballads anyway. I didn’t expect to hear a rap here, and Sho gives us a gravelly yet ear-pleasing Sakurap. This one gonna stay in my mp3 for a long, long time =)
“Zutto kimi wa boku no yume wo negai tsudzukete kureta kara
Ima sotto kimi no shiawase dake wo tonari de negaou
Kitto ima wa kimi no kotoba egao no imi ga wakaru kara
Okubyou na boku no kokoro mo nido to nige wa shinai yo
I always want to feel you
Ima wa sotto kimi no yume wo…”
You always prayed for my dream to come true
So now, I only want to quietly pray for your happiness by your side
Now I think I can understand the reason for the words you said with a smile
Even a coward like me, I won’t let myself run away ever again
I always want to feel you
Now, I’ll quietly pray for your dream to come true)
Last non-solo track with distinct Japanese intro is power ballad Bokura ga tsunaideiku. The piece in which you can fully revel in members’ full-bodied vocals, impassioned solo lines, and nice harmonies. This is the kind of nostalgic stirring ballads that you might have heard circa the nineties.
“Our dreams were connected by many different paths
Someday they’ll let off the light of hope
We can hear noise far in the distance
Feeling it, we’ll walk to the future, we’re walking on the road
“We’re being connected together” on the same road”
For the oldies dance numbers, there are In the room, a super sexy R&B track where the verses are delivered sultrily replete with sizzling hot breathy Sakurap to further heat up the tension in the room (a group version of T.A.B.O.O.? 😈); Japonesque with rapid-fire verses and catchy chorus, whose ending melody mirrors that of Spiral — a fun disco number! A complete opposite of the supposedly slow-tempo Latin music is Bolero!: it’s as rowdy and foot-tapping as it can get. A great chance/excuse for the guys to get bipolarly hyper during the concert, huh?
Then there are pumping tracks as if you’re running/chased throughout the minutes. Masquerade opens with tightly trilling strings. The intro is so intriguing it would make a perfect ending song to a scandalous revenge drama a la K-drama’s Wife’s Temptation. The lyrics aren’t that far-off either, hee! My top uptempo track from Japonism has been The deep end since the first loop. Unlike Masquerade which starts off with a bang, The deep end follows conventional chord progression: crescendoing toward the powerful chorus, rounded off with aptly synthesized hook.
“Stay alive, stay alive, shizumanu, stay alive… Mugen no perfect blue”
“Stay alive, stay alive, ikidzuku, stay alive… Mitou no perfect blue”
And let’s not forget the cover of Shonentai’s Nihon yoitoko makafushigi which inherently is a hit from the past. I was amused by the fast speak-sung ‘storytelling’ and repeated “bunbuku chagama…” as it’s slowly fading out thanks to the Arajapo Talk. I wasn’t aware of the original, but after seeing the live performance done by Shonentai three decades ago, i got super curious as to what Arashi’s rendition gonna be, i.e. if they’re gonna reenact the stunts and intense choreo. For that, i look forward to this Friday’s Music Station appearance — please don’t let us down, Arashi-san! XD
As for the Arashi-rashii songs, Japonism offers Tsutaetai koto and Make a wish, both of which shall make perfect encore songs. Listening to them, i’m already envisioning the members circling the dome thanking the attendees while waving goodbyes. The lyrics of Tsutaetai koto, which has cute tunes and festive-y vibe, are very fitting too:
“This song isn’t for just anyone, I’ll send it to you, sing for you
“Thank you” — I want to tell it to you more and more
It’s a miracle, we’re so blessed we met each other
Let’s start out to a new tomorrow
Welcome it with arms wide open
Let’s keep walking together next year too, toward our dreams
“Everything up until now and everything to come wherever we go forever”
Thank you for everything”
Make a wish is another positive inspiriting song from the group, this time assuring you to believe in yourself and not be discouraged with twists and turns because “it’s not for anyone else’s sake”, because “in the end, you’ll smile.” The RE’s closing track is Furusato*. Been performed by the group in multiple occasions in the past five years, it is the long-awaited much-anticipated official recording version. What more can i say for a song about one’s beloved hometown?
*) For some reason i always thought it was Arashi’s ‘cover’ version of the popular folk song, partly because everyone (as in other attending artists) was familiar with the lyrics and singing along to it at Kouhaku, when the song was specially composed for the NHK year-end music program in 2010. My bad…
Last spurt: the solos!
First off, i’m happy to report that i enjoy ALL solos👍👏
In my LOVE album review, i briefly discussed what i thought is each member’s solo music style, here’s a spin-off version:
Jun: something that allows him to showcase his showmanship. Don’t you love me is no exception. It is his typical solo: upbeat, funky, with a bag of English words thrown in the mix. Besides liking the melody, i also enjoy how incriminally nasally his voice is, which is always a plus point.
Aiba: something that allows him to be his happiest self and have fun onstage, even though he can definitely croon tender songs like Namida no nagareboshi or Yozora e no tegami. Frankly, i’m still not over Disco Star yet — the concert performance of that was DA BOMB i was grinning like a fool throughout the 5-golden minutes (when i wasn’t fond of the song before that moment) — that i wonder how he gonna top that. Sound-wise, Mr. FUNK can’t rival the zaniness of Disco Star-sama although it still leaves plenty of rooms for him to come up with another madcap choreo and show. It ain’t my favorite solo, but the chorus is stubbornly stuck in my head (“Kore ga Mr. FUNK unaru hodo / Sasuga Superstar chigau darou?”) and the half-minute rap is really adorable it’s actually my fave in Japonism! Beware Mr. Sakurai, Mr. FUNK can very well give a run for your money…
Ohno: something that allows him to flaunt his ever-so-smooth moves and delish vocal. Usually opting for soulful R&B songs for his solo, Ohno takes a left turn to prove that he can handle any genre. Japanese folk music? Bring it on! In fact, Akatsuki sounds so traditional that period images rush to mind in an instant: it’s nighttime, in the palace, flowy linens on the background, as he takes center stage performing the song in Edo garments. Perfection. Make it happen, pretty please? At the very least, dress him in apt outfits. Concert banchou, onegai~!
Nino: something that allows him to be cheekily personal. He didn’t write or compose his own solo this time, probably because he’s busy with all the filmings, but the end result is still so him: gaming sound effects, closing on game over notes, what more can you ask for? The popping bubbly beats in the beginning may remind me of Disney songs like Under the sea, but MUSIC (why not titled it ‘Game Boy’??) has overly cute, playful, and cheery rhythm he can’t help but dance to it after eight long years. “It’s like magic.” Yeah, you’ve gotten away with routine-less solos for far too long, Nino ;p
While Sho… I still can’t figure out a running theme amongst his solos as he doesn’t sticks to one kind of song or genre or performance. He’s tried it all – full on rap song, poppish song, sexy song, happy song – except for a full-on ballad I guess? Here, he dishes up Rolling days which i thought would be a frolicking fun song. Instead, it exudes dark haunting vibe. Lyrics check reveals alluring rather than moody undertones though — blame it on the long drawled lines. While the melody is set around his normal speaking pitch, the effect is quite harrowing but also irresistibly compelling. Naturally, the rapping is executed in (another) throaty low tone in the first half which thankfully is raised to his flattering mid-register in the second half.
Well, i’m happy with Japonism’s spread as it manages to capture and encapsulate the themes the group is going for this time around. Traditional and oldies music don’t sound that dated in their hands. The same goes for old-school Sakurap. It may not be as melodious as i’d like it to be, but enjoyable, and that’s enough for me. If anything, this record affirms that Arashi is my sure-fire genre-breaker. Some of the tracks sound foreign or something other JE groups would sing to, but in the end the Arashi-ness shines through, making each ‘new’ tune their own.
Also, if you read everything all the way here: thank you very much! Hope i don’t bore you 😉
lyrics translation: yarukizero