It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so pardon my novice review. This time around, I’ll be taking on Morning Musume‘s 12th official album release, 12 Smart!
This 12th studio release for the group marks the first album release for the 9th generation members, as well as the final release for now former leader Takahashi Ai. Exciting and depressing, kind of a mixed bag of emotions; but the material in this album seems to be much more solid in comparison to their previous album. Let’s go through each track, shall we?
1. Give me 愛
The song kicks off with a lovely piano introduction, which is eventually taken over by powerful synth beats. Several fans have noted that this song is almost follows the same formula arrangement as the group’s single Nanchatte Renai. I agree with that statement for the most part, but this track is lacking the same level of epic that the latter single had, as well as the beautiful string arrangement accompaniment. The vocals are heavily placed on Ai and Tanaka Reina, with bits of Sayashi Riho and Niigaki Risa sprinkled about before and even during the chorus. The rest of the members join the leads for the chorus and sing as accompaniment for the verse portions of the song. Though comparisons can be made, this track pales in comparison to Nanchatte Renai and lacks any memorable quality (personally speaking), but is still a rather solid track.
2. Only you
Does this song even need an introduction? This track was the group’s 46th single and was their answer to Japan’s need for a hot summer airwave take-over. Powerful and a lot more in-your-face visually and musically, “Only you” was a lot more intense than the typical frilly and fun tracks released by fellow jpop artists. Aside from the typical Ren-Ai lead, this single also marked the beginning of the less-than-subtle pushes of 9th gen member Riho to the front, perhaps to add some variety to the typical 2-member lead. Despite the heavy use of auto-tune for her portions of the song, Gaki’s pre-chorus lines of pure epic were my personal favorite portions in the entire song. The song may have been on the long side, and seemed to have been composed of a variety of random and different compositions all forcefully mashed into one, but after a couple of listens, the song does manage to grow on you.
3. Silver no Udedokei
This track features Reina and Riho taking on the primary singing portions, while Gaki and Mitsui Aika take on the rap portions of the song. After hearing the concert rips of this song being performed at the group’s recent fall tour, I had pretty high expectations regarding the official release. Riho and Reina sang the song really well, with a lower pitch than usual; and Gaki was fantastic as usual (sans Aika, who was MIA due to her injury). However, to my disappointment, Riho’s voice in the official recording of the song seemed a lot more ‘whiny’ than what she performed live. I guess I could be more disappointed, but the singing portions of the song weren’t exactly the highlight of the song for me. The rap parts definitely took the cake; Gaki and Aika stole the song and added a nice contrast to the smooth, sultry feel that the singing elements provided by Reina and Riho had.
4. Suki da na Kimi ga
In my personal opinion, this song was definitely the single stand-out track of the entire album. Despite the heavy auto-tune and achingly repetitive quality of the track, those elements that were seemingly negative essentially made the song so damn memorable. Michishige Sayumi and Fukumura Mizuki share the spotlight for this track, but to many a Fukuhime fans’ dismay, one seems to only hear Sayu’s vocals take prominence, while Mizuki is nowhere to be heard. Aside from that unfortunate tidbit, the whole Perfume-quality of this song definitely made this song stand out from the rest. The autotune, the obnoxious back-beats, the repetitiveness of the arrangement, all mixed with Sayu’s achingly high-pitched voice made for a freakin’ rockin’ track! Love this song to bits and pieces!
5. Kaiketsu Positive A
Quirky instrumentals from the get-go should have signaled you guys to brace yourselves for a fun and silly sort of song! If you were craving a little more genki in your life and in this album, this is the song for you! The gang’s all here for this song, and everyone seems to have a fair share of lines, which is always a nice treat for everyone. There’s not much to really say about this song. It’s kind of generic as most idol pop songs go, but still fun to listen to nonetheless.
6. Kono Ai wo Kasanete
There must be something about the duets in this album, because for me it’s the songs that feature dynamic duo’s that are making this album so worth it! While “Suki da na Kimi ga” got me groovin’ like a fool, this Takagaki track brought me back to a mellow pace. I’m a real sucker for ballads, whether they’re good or not, and the fact that this is the last Takagaki track fans will be given, I’ll take what I can get. It’s a really simplistic track: the background is a typically composed of a simple, yet beautiful arrangement of strings, piano, and guitar that come together to perfectly compliment the beautiful vocal harmonies of these two Gokkies. While the previous Takagaki duet Ano Hi ni Modoritai was a lot more R&B, with hints of swag and attitude thrown into the mix, this ballad track was able to showcase the two members’ wonderful vocal harmonies without sacrificing quality. Once again, there’s nothing much to this track once you strip it to its bare pieces and throwing away/disregarding the sentimental quality of it all, and can easily be considered as “just another track” on the album. But frankly speaking, I kind of love it.
7. Kono Chikyuu no Heiwa wo Honki de Negatte’ru n da yo!
8. Kare to Issho ni Omise ga Shitai!
I’ve dissected the crap out of those two songs already, so I’m just going to go head and skip reviewing those.
9. My Way ~Joshikou Hanamichi~
Need more genki? Here’s another one for you guys! A little more heavy on the rock and 80s-esque synth for the background, but it definitely doesn’t take away from the song. All the members take part in this song and there’s once again a fairly even distribution for lines. Not much about the song makes it stand out in my eyes (or ears, rather), but it’s a fun song to listen to.
10. Otome no Timing
Sorry, no youtube videos for this one, so you’re just going to have to buy the album yourself or take my word for it. It’s a kawaii sweet song featuring Aika, Ikuta Erina, and Suzuki Kanon. I never took Aika’s vocals as my cup of tea, but her voice was a very easy to listen to in this track. I’m not sure why all of a sudden, but I have a feeling it was due to her not trying to make her voice sound achingly cute or whatever that whiny quality about her voice is. It was a refreshing change, to say the least. I wish I could say the same about Erina’s voice. Zukki and Erina have some work to do with their voices, but they didn’t really take away from the song at all. If anything, it just added that cute element to the song. Overall, it was a cute song, but nothing I would go “Wow!” over.
11. OK YEAH!
If you need to get pumped (like, CRAZY PUMPED), pop this song on your iPod. The “Wow!” back-vocals that you hear constantly in the song should ring a bell for all you veteran H!P fans (hint, it was used in a biyuuden song!). This track kind of made me think it should have been included in some DDR game. It’s fast-paced and has that dance quality that would be perfect, don’t you think? Reina and Ai take the reigns for the majority of the chorus lines, but the other members are featured in the verses (every once in a while). One can definitely hear Sayu’s voice in the repeated “YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH!” lines, that’s for sure.
12. Maji Desu Ka Ska!
Equal line distribution is possible! Who would have thought? The 45th single that marked the debut of the 9th generation members! Genki-tastic and treading the same instrumental arrangement vein as the beloved Koko ni Iruzee, “Maji Desu Ka Ska” had that same fun and “ska” quality to it that would have made a much better summer single than “Only you.” And this single is living proof that equal line distribution, even in the presence of the ever prominent RenAi, is absolutely possible.
All in all, a much more quality release than Fantasy! Juuichi ever was. While this album lacked the sexy-cool feel that one kind-of-sort-of got with the group’s 11th album (probably only in Fantasy ga Hajimaru, to be honest), at least this album was able to provide fans with a bit of everything. The plethora of genki songs in the album is practically gratuitous, but seems to mark the revival of genki, fresher Musume, much to the dismay of those fans that were rooting for the cool Musume quality. As much as I liked the emo-musume era, it seems that the group is moving on. Hopefully that doesn’t mean fans will be without the cool songs that they’ve come to know and love, but I don’t really see the group tackling such songs in the near future, unless it was just the older members singing it.
Some food for thought: this album was probably recorded prior to Riho’s voice getting better control, because whenever she sang certain songs from this album live at “Ai Believe,” she had a lot more control and her voice had a less nasal, whiny quality to it in comparison to the studio version.
The tracks featuring different members were a lovely treat, and I felt that each member did their respective songs justice. The combinations were kind of expected, though to be honest, I was rooting for an Erina x Sayu duet as opposed to a Mizuki x Sayu. Not that it really matters either way, since we only hear Sayu’s vocals in “Suki da na Kimi ga.”
And if it hasn’t been said enough, it’s going to be weird hearing whatever the group releases next, whether it be album/single/whatever, without Ai’s vocals taking prominence. A modest and admirable effort was made with the release of “Kare to…” but it still hasn’t quite hit me, and I’m sure several others. Oh well. Good, solid release from the group. Let’s hope that 48th single and 10th gen will make the group’s next release a lot more memorable!
Be sure to support the group and purchase their album!