Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let's Talk about 14 Shou ~The message~

You know, for all the years I've been blogging on the Wonderland, I haven't reviewed a Morning Musume album. I think it's about time I amend that!

It's also been awhile since I reviewed an album. I can't help that the markets haven't been releasing much. What am I supposed to review? NMB48's new album? Yeah, I am not reviewing nearly thirty songs on an album. Luckily, Morning Musume graced us with an album! I'd think they would, what with Sayumi graduating and the addition of the 12th Generation starting in 2015. 14 Shou ~The message~ I suppose is a way to end the era Sayumi's lead. In this case, the era of electropop! Yes, it's been over two years since the release of One Two Three and Robo Musume is still very much here and very much disputed. Morning Musume's electropop singles have been very hit-or-miss. However, I do think that over these past two years, the 9th/10th/11th Generations have really developed into a group. I mean, compare them from 12, Smart to 14 Shou ~The message~. They've grown! Now has Morning Musume's music grown with them?

1. Tiki Bun (Album Version)

Sensibly, 14 Shou ~The message~ kicks off with Morning Musume's most recent song, Tiki Bun! Sadly, I do not care about this song, even with the cool little intro added in the album version. Tiki Bun's not a bad song, but it's more-or-less the kind of song you'd expect from the current Morning Musume. Also, Tiki Bun is a prime example of how Momusu's electropop kick is growing weary. The song doesn't really try anything new outside the realm of bleeps and bloops and generic electropop sounds. Even the ridiculous title isn't utilized. Seriously, I thought this song would be... I don't know, tropical electropop? That would be weird as hell, but at least it would stand out. Tiki Bun is catchy and easy on my ears, but I'm not going to remember or appreciate it as soon as I'm done writing about it. Also, the girls sound like they're singing "Cheeky Bun" which somehow sounds even more ridiculous than "Tiki Bun."

My Rating:

2. Password is 0

0 is a very weak computer password. Google would not approve. Well, after one A-side, we have another A-side! There are many A-sides on this album. I hope you like catchy songs, because you will have Password is 0 stuck in your head for at least a month! The thing is, you'll only have one part of the song stuck in your head: the title itself. The girls sing the title at least ten times, and that's not even counting the random vocal effects. The strongest assets of Password is 0 are its frightening catchiness and its energy. It's like Yasutaka Nakata got drunk, did a line of cocaine, then composed a song. Password is 0 is energetic to the point where it's almost abrasive (and a little annoying). I do like Password is 0, but I don't love it. The girls sound really robotic in this song. So robotic that I wouldn't be surprised if they'd been replaced with robots in the recording studio. Password is 0 is a catchy song, but I want to hear some new album material now...

My Rating:

3. Asu wo Tsukuru no wa Kimi

Ask and you shall receive! Taking a complete 180 from the electropop Tiki Bun and Password is 0, Asu wo Tsukuru no wa Kimi is a ballad. I guess Morning Musume has one for every album. As far as a ballads go, Asu wo Tsukuru no wa Kimi is all right. Of the many, many ballads I have listened to, Asu wo Tsukuru no wa Kimi won't rank as one of my favorites, but it's a nice listen. I do like that a majority of the song is sung in duets. The vocals in Momusu have gotten better since the 9th/10th/11th generations started out, but not enough to deliver an impactful ballad. Asu wo Tsukuru no wa Kimi sounds sweet, but like with Tiki Bun, there's not much to it. I do like hearing something besides electropop from the current Morning Musume, but Asu wo Tsukuru no wa Kimi is a bit too bland. The chorus is pretty, and the instrumental sounds nice. But there are lots of pretty choruses and nice instrumentals. Give me something with a little more bite.

My Rating:

4. Kirari to Hikaru Hoshi

Ask and you shall receive!!! It's almost like I knew before writing this review how the tracks all sounded... Kirari to Hikaru Hoshi is a duet between Sayashi Riho and Oda Sakura. If this song had come out a year ago, I would have indifferent at best. If this song had come out two years ago, I would have been livid. I was not (and still am not) a fan of Riho's voice, but I think she's sounded more tolerable in the past year and half. And she holds her own with Sakura! The two sound much better than they did in their last duet off of Help me!! Kirari to Hikaru Hoshi is an electropop dance song (big surprise there). The vocal arrangement works well here. Sakura and Riho sing in a lower range, which fits their voices much better. The song itself has that cool, edgy dance sound. Again, Kirari to Hikaru Hoshi's not breaking any new ground, but it's still a good song. So far, it's my favorite track on 14 Shou ~The message~. Unless the next one proves better...

My Rating:

5. Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu

Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu does not prove better. What... what the hell is even going on in this song!? The song starts out with a sample, which is kind of cool but makes no sense. The sample has a guy saying "What is this crazy rock and roll music!?" which would be clever if Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu was a rock n'roll song. But it's electropop. Also... this song is sung by Sayumi, Haruna, and Mizuki. And Sayumi sings quite a bit. Two of the three people singing on this album don't have very strong voices. Sayumi's Autotuned to hell, Haruna's trying her best, and Mizuki's basically the only one who sounds decent. Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu also reminds me a teensy bit of PyokoPyoko Ultra. And I adored that song. God, I still can't believe that song exists. Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu has some nice ideas, but poor vocals and an aimless arrangement bog the song down.

My Rating:

6. What is Love?

Okay, back to A-sides! That's a safe choice! And a boring one, but I can manage boring. Luckily, What is Love? is far from boring! Honestly, I kind of forgot about this song... Which is crazy because back when it was first revealed as the J-Melo theme song, I loved it. I want it to be an A-side, I wanted it to get a kickass music video, I wanted to hear the recorded version, I advocated for What is Love? up until the song was finally released as one of three A-sides. And then... it barely got promoted. Which is a shame, because it was favorite of those three A-sides. What is Love? is kind of a scattered song, but I like the jerky, fast arrangement. It's a short, sweet song without going 100 mph like Password is 0. And there's this nice swing to What is Love? The awesome choreography shows that! Other than that's, the song is more electropop as done by Morning Musume. Personally, I think it's one of Momusu's better electropop songs.

My Rating:

7. Watashi wa Watashi Nanda

Who wants more dance electropop? I hope you do, because there's plenty more to come! Watashi wa Watashi Nanda is the tried-and-true formula of this era (and the last album era). Of all the electropop songs on 14 Shou ~The message~, I do think Watashi wa Watashi Nanda is one of the better songs. Watashi wa Watashi Nanda offers little new material; it's a dance song that has a popping, catchy instrumental. I'll be the dance has many formations in it. The more I listen to Watashi wa Watashi Nanda, I realize that I shouldn't care about this song at all. It's basically Tiki Bun without the cheesy hook. Actually... maybe that's why I like it. Because at no point do the girls sound like they're singing "Cheeky Bun." Watashi wa Watashi Nanda also has all the girls singing individually, so it's a good song to hear all the current voices of Morning Musume. Everyone sounds decent, but that might be because of the genre. Overall, I like Watashi wa Watashi Nanda. And that's about it.

My Rating:

8. Waraenai Hanashi

Tsunku vocals... so many Tsunku vocals. I don't know why, but I have never liked Tsunku's voice. He always sound like the creepy uncle who still thinks he's 16 years old and can hang out with teenage girls without any creepy connotations. Is that simile too specific? His addition to Waraenai Hanashi is, in my opinion, unnecessary and unwanted. Then again, he is the only part of this song that stands out. Surprise! Waraenai Hanashi is... more electropop!!! Bet you never guessed it! After four dance electropop songs in a row, Waraenai Hanashi blends right in with them. Maybe this is a good song overshadowed by four songs that sound more-or-less just like it? I will never know. But Waraenai Hanashi doesn't stand out to me on this album, and 14 Shou ~The message~ needs an album song that will stand out. Waraenai Hanashi is still better than Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu, but it's still one of my least favorite tracks on 14 Shou ~The message~.

My Rating:

9. Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa

Back to A-sides! That's what a majority of the last third consists of in this album. Of the A-sides from this era, I don't care for Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa. In summation: Ego no Kimi wa Taiyou sa is to Colorful Morning Musume what Seishun Collection was to Platinum Morning Musume. There are a few cool parts in it, like the We Will Rock You-style opening. But those ideas are eschewed in favor of a bland vocal arrangement. I do like hearing Momusu doing a happier, less-EDM song, but Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa just sounds dull and uninspired. The additional electropop sounds sprinkled throughout the song don't fit well either. The chorus is my least favorite part of Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa; it sounds so boring. And the chorus doesn't fit with any other part of the song. Neither do the verses. Or the instrumental. Actually, the entirety of Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa sounds like different songs sewn together with the precision of cat paws.

My Rating:

10. Kimi no Kawari wa Iyashinai

Oh hey, this song! I forgot it even existed! I blame UFP releasing it as part of a triple A-side single. Kimi no Kawari wa Iyashinai was used as Japan Team's Winter Olympics cheer song. I don't know if that holds any reverence, but Kimi no Kawari wa Iyashinai definitely supports the Land of the Rising. The chorus has them literally cheering "Nippon! Nippon!" But then the rest of the lyrics don't really have much to do with Japan? They're more about boys and love. There's nothing really terrible I can point out with Kimi no Kawari wa Iyashinai, but I've never been able to get into this song. Maybe because Riho's trying to belt too much? Like with Tiki Bun, the song's all right, but it doesn't stand out. The song's enjoyable and fast-paced, so I'm sure it makes for a very good cheer song. I don't care about sports though. Kimi no Kawari wa Iyashinai is a pick-up after the strangely bland Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa, but it's not a highlight off 14 Shou ~The message~.

My Rating:

11. Otona ni Nareba Otona ni Nareru!?

One last album song with all the remaining members who haven't gotten their own songs yet! So that means Masaki, Ayumi, Erina, Kanon, and Haruka. Not a bad lineup, although Erina and Ayumi are definitely the iffier of the five singers on this track. Otona ni Nareba Otona ni Nareru!? is more electropop fare, but the song is catchy and fun. I guess any song featuring Masaki is bound to be hyperactively crazy. Otona ni Nareba Otona ni Nareru!? doesn't get too crazy, but I love the energy level. The song fits well between Kimi no Kawari wa Iyashinai and the final song on 14 Shou ~The message~. The vocals sound good. Haruka's voice leaves me baffled as to why UFP doesn't utilize her more in songs. Kanon and Masaki sound good, and even Erina and Ayumi sound pretty decent! I like the way all five girls' voices blend. Considering Otona ni Nareba Otona ni Nareru!? is all about becoming adults, I think it's a very fitting song for these 9th/10th Generation members.

My Rating:

12. Toki no Koe Sora no Koe

Saving the best for last, the album closes with my personal favorite single of this era. I love Toki no Koe Sora no Koe, even more than I did when I reviewed it. The irony is Toki no Koe Sora no Koe sounds like something Platinum-era Morning Musume would release. It's dramatic, moody, filled to the brim with angst, all the characteristics of Morning Musume singles from 2008 to 2010. But Toki no Koe Sora no Koe is so pretty. I love the violins and the piano, and the little bits of electronica in the instrumental work nicely too. I even like the lyrics. The song's all about how love transcends space and time; songs about space always appeal to me. Toki no Koe Sora no Koe sounds refreshingly melancholic for the current Morning Musume, without any of the hooks or high-sped dance songs they've been defaulting to. For that reason, I think Toki no Koe Sora no Koe is the perfect way to end 14 Shou ~The message~ along with this era.

My Rating:

The Verdict

You think Tsunku's getting tired of electropop? I kind of hope so... 14 Shou ~The message~ is more-or-less and electropop album with one or maybe two songs that aren't electropop. I am a happy passenger on the Electro Train, but by now, this is starting to a grow a little stale for Morning Musume. And that doesn't have to be how their electropop music is. Electropop is more than dance music; it's sort an umbrella term for a lot of different songs. But Tsunku seems to be stuck on creating catchy, energetic, dance songs then throwing in some bleeps an bloops then Autotuning the hell out of the entire thing. Sometimes, that works. Kirari to Hikaru Hoshi and Otona ni Nareba Otona ni Nareru!? fit that mold, and they were two of my favorite tracks off 14 Shou ~The message~. But then songs like Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu and Waraenai Hanashi show that this entire electropop phase is wearing down. Maybe Tsunku will get obsessed with a new genre. Jazz? Lounge? Hell, at this point, I'd even take vaporwave...

Overall, 14 Shou ~The message~ is a mix of good and bad. Even then, the bad songs are far from the worst music I've ever heard. The good songs are thoroughly enjoyable. The only two songs I'd say I really dislike are Koibito ni wa Zettai ni Shiraretakunai Shinjitsu and Waraenai Hanashi. The other songs? Like I said, a mix. Most of the songs are like musical popcorn: they give you something to listen to, but not something that's going to tide you over. I think maybe if Tsunku produced more new material, this might be a better album, or at least a more varied one. Half the songs on this album are A-sides. So six old electropop songs, five new electropop songs, and one semi-ballad make up for an album that doesn't stretch far from Morning Musume's current comfort zone. I can't point out anything specifically bad about 14 Shou ~The message~ but this is definitely not the best album I've listened to this year. And the albums this year have been shockingly mediocre. 14 Shou ~The message~ makes for a nice compilation of Morning Musume's singles, but beyond two or three songs, there's not much else this album has to offer.

Three point five apples feels like the appropriate rating to give 14 Shou ~The message~. Unless you're an electropop fanatic, the album is more-or-less the usual electropop I've come to expect from the current Morning Musume. If I want to get my electropop fix, I think I'll go listen to Curumi Chronicle.

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