Friday, June 6, 2014

Let's Talk about Killing Me Softly

Killing Me Softly. Now that's one hell of an album title.

Returning with their first album since January 2013 is the ever lovely, ever mature Tokyo Girls' Style! And to think that they decided to release this album a day before my birthday! In that respect, the album is kind of like a birthday present! I've been pumped since the announcement of this album, and when the gorgeous covers and website were released, I think that excitement grew even more! I think TGS is long overdue for an album, and they've released a variety of different A-sides since Yakusoku. From the typical, but catchy, Unmei to the darker and spookier Juujika, I've been crossing my fingers and hoping they all maker for a cohesive album. Especially since Yakusoku was such a good album from them, probably my favorite in fact! Yakusoku is a tough act to follow, especially with the A-sides TGS has released this year. So Killing Me Softly kill its competition? Or does it shoot itself in the foot? I've been anticipating this album for awhile, so I'd hope that it lives up to my hype! But there's only one way to see. I've got my apples and my fingers, so let's take a look at Killing Me Softly!

1. Intro

I really wish TGS would drop their Intro/Outro tracks on their albums. They're not always terrible, but they've never contributed much to any of their albums. Not as much as completely new album tracks would. Nonetheless, opening Killing Me Softly is another Intro. I don't have that much to say about it, but then I never do with any of the Intros. This one's only fifty-seven seconds long and has some synths and some weird vocals in it... And then at the end, a piano comes in. It's kind of pretty. Frankly, this intro sounds like a TGS song in draft form. It ends so quickly too. And it doesn't really build up to anything like a good intro should do. The least it could have done is lead in to the next song, but nope, it just ends with a poof! Then we go into Killing Me Softly. I guess it's listenable as far as intros go, but I doubt I will be listening to this Intro again after my review. Just like every other Intro that TGS has done for their albums!

My Rating:

2. Killing Me Softly

The titular Killing Me Softly definitely has the most interesting origin of any of the new songs on the album. Originally known as TGS00, Killing Me Softly was actually composed before their debut single, Kirari☆. However, management wanted to wait for TGS to grow and mature before having them actually release Killing Me Softly. So with such a mysterious origin, does Killing Me Softly live up to all the intrigue? Eh... kind of? I just want to say that yes, I do like this song. But I don't love it. Even if technically, it existed before all the other TGS songs, so many musical elements of Killing Me Softly have already been done in TGS songs. Even the vocals sound similar to Unmei and Yakusoku and Liar and several other TGS songs. Luckily for me, I like the TGS song formula, so I'm okay with Killing Me Softly. And there are some good parts to it, like the more stripped down instrumental. But TGS is treading old ground (literally) with Killing Me Softly.

My Rating:

3. Pain

Coming after the title track is another song with a melodramatic title! Seriously, there are fourteen songs named "Pain" listed on Wikipedia, and I guarantee there are even more than that. I swear that Pain opens with an acoustic version of the opening riff from Discord. In fact, there are several spots in Pain where I thought I'd accidentally played Discord, like right before the chorus. Intentional or not, Discord still reigns a better song than Pain. But Pain is a pretty decent song too. TGS can do better, but it opens with a pretty good chorus. The girls even actually sound kind of anguished. I wonder what this song is about... The verses are a little bit weaker than they need to be, but again, the chorus picks up that slack. Pain is a long song though, nearly six minutes, and sometimes it feels very lengthy. Still, of all the new tracks on Killing Me Softly (and there aren't many), I think Pain is my favorite. Sure, it isn't a great song, but it has enough merits to not be completely forgettable.

My Rating:

4. Unmei

All right, first A-side on Killing Me Softly (and the first one of the era) is Unmei! Not a bad choice after Killing Me Softly and pain. It definitely continues that more serious sound. Unmei is like a funkier Limited addiction. It even has a long riff at the beginning a la Limited addiction. Not that I mind. Even though I still find Limited addiction to be the superior song, Unmei is one of my favorite A-side from this era. Mainly because the funk is strong in this song. Unmei is such a cool song, like something you'd hear in a 1970s bar. The adolescent voices kind of take away from the groovy and kind seedy bar atmosphere of Unmei, but you get what I mean. I think the only complaints I have about Unmei are that the song is kind of long and it does sound like Limited addiction in disguise at parts. But it's still one of the stronger A-sides of this era and one of my personal favorites. And having it as Track #4 on Killing Me Softly adds to that mature sound the album's going for so far!

My Rating:

5. Partition Love

Ah, Partition Love, we meet again. I think I may have overreacted to the music video for Partition Love and in the process, not given much focus to the actual song. Well, now I can remedy that! And I think as a song alone, Partition Love is a really good song. Not the best TGS song, but still a very strong A-side that just happened to get a disgusting music video. Partition Love has TGS stuck in the 90s, but in a good way. The riff at the beginning is very distinctive and groovy. I think what carries Partition Love is the vocals. I think they're done really well here. The verse are soft and even a little whisper-y at parts, and then the chorus has a really good leading hook. I will admit, Partition Love isn't the best TGS A-side, and it's certainly nothing new for TGS. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it. Partition Love is a very enjoyable, mature song like many other TGS songs. And if you like their mature, 90s Avex sound, then Partition Love will appeal to you. If not... what are you doing listening to TGS?

My Rating:

6. Chiisana Kiseki

Oh great, this song. I'm so glad it was included on Killing Me Softly. Overjoyed, in fact. Because it is such a good- okay, Chiisana Kiseki is my least favorite A-side of this era. I get that it had to be included on Killing Me Softly because it's an A-side, but I wish Chiisana Kiseki would just go away. The one thing I can kind of commend Chiisana Kiseki for doing is a more idol-ish sound for Tokyo Girls' Style mixed with their usual sound. But it backfires so hard. There's nothing to Chiisana Kiseki, and it's one of the blandest TGS songs I've heard in awhile. I'm okay with them doing a happier, lighter song, but Chiisana Kiseki is so forgettable. I mean, what am I even supposed to say about this song? I guess if you're looking for something a bit lighter from TGS, Chiisana Kiseki is an okay-ish song? Personally, I find it boring. And a tad bit irritating also. Something about the chipper tone of Chiisana Kiseki just grates on me. I'll be skipping this song on future listens.

My Rating:

7. Renai Etude

All right, another album song! There are so few album tracks on Killing Me Softly, and after three A-sides in a row, it's refreshing to hear something else! But that only lasts for about 30 seconds. Renai Etude is a perky song. Not as perky as something by Momoiro Clover Z, but still upbeat for Tokyo Girls' Style. I guess that fits after Chiisana Kiseki. And Renai Etude is better than Chiisana Kiseki. There's a bit of a swing/big band feel to Renai Etude mixed with the 90s dance sound all the TGS fans are familiar with by now. The sound works okay. The main problem with Renai Etude is that it is long. TGS has had longer songs, yes, but Renai Etude drags at some parts. And if the producer wanted to try a more swinging sound, then they could have taken it further. There's not much of a hook to Renai Etude, and everything ends up sounding muddled and underwhelming. Renai Etude not a terrible song, but it's still disappointingly average, especially in comparison to other TGS album songs.

My Rating:

8. Zutto Wasurenai.

Did anyone ask for Chiisana Kiseki 2.0? Because I certainly didn't. Nonetheless, someone on Tokyo Girls' Style's production theme must have thought that was a good idea. Thus we got Zutto Wasurenai. And eugh, I'm not feeling this song. This sounds like something that belongs on Kodou no Himitsu. I'll even take Renai Etude over this; at least that song has a more original sound. I mean good god, Zutto Wasurenai. is such a bland song. I think you could hold a competition between whether Chiisana Kiseki or Zutto Wasurenai. is blander, and it'd be a close call! Like all the other album songs off Killing Me Softly, Zutto Wasurenai. also suffers from longness. And with this song, it's the most noticeable. I probably would have skipped this song about halfway through had I not been listening to it for this review. Maybe it's because I can never really get into TGS's happier songs, even their older work. They just never sound that interesting. And Zutto Wasurenai. is particularly boring.

My Rating:

9. Juujika

Okay, I have a question: where is the real Juujika and what has this song done with it? I was so baffled when Juujika from Killing Me Softly started playing. And that's when I realized that in spite of me just calling it "Juujika" in my PV review, the version that I reviewed was technically called Juujika ~Eiga "Gakkou no Kaidan -Noroi no Kotodama-" Ver. So this must be the real, original version, in contrast to the darker and slightly creepier version used in the horror movie. You know, the one with that creepy music box opening and really sick guitar. Oh god, why couldn't have that version made it to the album? This Juujika is a watered down version of the one from the single, and oh god, it is underwhelming. I think it just has to do with my expectations being one thing, and the actual result being something completely different. This Juujika isn't terrible, but in comparison, the single version is so so so much better. I recommend sticking with that one.

My Rating:

10. Mine

Thank god, Mine got included on Killing Me Softly. That slightly makes up for the inclusion of Chiisana Kiseki. Originally a B-side, I'm happy with Mine being on this album. In hindsight though, I kind of wish that it hadn't been. I mean, Mine is a pretty good TGS song. It reminds me a bit of Discord, only with less rock and more... 90s Avex pop. For the record though, Discord is much better. The problem with Mine is that doesn't really bring much new to the table for TGS. The song still has a solid arrangement, and it has a decent amount of energy. The instrumental is also pretty cool, mixing in more guitar than the typical TGS song. But as I've said before, Discord did what Mine did ten times better. If I had to pick between a new song and Mine, I think I'd take my chances with a new song. Even if the new song turned out to be terrible- actually, maybe it isn't so bad having Mine on Killing Me Softly. It's listenable, which I can't say for Chiisana Kiseki...

My Rating:

11. Outro

So closing out Killing Me Softly (but not really) is the traditional Outro. Like with the Intro, I don't really think a TGS album needs an Outro. They're usually just album filler and there isn't much to talk about with them. At least this Outro is a little longer than the Intro. This is basically just the girls whispering the group name to the background of some funky beats. I guess coming after Mine, the Outro takes Killing Me Softly back to the groovier 90s sound that TGS goes for. I think maybe the Outro could have stood to be a little more jazzier and a little less pointless. There's just not that much structure to the song. It's an interlude, so I guess I shouldn't expect it to, but the song just ends on this flat note with absolutely zero transition whatsoever. If I had to pick between the Intro and Outro on Killing Me Softly, I suppose I'd go with the Outro. But honestly, I'd pick neither one of them. I'd want a full album track rather than either one.

My Rating:

12. Get the Star -Royal Mirrorball Mix-

Oh great, the Royal Mirrorball Mixes. I've kind of been dreading this song and the next one on Killing Me Softly. Because... I'm not a huge fan of many of the Royal Mirrorball Mixes. They're just never that interesting to me and always seem to add unnecessary stuff to perfectly good songs then take away all the good parts in said songs. And that couldn't be more apparent with Get the Star. The original Get the Star, released back in September, was a great song. It was more of a pop rock song for TGS, laying off on their usual sound, and it was very refreshing. Get the Star was also a very uplifting song. Get the Star -Royal Mirrorball Mix- is... I don't even know what to make of it. It does the very thing that makes me not a huge fan of Royal Mirrorball Mixes, and even worse, it takes away the original sound of Get the Star and turns into another TGS-style song. I mean, is it necessary? The original is so much better. Well, Get the Star's mix could have been worse. At least it wasn't treated like Last Forever.

My Rating:

13. Last Forever -Royal Mirrorball Mix-

Oh god... Last Forever... what have they done to it? Forget what I said about Juujika, that is a goddamn miracle next to the defacement that is Last Forever. Previously on Nia's Wonderland, I praised Last Forever for being an emotional, strong ballad that was a nice deviation from the usual TGS music formula. Well, screw that, I suppose! I guess they decided a Royal Mirrorball Mix would be so much better, adding in all those unnecessary instrumentals and completely modifying the vocals to match something that would be more conventional for TGS! Because god forbid we have something a little different on this album! Maybe because I'm already not a huge fan of the Royal Mirrorball Mixes, but I don't like Last Forever - Royal Mirrorball Mix-. In fact, you might say I hate it. In fact... yeah, I hate it. I hate it for completely annihilating everything that made Last Forever such a great song and turning it into some generic mix that sounds like every other Royal Mirrorball Mix I've bothered to listen to.

My Rating:

14. Tsuki to Kimagure

A bonus track on the CD only and CD+Blu-Ray versions of Killing Me Softly, Tsuki no Kimagure may also ring familiar as the B-side to Partition Love. I guess I'm okay with Tsuki no Kimagure being included on Killing Me Softly. It is a nice contrast from Partition Love and just about everything that TGS has been doing lately. Tsuki no Kimagure sounds very dreamlike. There are all these vocal effects like echoing and even the way the girls sing sounds very distant, like you're hearing through a tunnel to an alternate dimension. I'm not sure if the fantasy-like sound of Tsuki no Kimagure always works, but for the most part, I like this song. I think it's grown on me since Partition Love was released. There's something about how ethereal it sounds. Tsuki no Kimagure sounds more like something Starmarie would do than Tokyo Girls' Style. After the disasters that were the Royal Mirrorball Mixes, Tsuki no Kimagure is a relieving change of tone.

My Rating:

15. Partition Love -Chinese Version-

For the record, I don't speak Chinese. I had a boyfriend who did, but we split ages ago. It would be nice to have him around right about now... So I guess this track is similar to what TGS did on Yakusoku: including an old track re-recorded in a different language. This time instead of being English though, it's Chinese! I think this is the group's second venture into covering one of their songs in Chinese, the first being Onnaji Kimochi. Well, I like Partition Love better than Onnaji Kimochi, and it sounds all right here. I'm not really the best person to judge on how well TGS sings in Chinese, but they sound fine to my ears. Maybe someone who's actually fluent in the language can fill me in on how well TGS actually handles singing the language. I think I'll probably just stick to the original Partition Love though. Not that this is a bad cover or anything, but I don't really think it's that necessary. I guess they can perform it overseas in Taiwan though!

My Rating:

16. Chim Chim Cheree

And a pleasant surprise of a bonus track on Killing Me Softly is Tokyo Girls' Style's cover of Chim Chim Cheree! This cover was part of a series of Disney covers by other idol groups (including BiS and on Disney Rocks!!! Girl's Power! Now I love the original Chim Chim Cheree as I do every song on Mary Poppins, and I was very curious as to how TGS would handle the song. Their cover of Chim Chim Cheree is definitely a darker take on the song, mainly in sound. The song starts with electric guitars which is the last thing I would have pictured in Chim Chim Cheree, but surprisingly, it works really well. I mean, in concept, this cover of Chim Chim Cheree sounds like it would be terrible, but somehow, it's not! TGS's Chim Chim Cheree is a darker, edgier take on the original, but it works well for TGS. The song is really good, and believe me, Killing Me Softly is in need of some good songs.

My Rating:

The Verdict

Ouch. Who dropped the ball on this album? Killing Me Softly is proof that yet again, you should never judge something by its title. Actually, I had a few reservations about this album once the tracklist came out, but I pushed them aside until I'd actually listen to the whole album. And honestly, this is such a letdown after Yakusoku. First big problem with Killing Me Softly is a lack of new material. Not counting the Intro/Outro (which by the way, TGS really needs to get rid of those), there are only four new songs on this album. But that isn't always a curse; Yakusoku only had five new tracks but was still a strong album. The problem is that the four tracks on Killing Me Softly aren't that strong. Killing Me Softly, the title track, and Pain are the stronger of the four, but even then they aren't enough to boost the album. Renai Etude and especially Zutto Wasurenai. are both weak, forgettable tracks. And all four songs suffer from being too lengthy. However, the underwhelming album tracks are just one facet of why Killing Me Softly is such a weak album. An album can still be at least a decent listen if the A-sides and B-sides included are strong enough to carry it.

The A-sides and other old material on Killing Me Softly make up a mixed bag. On one hand, the album offers some pretty strong A-sides, including Unmei, and Partition Love. And the two B-sides, Mine and Tsuki no Kimagure, are also pretty good. However, the musical choices made to the other A-sides on Killing Me Softly baffle me. I already ranted about the Royal Mirrorball Mixes of Get the Star and Last Forever, but I'll rant again. The Royal Mirrorball Mixes took a shotgun blast to everything that made the original Get the Star and Last Forever such good songs. I might not be so made about it if they were actually good mixes, but decision to mix two perfectly good songs frustrates me to no end. Had those songs been left alone, Killing Me Softly could have been at least a little better. Actually, more than that. What Killing Me Softly suffers from the most is killing any sound that deviates from the Tokyo Girls' Style's traditional style of music. And anything that is remotely different (i.e. Chiisana Kiseki and Renai Etude) ends up sounding watered down and underwhelming. Like the original Juujika. Whereas Yakusoku was darker and utilized the traditional sounds of TGS, Killing Me Softly stumbles and blunders. The final result is a huge step down that I am sorely disappointed with.

And so I depart the Killing Me Softly era by giving the album two and half apples. I can't emphasize how big of a disappointment this album is. I love Tokyo Girls' Style, but man, I have no idea what happened with this album. Maybe for their next era they'll be less heavy on the A-sides. And have better results when experimenting with sound. Whatever happens, I am more than happy to leave this era behind.

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