2018/05/08

AWFUL: Hikari Sentai Maskman BGM


While I am absolutely useless at deciphering song lyrics in plain English, every once in awhile a nugget sticks with me. The lyric that struck me today actually comes from a song that I don't care for, but I'll share it anyway...

"You know the good ole days weren't always good. And tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

That's from Billy Joel's Keeping The Faith. It's a line that's always stuck with me considering how much people moan about "good ole days" when it comes to cars, movies, television shows, and...music. They're only the "good ole days" thanks to a combination of how memory works and possibly a smidge of revisionist history. I'm not ashamed to say I dig new music every once in awhile if it's genuine--even when it comes to Tokusatsu. I've made it fairly known that I enjoyed the Kyoryuger soundtrack even before I realized the series shared a composer with Carranger/Ultraman Powered/Gingaman.

Today I'm going to talk about an example of a classic series having an absolute shit music collection: Hikari Sentai Maskman.

Musical tastes are subjective, but there is no denying that the Maskman music collection is woefully...incomplete(?). The almost complete lack of an orchestra really takes the punch out of the entire mood. Whatever the story was behind-the-scenes, composer Goro Omi turned in a collection of the most disjointed sludge ever to poison our ears.

The Good

Admittedly there are some worthwhile pieces of music. Hearing real instruments is extremely rare throughout this collection, but there are some nice dramatic tracks that feature some nice acoustic strings. That is about as traditional as this music collection got. Even the previous Sentai/Toku series that skewed heavily toward orchestral soundtracks would have some bare acoustic tracks for the heavier scenes.

The Bad

The best way I can describe the music from this series is like this... Tracks will feature a lone real instrument (horn, guitar, violin) and be absolutely ruined by a horrible synth tone and THE SINGLE WORST DRUM MACHINE IN EXISTENCE. This isn't even the first Sentai music collection employ the use of a drum machine, but whatever equipment they were using was at least four years out of date by 1987. Nearly every track is like this. If this is what was at Omi's disposal, that's rather unfortunate. The problem is actually deeper than that, however.

Omi cannot hold a rhythm. The music oscillates between teeth-shattering shrill to so herky-jerky that it could be some great break dance music with very little modification. That's great and all, but this is for a children's action show. There really is no great fight music, just this unnaturally uptempo noise. Some of the more hollow dramatic pieces featuring little more than a lone female vocalization are just cheap cop-outs. An example of a series that does this correctly is Gingaman.

If you're listening at home, the worst of the worst of this music lives on the Volume 2 disc. I don't think any of it was actually used in the show...at least I don't remember a lot of the wackier stuff being included. Mostly because I enjoyed this series and I think a lot of this music is enough to sink the show.

The Remedy

I can't really think of a series with a bigger disconnect between it's music and song collection. The saving grace here is that Omi didn't really have much to do with the vocal song collection, but he actually is behind the awesome Dashitemiyo ze! Aura Power. There are some pretty good tunes that really sound absolutely nothing like the music.

Ehhh...not bad.

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Part of the reason I spent the entire month of April posting those daily reviews of Akina Nakamori albums was to kinda force myself to *really* go back and listen to the music. I wrote about the Complete Super Sentai Music Collection series from the mid-90s some years ago and, embarassingly, it's one of the most popular posts on the site. I really want you to pay close attention to what I wrote about the Maskman music collections. I talked about how rare the CDs are and how eye-watering the prices have gotten, but did I talk about the music even a little bit? Nope.

My aim is swing back around and talk about these series if there is anything else to add and to give the CDs themselves their fair shake. This post here isn't so much a review of the CDs, it's just something that's been biting at me. I might not enjoy the blandness that some of the music from current shows has adopted, but the opposite of inoffensive is...offensive. Something like the Maskman music collection is likely a zero budget, slapdash effort gone horribly wrong. While things did get MUCH better the next year with Chojuu Sentai Liveman, I would hardly call that music collection perfect.

What do you think of the Maskman music collection? Do you think Toei did enough to kinda work with what was turned in? Am I criticizing what is surely a misunderstood classic??

Thanks for stopping by this week!

-CC

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UPDATE: I posted this to my Twitter account for the uninitiated...

2018/04/30

Top Seven Favorite Akina Nakamori Albums


Welcome to the Top Seven list of my favorite Akina Nakamori albums. I've spent the entire month of April reviewing them and I suppose it's only fitting that I give my list of favorites. As I mentioned in the introductory post, this is my very first time listening to Akina Nakamori's albums in chronological order. It certainly changed the way I thought about a lot of albums. When you just go from something like CRIMSON to DIVA and then back to D404ME it's a little strange. I recommend doing it sometime if you happen to own all of her albums.

The only rule I made for myself for this Top Seven list is that I am covering the twenty five official studio albums only. This unfortunately leaves Cage and true album akina 95 best out of the running. Both are great, but if I include those, I would have to go through her entire side-catalog of cover albums and bring those in as well. Let's just stick to the twenty five official albums for this list...

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07. Femme Fatale (1988.08.03)

I know I was kinda down on this album in my review of it, but I kinda realized after that I listen to it way too much for it not to be considered a favorite. Songs like Reversion, So Mad, La Liberte, Heartbreak, and Jive keep me coming back.

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06. Cross My Palm (1987.08.25)

You might think I'm crazy for having this one on the list, but it's an honest album that really bridged a lot of Nakamori's past and future. She had been recording in California prior to this, but I think she may have taken a strong preference to recording in New York following this. If you can't get over Nakamori's broken English, you probably won't ever get into it. The effort is absolutely there, however. She carries herself well throughout and it's certainly a unique sound. I keep this album in regular rotation.

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05. la alteración (1995.07.21)

Of the five studio albums that Nakamori released in the 1990s, this one has always stuck out as the brightest. 1995 in general was an awesome year for Nakamori music. We had some great singles and the self-cover album. All work this year tended to oscillate between rock and jazz while keeping things upbeat. It has the balance that the appropriately ironically titled UNBALANCE + BALANCE kinda lacks. UNBALANCE + BALANCE is made up of some great songs, but is short and just a little too random. la alteracn gets it right, though.

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04. FIXER (2015.12.30)

After the somewhat lackluster DIVA and the subsequent alarming announcement that she would taking an indefinite leave for health reasons, Nakamori was BACK. This album is not only the strongest that Nakamori has sounded in years, but really takes her to the next level. I really can't get over how great Rojo -Tierra-, unfixable, and FIXER -WHILE THE WOMEN ARE SLEEPING- are. This album has so far proven to be a solid foundation that Akina and Cage were then built upon in 2017. All three albums are completely different, but it really is a treat to have Nakamori back in top form.

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03. BITTER AND SWEET (1985.04.03)

I think a lot of fans will agree with me on this one...what a great album. While I love all of the songs, I feel like it was somewhat neutered toward release. The version of Babylon is not nearly as bonkers as the version that later ended up on a single with the rejected first version of Meu amor e... and I also suspect the album cover was a last minute change. The whole Bitter and Sweet persona is explored more outside of this album than it was in it...

That doesn't really stop this album from being great. Contrary to my previous gripes, this does have two modes: Sweet and...Bitter, I guess. It's really the first album that Nakamori perfected her sound and it happened to line up with a great production. I also love it's follow-up, D404ME, and it's predecessor POSSIBILTY, but this album is just way more complete.

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(this may be #2, but it's definitely the #1 album cover)

02. Fushigi (1986.08.11)

Once the initial confusion of this album was washed away, it could only be destined to be a cult hit--even something of a curiosity that music fans outside of Japan had to check out. Fushigi is an album that never clicks on the first listen, but something that really gains appreciation when you're in the right mindset. A lot of historical reviews hit on something to take into consideration...treat Nakamori's voice as an instrument rather than vocals. Her voice is kinda woven in and out with slight variances in clarity, but only ever verge on being intelligible.

Major props go not only to EUROX for being the band behind the majority of the work, but also for Warner for letting their top selling artist try something so experimental and bizarre at their absolute peak. This album really needs to be heard to be believed. If you do decided to check it out, you're in for a treat.

 If you know the album and are left wanting more, I have you covered! Check out my Part 2 post that covers Nakamori's self-covers and even the self-covers that EUROX did on their album MEGATREND.

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01. Stock (1988.03.03)

Whenever I make these top seven lists I usually have the most difficult time writing about my number one pick. How do I justify something that gives me this visceral feeling?

I don't see as much love for Stock as I do for other albums, but that just makes it a set of ten perfect songs, just for me. I truly appreciate the harsh energy behind this album. FAREWELL, FIRE STARTER, NIGHTMARE, I WANNA CHANCE, and FOGGY RELATION are absolutely some of my all-time favorite songs from Nakamori on this album. The whole thing is expertly assembled into, really, the best forty-four minutes of music I've ever heard.

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So that's it! That's the end of this absurd experiment!

I started writing these reviews in February and I am typing this final post up the night before it is going live on the site. It's been a long ride, but I'm happy to have finally done it. I will be getting back into my regular wackiness on the site shortly. In the meantime, you can now read through all of my reviews without having to wait.

I hope I at least shared some wisdom in doing this. I feel like I've grown up a lot just by doing this, so hopefully that parlays into more interesting reviews in the future. I always had a nagging feeling when I summed up an entire album in a paragraph or two. Things should be different going forward...

Thank you for following along during this crazy month and I hope to see you again on my site!

-CC


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2018/04/29

BONUS: true album akina 95 best (1995.12.06)


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DISC ONE - WILD DISC

01. Kazari janai no yo namida ha (Renewal)

The fun thing about this album is that it features a lot of self-covers of Nakamori's singles and album tracks from her days at Warner with a mix of new stuff. The covers are all done in new styles to shake things up a bit. For example, this track is kind of a rockabilly version of Kazari janai no yo namida ha, a song I already love. This song gels well with the style of music.

02. Tokyo Rose (From 1995 single)

I'll get to this single someday...I promise. It's crazy cool.

03. TATTOO (Renewal)

Another rockabilly-jazz version of a song I already love so much. While I definitely love the original of TATTOO a thousand times more, this version is also still very good. If anything, I think this version is what inspired Demon Kogure's cover on the first GIRLS' ROCK cover compilation. His version is actually probably a little more rockabilly since it completely abandons what jazz is present. Check his excellency's version out while you're at it...

04. GAIA ~Chikyu no sasayaki~ (from la alteración)

From my review of la alteración...

"After a prolonged intro, the song finally kicks in...and it's a rockin' tune with a surf tinge to it. It's just another one of those things that makes more sense than it should. Akina Nakamori singing over surf music. You can give her any type of song and she just kills it."

It certainly fits in very well with this disc of this compilation.

05. BLONDE (Renewal)

This song keeps popping up, huh? It originally appeared as an English song on Cross My Palm and then a completely new Japanese version was released, this time called BLONDE, as a single that same year.

While this cover is great, this is where the album strays away from the rock tone to a more poppy one. The music is completely new, but it doesn't stray a whole lot away from the original version outside of the catchy intro.

06. Aibu (from UNBALANCE + BALANCE)

From my review of UNBALANCE + BALANCE...

"Yes! This is Nakamori's first collaboration with super-producer Tetsuya Komuro of TM Network/TMN/90s JPOP fame. I would also consider myself a super-fan of Komuro's work, so this is a match made in heaven.

TK provided a pretty solid dance track for Nakamori as well. Granted, his songs tend to sound alike a lot of the time, but I absolutely love this one. The funny thing is, the two of them made a TV appearance to perform this song...and it's somehow even better than this album/single version. The TV version is just a little bit more complete. TK even provides some backing vocals.

Goddamn...I wish Nakamori and Komuro worked more together. Up until very recently it could have been a possibility. Tetsuya Komuro announced his retirement in January 2018.

Seriously, this is a solid song. The beat is just so slick, Nakamori is her usual perfection, and it has the usual TK over-production. I wouldn't say that this is my favorite single of Nakamori's from the 90s (this was a Double A-Side with Kataomoi), but it's waaaay up there."

07. DESIRE -jonetsu- (Renewal)

One we make it past the lame intro, this is a solid cover of a favorite to many fans. It honestly doesn't stray too far from the original version of the song outside of adding some 90s elements (fake drums and horns). Nakamori matches the energy of the original, and that's absolutely best I could have hoped for. Such a damn good song...and this is a worthy cover.

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DISC TWO - WORLD DISC

01. Meu amor é... (Renewal)

This version kinda removes the pop element and makes it more of a pure Latin track. Remember that Long Intro version from D404ME? This is kinda the version of that song if the style of music in the intro kept going the entire duration. I love it. It's kind of the "what if" that doesn't disappoint. The singing is on-point here as well.

02. Gypsy Queen (Renewal)

Similar in style to the previous track, this cover of Gypsy Queen kinda has more appropriate music to the mood of the song. It's jazzy, but not as pop. I like it quite a lot. It might not be better than the original, but it definitely has a little bit more dimension.

03. Genshi, onna wa taiyo datta (from la alteración)

From my review of la alteración...

"Intensely catchy is a good way to describe it. There is probably a good reason for that as this track is heavy on the fast strings and faux-claps. Yep. This one is a Latin themed song. I love it! Nakamori has done some of her finest work with the genre."

The review also explains that the single version of this has different vocals. That's why it's from la alteración rather than the single.

04. TANGO NOIR (Renewal)

Great cover of another song from the time when Nakamori's singles were just on fire. While it isn't a slow song, it's just a tad less energetic than the 1987 original. This is mostly done through music, though. The singing is spot-on eight years later.

05. Gekka (from 1994 single)

I will have to cover this one someday as well. Do I feel a post on all of the 1990s singles coming on? Perhaps it will be coming soon......

06. Futari shizuka (Renewal)

I am sooooo happy to see this underrated single getting some love. Futari shizuka feels like it was kinda swept under the rug since it was released at the very end of Nakamori's time at Warner and when musical tastes in Japan were moving far away from the bubble-era.

This cover is done in a very similar style to the original, but the bass and guitar is what makes the cover memorable. I kinda wish some of the other elements of the song were produced a little better, but this is a cover that definitely doesn't disappoint for me.

07. Shangrila (previously unreleased)

I'm willing to put money down that this song was originally intended to be the introductory song from la alteración. The long intro that this song would be perfect to lead into an album with, but I think it may have just lost out to GAIA~Chikyu no sasayaki~ for being an awesome song that also sounds like an intro track. It definitely fits the style of the album better than any of her other albums during the MCA Victor years.

The song itself has a very chill intro that has a world sound to it (fitting considering what disc this ended up on) and doesn't start until after the three minute mark. Nakamori's soft singing is contrasted by some shredding that comes in to close the song out. I like it a lot, but I can kinda see how it was shelved. Considering how short some of her albums were in the 90s...you have to wonder what else never saw the light of day...

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DISC THREE - WHISPER DISC

01. Slow Motion (Renewal)

More of a softer jazz cover of Slow Motion, which was Nakamori's debut single in 1982. It's nice to hear a solid cover of the song considering how stiff her vocals were during her earliest years. That said, I can't deny the overall production of the original over this.

02. Second Love (Renewal)

A smoother and jazzier cover of the ballad that propelled Nakamori into super-stardom. If I recall correctly, this is edges out Meu amor é... as her top selling single of all time. This is a worthy cover it.

03. LIAR (Renewal)

One of the final singles from Nakamori's time at Warner, and one of the darkest as well. Following up with the theme of this album, it's a softer jazz version of the song. Some of the mystique is missing here, but it's sung in probably a more appropriate tone after being year's removed from the mindset she was in when the song originally came out.

04. Kagerou (from UNBALANCE + BALANCE)

From my review of UNBALANCE + BALANCE...

"This album kinda ends on the same note that it began. This is the only truly mellow song on the album, though."

Yeah, I didn't have much to say about the song, but you can kinda see what I thought about it if you can read through the context. I probably should mention that the hidden track was removed from this version.

05. Nanpasen (Renewal) 

This is a cover of a cover. Heh. I kinda explain the history of this song in my review of the single if you want to check it out.

As much as I enjoy this cover, it doesn't have the utterly haunting tone of her 1987 version. It's done in the same style, but is just a little more minimal and doesn't have any of the effects that are lightly spattered through the original.

06. Mizu ni sashita hana (Renewal)

Another somewhat neglected track from the end of Nakamori's time at Warner. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of the original, but I've always enjoyed it's flow. This cover does a very nice job updated it just a little bit. It's only a smidge fleshed out, though. It certainly belongs on the Whisper Disc like everything else here.

07. Yokan (Renewal)

I suspect Nakamori is a fan of this song. It's originally from BITTER & SWEET and even there I pointed out that it was also included on her My Best Thanks mini album. I love this song in all forms. This cover has to be the biggest departure from the original version on this disc. Rather than the slow pop song that it was in 1985, it is now a light orchestral track. The singing isn't a whole lot different, however.

OVERALL: I felt that this was a worthy entry as the remaining bonus CD review for this crazy month of experimental reviews. I picked this one up out of sheer curiosity since it was really the first time Nakamori had covered her own work. She's done so many, many, many times since...but I wanted to hear how she was going to handle her Warner songs not long after she had parted with the label. You know what? It's great. I really don't even mind the "new" MCA songs being snuck in since they help establish tone for each disc.

That is probably the biggest praise I can heap upon this set...the consistency is excellent. The three discs each have a theme and each disc doesn't stray even a little. While the first disc kinda changes things up midway through, it still fits the bill of being the "Wild Disc".

Definitely pick this one up. The three-disc part is a little misleading since it's only twenty one tracks total, but the prices of used copies are incredibly low. I managed to pick up a non-rental copy that was only missing the obi for like $9 sometime last year. It's something of a forgotten compilation, but I think it deserves a listen if you're a fan of her singles from the formative years.

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2018/04/28

BONUS: Cage (2017.11.08)


01. BE MY LOVER [Originally by La Bouche]

OH. MY. GOD!

Seriously. This album immediately wins. Nakamori's cover of this is absolutely the greatest thing ever. I mentioned waaaaay back in my review of Shaker that I would be revisiting a topic I brushed upon. Nakamori missed out on being the power house dance singer she was clearly meant to be. The energy of this track is unreal and totally crushes the original version of this song. Seriously, why didn't Nakamori give us an album of songs like this?? She clearly has it in her...

A few notes...and none of them take away from how much this kicks ass. One...Nakamori's singing is better, but not quite as intelligible as the Germans taking a stab at this English thing. Two, the male singer is absolutely better here and I never noticed how creepy those lyrics are ("Not like your brother, wanna be your lover"). Three...this song doesn't quite fit in on this album. Yes, these are all covers of old songs, but the following eight songs are all 80s and this is very much 90s. 1995, in fact.

Who cares, though. This song is flippin' awesome. It's on regular rotation for me.

02. VENUS [Originally by Bananarama]

Definitely not as fussy sounding as the original. The beat is a bit more chill but still poppy as hell. The lyrics are half-translated this time. This one is alright, but I don't see it ending up in a commercial for ladies razor blades any time soon.

Besides, we all know that Cruel Summer is the true Bananarama song. What does that have to do with this review? Nothing. I just felt the need to state that.

03. INTO THE NIGHT [Originally by Michael Fortunati]

OK, I can credit Nakamori for introducing me to the world of Michael Fortunati. Yeah, I'm not much into the whole Disco Italo thing, but this cover is a perfect update to a solid anthem. The lyrics are, again, half-translated. It also features that killer synth solo. I really like this one and am glad to have discovered the original version of the song through this cover.

04. CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU [Originally by Frankie Valli, but likely inspired by the Boys Town Gang version]

You've likely heard the 1967 original of this song...or at least one of the 87,000 covers of it. Ehhh, you might as well stick with whatever version you're familiar with. This is the only song on the album I can't seem to get into. The auto-tune is a bit too much and likely exists to hide some of the broken lyrics. The Boys Town Gang version that inspired this is a damn good listen, though. I used to hear it on the radio a long time ago, but I guess Japan is where it endured the most.

05. Give Me Up [Originally by Michael Fortunati]

Another Fortunati jam. Once again, I was introduced to the killer original version which even has a somewhat confusing music video. Really, this a great cover of a song that is just a belter. Whhhhhooooaaaaooooooaaaaa! Nakamori's version is a Japanese-English hybrid to keep in line with the previous Fortunati song. Catchy as all hell......

06. Dancing Hero (Eat You Up) [Originally by Angie Gold, but is a cover of Yoko Oginome's cover]

A cover of a cover. Yoko Oginome's cover of Angie Gold's Eat You Up gained a new title as Dancing Hero and MASSIVE success. It was one of those perfect storm things. The Japanese economy peaked alongside the release of Dancing Hero and the excessively upbeat song became the theme song of the Bubble Economy. Crazy. You know what, though? Oginome has been a total champ about this song becoming something of joke (and eventual meme once the internet became a thing). I don't really like Yoko Oginome that much, but I definitely appreciate this song and her sense of humor. This video with Tunnels sums it up perfectly...

So this cover? It's great! It absolutely nails everything there is to nail. The overbearing beat, the slick singing, the overall earworminess...it's all present. This song in particular is one I was stoked to listen to when I got this album. Nakamori covering a song from Japan that was a hit during her own peak. How fitting!

07. TWO OF HEARTS [Originally by Stacey Q]

I *haaaaaaaate* the original version of this song. I don't know, it's just one of those songs that irritates me for no particular reason. I suppose that it's popularity has kinda miffed me more than anything. That said, this cover is awesome. It's in the same spirit of the original song, but just a little more modern sounding. It's also a reminder that Nakamori has still got it down.

08. SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS) [Originally by Eurythmics]

This is another one I was absolutely stoked to hear. This is actually a pretty faithful cover. The music is largely unmolested from it's original version and Nakamori just gets it. The vocals aren't quite as dead as they should be, but the cover as a whole is just perfect. Lyrically, Nakamori is probably the most qualified person on the planet to sing this song. Who am I to disagree?

09. CALL ME [Originally by Blondie]

While the first track on this album was clear outside the 80s, this one just baaaarely manages to sneak in with it's 1980 release. You know the original, and this cover is an excellent send-up to it. It's just as you know it, but with Nakamori singing instead of Debbie Harry and some minor modern trimmings added in. I couldn't have picked a better song to finish this incredible album with.

DVD - 35th Anniversary Memorial Image

I ended up getting the CD+DVD release of this album. For my troubles I received a bonus region-free DVD featuring a six minute and change video. The memorial video is made up of several 1-2 second clips spanning from the 1990s to 2017 and set to the single version of Hirari -SAKURA-. Lots of fun moments like this...


OVERALL: Blown away. This album is sooooo gooooood. As I mentioned in my review of Akina, this album was released on the same day but managed to peak higher on the Oricon weekly chart. It deserves it because this is just an excellent time start to finish. I can even over look it's relatively short run time. Maybe this could have been remedied with a cover of Haddaway's What Is Love or, if it *had* to be an 80s song, the anthem of a certain red-headed one.

Since Nakamori's cover albums tend to get sequels, we can only hope for Cage 2. Pleeeeeease! I so want this to be a thing every other year or so. So much untapped goodness to be had. For now, just be sure to pick this one up. The cover of BE MY LOVER is absolutely worth the price of admission alone.

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2018/04/27

25. Akina (2017.11.08)


01. Merry Christmas -yuki no shizuku-

A well-produced ballad. While I may have criticized the previous album for it's lack of actual orchestra in it's ballads, this one puts it right on front street. Given the time of year that this album was released, it's only natural that it is a Christmas ballad. It has very little to do with Christmas outside of the lyrics however--just some very slight sleigh bells in the background. For that, I applaud it...I hate overbearing Christmas music.

02. Amar es creer

This one is a little tough to describe. I really dig the singing, though. It's kind of a ballad, but it does take off just a little bit. It's unique, but not in a weird way. Really, though...this is an excellent showcase of vocal talent. The flow is just so tight.

03. Amaoto

This song also has a great vocal flow, but is a much more intense song. It's a bit of a ballad, but has an edge of pop to it. Again, this one is very well done.

04. Maboroshi

Another ballad, but this one is more on the light rock side. The haunting piano gives it a teeny tiny bit of darkness to it. I know I made this point early on, but the production is fantastic on this album. It's all real music coming from real instruments. This one just has that nostalgic edge...kinda... Slow Motion like...

05. La.La.Bye

A nice mix of the classic ballad and 2017. It may not have a name like the next track, but it is closer to the Latin side. There is some more great singing as well. Nakamori has seemingly gotten into tongue-twisters and complex vocal streams.

06. Amore

Not to dissimilar from the previous track. This song is another ballad that moves along nicely and has a slight Latin sound to it. It isn't as memorable as the previous track, but I think I like this one better. The bass is really good.

07. Hirari -SAKURA- (Akina Version)

Oddly enough this is the B-Side track from the single for FIXER -WHILE THE WOMEN ARE SLEEPING- that was released way back in the beginning of 2016. It's a bit different from the single version, however, in that this is a ballad and the single version is a full-on pop song.

This is a grand sounding ballad with some killer strings and bass to it. Given that this song originally lived on a single to what is a really big song, it makes total sense that this song is hair out of place on this album. It's very good, though. Those strings especially... This one demands a good set of headphones to listen to. It's worth it for the little details.

08. fate ~Unmei no hito~

This is more or less the final track of the album. It's a softer ballad this time, and one that kinda revisits the Christmas theme. Actually, this one is probably more Christmasy than the actual song called Merry Christmas. Nakamori's breathy vocals are absolutely on it. Again, she is in better shape now than she was in the entire 2000s decade.

09. Merry Christmas -yuki no shizuku- (Orgel Version)

An instrumental Orgel/Music Box version of the lead track from this album. I was half expecting it to be just a small bit of the song, but this is actually over three minutes long.

OVERALL: While ballads aren't really my thing, this is the type of album I looooove to put on the background when I'm working on something like a toy review or just reading articles online. The last time Nakamori released an album of strictly vocals was 2003's I hope so. I likely had the same thoughts about that album as well. Though, I do recall that one having some more variety to the types of ballads.

The only real grief I can give this album is how short it is. Nine tracks, only eight of which are vocal. Now...this can kinda be forgiven as a second album of covers called Cage was released on the same day...but you had to pay full album prices for both seemingly brief albums. A tinier issue I have with this album is the lack of unique content on the limited edition version. While the limited edition came with a 2018 calendar, I prefer the cover of the standard version so I went with that. It's just a little more cheerful.

I'm happy to report that this album did really well upon release. It peaked at number nine while Cage simultaneously peaked at number eight. That's a pretty sweet achievement. While Cage isn't an official album...I suppose I should check in and see what all the commotion is about...

PREVIOUS: FIXER
NEXT: Cage

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2018/04/26

24. FIXER (2015.12.30)


01. FIXER -WHILE THE WOMEN ARE SLEEPING-

She's BACK! While I regret writing the review for this song and album so close to it's release, it's safe to say that the EDM thing has been divisive. I kinda dig it when it's done well. A good song can come from any dated style. There is good and bad 80s...grunge...whatever the hell the late 90s was...

FIXER is a jam and I truly enjoy the mood. It has auto-tune moments, but it doesn't fester. It has some anthem-style energy, but still kinda feels like a rainy day. In the future it will be easy to look at this song and say that it's a good snapshot of it's time...but that won't necessarily be a bad thing. This was the third single from this album, but it just as easily could have been it's first. It's that good.

02. Rojo -Tierra-

Speaking of singles, this track is the lead single from this album. While FIXER could have been first, this one was the right choice to bring Nakamori back with after her kind of abrupt retirement-ish announcement. Hot damn...this song is fire.

This song has the energy of a song from avex, but Nakamori is definitely still very much signed at Universal. I know a few of you will understand that and have a pretty good idea of what this song sounds like, but let me explain a little further... This is another EDM style track, but it's full force to the point where it verges on becoming irritating. It could the theme song to just about any type of TV show as well.

While FIXER was the more appropriate song to open this album with, Rojo -Tierra- was absolutely the correct choice for lead single. When you go alllll the way back to my introduction post to this series of reviews I kinda alluded to a moment that absolutely jump-started my interest in Nakamori. Sure, I've always liked her music...but there when this video showed up on Youtube, I was actually really curious. I absolutely picked up the single...and from there I was obsessed. This song is what single-handedly forced me to go back and fill all of the holes I had in my collection and what eventually inspired me to write this massive series of posts.

03. Endless Life

This one is a bit slower, but a really good song. It's somewhat a long the same line as FIXER, but has a much smoother flow to it. The smoothness kinda trades off between the music and the singing.

04. unfixable

This is the second single from this album...and also her 50th single! It's also kind of a bummer of a song as the title would certainly imply. While this song is quite a bit darker, it still has some of the lashings of EDM that the previous songs on this album have.

Weirdly enough this song also brings memories of the past. Remember Nakamori's album Cross My Palm? This SOOO reminds me of that album. For starters, this song is in English and was recorded in America (this entire album was, actually). It also has a sound that really took time to grow on me. It sounds entirely Western. While songs like FIXER and Rojo -Tierra- are the same genre, they are definitely have more of an Asian spin to them, the "that's so avex" take on Rojo -Tierra- in particular. I enjoyed Cross My Palm quite a bit and this song feels like it's a 2015 continuation of a forgotten 1987 experiment.

Love this song...probably more through listening to the entirely catalog.

05. La Vida

A sudden 180. This song is just Nakamori, a guitar, and some clapping at times. Her affinity for Latin music has finally popped up on this album. While the songs on this album so far are definite hits...this is the one you'll be humming when you finish listening. It's fantastically catchy...

It's also the B-Side track for the single to Rojo -Tierra-. While a complete opposite in sound, it's a surprisingly good pairing.

06. Ugetsu

A really good ballad. At this point in the album Nakamori had been putting mostly her pop persona on, so this is the return of what made her popular in the first place. She nails it. This is MUCH better singing than what we heard on 2009's DIVA.

07. Todoketai ~voice~

Another ballad, but this one is just a little bit quicker. I really enjoy the production on this one. While the majority of the music likely came from software, it's doesn't sound cheap or anything. Overall, this is another good one.

08. Yokudo

Another slight dance track with some 90s flavor to it. I like this one a lot. The singing is on-point, it has that Latin sound that Nakamori shines well with, and is a solid overall production. This could have easily been a solid B-Side track to one of the singles, but only lives here.

09. kodou

Another Latin-based track. I don't like this one as much as the singing doesn't quite match the tone of the music. It isn't a bad song, it's just a litttttle bit off. Maybe a little bit generic as well.

10. Lotus

This song...this song sounds SO familiar. I can't put my finger on it, but the melody at the start sounds like something I've heard before... I want to say it sounds like a song from Tetsuya Komuro I've heard before, but...yeah...I'll have that moment of discovery someday.

I would classify this one as a slower ballad that honestly is kinda failed by it's music. It's...alright. The singing is good, but the music just sounds largely fake.

11. Re-birth

A nice track to end with. This is a lighter ballad that really digs back into the 80s and 90s well. I love the singing and overall pleasant music.

12. Rojo -tierra- (Album Version)

The single version of Rojo -tierra- is six minutes long. This is eight and some change minutes thanks to an extended intro and interlude.

13. unfixable (Album Version)

Like the previous track, this album version of unfixable is done through extended an already great song by a few minutes. I can't complain...

DVD

Since I picked up the limited edition of this album, I got myself an alternate album cover and bonus region-free DVD! It isn't too much to write about, though, as it's only the music video for FIXER -WHILE THE WOMEN ARE SLEEPING-. Can't complain...I think this version of the album was actually the cheaper option. It also has the better version of the strange cover.

OVERALL: Love, love, love this album! Most people seem to agree with me as it turns out. FIXER reached number nine on the Oricon weekly chart. For perspective, the last time one of her albums made it into the top ten was in 1995 with the also fantastic la alteración.

This is actually a really encouraging story. Outside of that official teaser for Rojo -tierra- that I posted earlier, there are some other clips of the recording sessions from this album. Nakamori looks...really nervous. She'd been away since 2009 and only really reappeared in 2014 before this album started coming together. It's kinda hard to watch anyone have a hard time returning to something they once mastered, but the results kinda speak for themselves. A lot of effort went into this album.

While I don't necessarily agree with the order of the songs on this album (it's definitely front-loaded), I absolutely approve. It's a complete album with some amazing variety. I highly recommend picking this one up. It's a great album and a perfect victory lap for Nakamori turning 50 that year.

PREVIOUS: DIVA
NEXT: Akina

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2018/04/25

23. DIVA (2009.08.26)


DISC ONE

01. GIVE TAKE

I can't quite put my finger on this one. It's certainly a uniquely neat song. It kinda reminds me of NOT CRAZY TO ME, but is more of an anthem. I'm kinda on the fence...but you know what? Yeah...it's a good song. Interesting choice for an intro...

02. DIVA

The titular track and also the lone single from the album. The single version is different, however. This one is a little more graceful in proving that Nakamori can adapt with the times. It's a dance track with a nice little rock tinge to it. Maybe the singing could have a little more force, but it definitely works well.

03. thinking of you

A softer track, but one that doesn't let up on the pop theme of the album so far. The beat is a little more subtle than what she was working with at the start of the decade and for that I would say that it has aged much better. Not exactly timeless, but still a really nice song to jam out to at any time.

04. REVERSE

As the title suggests, it is the exact opposite of the previous track. Well, it has it's good moments when it picks up speed, but the rest is just 2000s sludge.

05. Aena kute

A decent ballad. Nakamori sounds just a little bit tired. It's more on the verge of singing rather than full-on singing. I give it points for being pretty original. Kinda like those rare times Michael Jackson sang with his natural deep voice.

06. X lady

Random rock song?? Sure. I know I have a tendency to say that Nakamori can get retro at times, but I'm usually referring to the 80s. This song wouldn't be out of place in her 1995 era of music. This isn't bad at all. Hahaa.

07. HEARTBREAK

Auto-tune? What are yooou doing here??

A mild dance track this is on par with GIVE TAKE. Has the make-up of a song that would destined to be a single, but it never was released as one. It is certainly of it's time. Late 00s? Yep. You might not be humming it later, but it'll definitely leave an impression.

08. with

OK, we're running out of random words to name songs after.

This one is a little bit smoother, but definitely on the livelier side. Again, this sounds a little bit 90s...outside of the harsh synth tone. It's a pretty decent song, though. I like the light rapping toward the end.

09. Akane-iro no kaze

I can pretty much say all the same things I said about thinking of you above. A softer song that still has some lighter pop elements and good singing.

10. Going home

We're going out on a lighter ballad. This one is pretty breathy and largely generic on the music side. As I mentioned before, ballads aren't entirely my thing given how inoffensive they tend to be. This one is pretty good and has that ever-present comfort of a song you've likely heard already.

DISC TWO

01. DIVA -michitomo remix-

I spent a few extra dollars on my copy of DIVA. As a result, I got a purple variant cover and a bonus disc featuring two remixes...

An even heavier and dancier version of DIVA. As far as I can work out, this is the only place to get this version since the single only included the Karaoke version. It's alright if extended dance mixes heavy on the drum'n bass are you thing. It's cool to have on in the background and makes wonderful use of the chorus.

02. Heartache -michitomo remix-

Kind of an auto-tune mess. It slides a faster beat on an existing song and screws with the vocals. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of this type of remix either...

OVERALL: I'm not entirely sure where to begin on this one. While this album isn't as dated sounding as some of Nakamori's work from the other side of the decade, it can't escape the lashings of that whole glam thing that everyone was into in the late 2000s. While it may be an unbalance mix of timelessness and cheese, it at the very minimum missed being an album of pure junk. I can't say that I give this album a lot of attention, but maybe it'll be worth even further examination in the future. I can't say I'll ever pine for the glory days of 2009, but you never know... This album might grow on me more later on.

Unfortunately, Akina Nakamori made an announcement after this album's release that she was indefinitely suspending all activities for health reasons. Will the dark diva rise again??

PREVIOUS: DESTINATION
NEXT: FIXER

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