Once, in ages past the release of a Morning Musume album always came coupled with a changed line-up on its cover. The group is always evolving either for good or for bad. While other idol groups rise and fall, somehow Morning Musume finds ways of enduring, because of and sometimes in spite of their changing line-up (although I would be a fool to expect them to live on forever). Starting in 2007 this custom went by the wayside as we had three albums with a mostly stable line-up (the lone exception being Kusumi Koharu leaving in 2009). I mention this in an effort to illustrate why the release of this 12th album is so important. It’s the first for the 9th generation members, the first not to feature Kamei Eri, Junjun and Linlin, the last one with beloved leader Takahashi Ai and the last one before the 10th generation members get settled in. With so much tied to its release, it had better be a good one wouldn’t you say? I happen to think it is. And here’s why.
In many ways this album is a culmination of the three singles (included on this album) that went before it. A healthy blend of mature and genki, of quirky and serious. I’ve talked about those singles before and if you haven’t picked them up in some fashion (digital or physical), they alone would merit the purchase of this album if you find them at all to your liking.
Looking at the new songs, it’s interesting to see such variety among them. While Platinum 9 DISC was chaotic, and 10 MY ME and Fantasy! Juuichi were very uniform (allthough no less good, especially 10 My Me) this 12th album, despite the variety of song styles, does manage to fit together pretty well. I am reminded of what producer Tsunku said when the 9th generation members just joined, how he wanted to create a sort of “unbalanced balance” in the group. I can find no better way to describe this album than those prophetic words.
The first track Give me Love sounds like something straight out of the post-Nanchatte Renai “emo-Musumu” era. The synthetic violins are only the first indication of this. I honestly think you could switch any 2009-2010 single with this one and there would be no breach in style. It’s well executed in that typical emo-Musume fashion yet when I switch to listening to Silver no Udedokei I’m suddenly thrown back to the times of the 6th album. Honest to goodness Musume-rap the likes of which I haven’t heard since Dokusenyoku. I did not expect this song at all and newly appointed leader Niigaki Risa just steals the limelight here (and rightly so).
Next up we have Suki da na Kimi, yet another type of song I never would have expected on a Morning Musume album. It’s as if Tsunku took this Sayumi–Mizuki duet to Perfume’s and capsule’s Nakata Yasutaka and said: “hey, wanna do the arrangement on this song?” It’s electronic kawaii incarnate and Sayumi’s and Mizuki’s voices sound so well together. I think I’ve finally hit upon yet another reason why Fukumura Mizuki was added to this group (other than the potential for some kick-ass photobooks in the future): it’s to make other members sound better. Think about it: Sayumi clearly has a distinct voice but her vocal prowess unfortunately leaves a bit to be desired. Fukumura on the other hand can clearly sing yet has had some difficulty putting some passion behind her voice. Put them together and you have a match made in pink heaven. Everything about this song just makes so much sense. I hope we get to hear these two sing together many times more in the future.
Kaiketsu Positive A , My Way ~Joshikou Hanamichi~ and Otome no Timing fill clear roles: to offset the somewhat serious and electronically driven tone of the other album songs with a healthy dose of genki all the while giving the 9th generation members a chance to show off how they’ve improved in the last year. And improved they have. While especially Suzuki Kanon and Ikuta Erina still sound a bit rough to me, they are no longer the untrained hopefuls we saw back in their audition recording booths nearly a year ago. A lot of focus and control has been imparted upon them. Enough to lead a song? I’d say that would be a step too far, but they are improving. The rough edges (and the right rough edges) are being polished. I’ll also quickly mention Kono Ai wo Kasanete in this paragraph. It’s a Takahashi-Niigaki duet that fills the traditional ballad/slower song role. It’s not bad, but I didn’t really get into idol music for the slow songs.
The “pièce de resistance” however, the crown jewel of this album has to be OK YEAH!. It is by no means a perfect song. I find its ending to be abrupt and some of its electronic synth sounds go far too high. But the sheer feeling of awe that fills you, the badassery you feel when you crank up your speakers and listen to this song is uncomparable. When I heard the very first concert recording of this song, I described it as a tidal wave of electronic idol music roaring down on you, never letting up, never backing down and I’m so relieved the studio version holds up to the concert recordings. To those who have experienced this song in concert, I can honestly admit that I envy you immensely. What I’m Lucky girl was to Fantasy 11 and Moonlight night ~Tsukiyo no Ban da yo~ was to 10 My Me, OK YEAH! is to 12, Smart.
Suffice to say, I recommend this album. My opinion of it is hardly objective, I freely admit that, but I can’t help myself. 2011 has been such a year of change for Hello!-Project and the idol world in general, I’m glad to see that (to me at least) the music hasn’t suffered for it. As usual it’s available on CDJapan and iTunes. Get it. Really. Don’t miss out on this.