13 Colorful Character
Available on CD, CD/DVD, and on iTunes US and Japan
The past two-plus years have definitely been a prolific period for Morning Musume. 13 Colorful Character (Juusan Colorful Character) is the band’s fourteenth studio album overall (counting their 2008 cover album Cover You), and the fourth to be released in less than three years time. The band has been consistently delivering four-and-a-half to five star albums for most of their career, especially in the past five years, but given some of the circumstances the band went through in the past year, including adding four new members and losing two in the wake of the release of 12 Smart last year, it’s understandable if one fears the turnover of personnel could negatively affect the quality of the band’s music – especially considering that it hasn’t even been a year since 12 Smart was released. I had my own concerns given that Tsunku was basically throwing the four new tenth generation members into the mix rather quickly.
Quite personally, I don’t know why the hell I was doubting the guy. The four newest members, Haruna Iikubo, Ayumi Ishida, Masaki Sato, and Haruka Kudo, manage to gel nicely enough with veteran members Sayumi Michishige and Reina Tanaka and less recent additions Riho Sayashi, Mizuki Fukumura, Erina Ikuta and Kanon Suzuki, along with veteran members Risa Niigaki and Aika Mitsui on two previously released single cuts. [A point of reference for newcomers – in Japan, singles are usually released in advance of an album, rather than be chosen as singles to promote the album like in most other countries.]
As for the album itself, it’s almost literally a two-faced affair. The first half of the twelve-song album, sandwiched by both sides of the band’s recent gold-selling single “One – Two – Three / The Matanero Show” is heavily influenced by electronic dance music. And while I’m not one to be bitching about synthesisers and drum machines in any capacity, it’s not like Morning Musume to lean so heavily on one style of musical arrangement for any extended period of time on an album. On Colorful Character, one wonders if either Tsunku and the band were heavily influenced or inspired by the success of EDM superstars like Deadmau5 and Skrillex, or if simply band and producer alike felt that front-loading the first half of the album with songs similar in some aspect to their biggest hit in some time (that being “One – Two – Three”) was a wise move. This is not to imply that the first half of the album is a bunch of indistinguishable soundalikes. After “One – Two – Three” kicks off the album, “What’s Up? Ai Wa Dou Na No Yo~” dispels that notion almost immediately with some gospel-esque group harmonies followed by energetic chanting and then the group’s usual trademark vocals and a good amount of rapping as well.
“Be Alive” deceptively starts off with ballad-like pacing and a beautiful lead vocal from Reina Tanaka before slyly shifting gears into more uptempo territory.
“Lalala no Bibibi” is a solo feature for Sayumi Michishige, who trades in her breathy Janet Jacksonisms from the past couple of Morning Musume albums for an arrangement more suited to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (of “PONPONPON” fame), complete with some of her vocals being deliberately washed with AutoTune vocoder to fit in better with the all-electronic arrangement.
“Dokkan Cappricio” is the most frantic track of the album’s first half, with the girls being thrown into a happy-hardcore-style blender. For those not so appreciative of getting five heavily electronic dance-inspired songs in a row, “One-Two-Three”‘s B-side “The Matanero Show” proves to be the perfect bridge towards the second half of the album, giving the band a modernized Soul/R&B framework for the entire band, Reina Tanaka and Riho Sayashi especially, to shine on.
“Zero Kara Hajimari Seishun” brings the second half of the album into immediate focus, with piano, strings, and acoustic guitar presenting both band and listener with a close cousin to the band’s 2009 hit “Seishun Collection”.
“Renai Hunter”, a hit single from earlier in the band and the last single with Risa Niigaki and Aika Mitsui, definitely smacks of the MoMusu camp having been indulging in the music of Deadmau5 and Skrillex during their off-hours. Seriously, those dubstep-like bass synth drops switching off into steadier house music territory had to come from somewhere besides thin air…
The guitar-driven “Chiky? ga Naiteiru” is rather serious-sounding despite the uptempo beat and Adam & The Ants-meets-Public Enemy drumming. The song’s title translates to “The Earth Is Crying”, and the lyrics seem to hint at both the 2011 Japan Earthquake as well as the environmental concerns that have been addressed in past Morning Musume album tracks.
Reina Tanaka takes her turn at a solo feature with the mid-tempo “Namida Iiteki”. Reina has always been one of the band’s best vocalists, and with this track she puts in her best vocal work yet – presumably Reina has been listening to Adele like most everyone else over the past year and a half, and it shows here. Anyone that was to ask me why she’s my favorite member of my favorite band only has to hear tracks like this to realize why.
“Waratte! You” is a feature for the younger members of the band, all of whom hold their own very nicely on an arrangement not unlike many of Morning Musume’s classic early singles like “The Peace!” and “Manatsu no Kozen”.
“Pyoco Pyoco Ultra”, the band’s first single of 2012 and the penultimate single for Risa Niigaki and Aika Mitsui, was, I originally thought, a slightly weak way musically for the band’s year to start with it’s bubbly Devo-gone-cutesy background – something more befitting to Morning Musume’s younger sister group Berryz Koubou in their early days – compared to past season openers from the band like “Resonant Blue”, “Naichau Kamo”, and last year’s “Maji Desu Ka Ska”, but it’s definitely grown on me as time has gone by, and as an album closer, it’s perfect. Now if I could only get those silly baby-duck outfits they wore in the video out of my mind…
5 out of 5.
An audio version of this review will be aired on Groove Music Life Radio this Friday. The show starts, as always since it premiered last month, at 8:30 PM EST on Rok Out Radio. Listen in at rokoutradio.com, by searching for Rok Out Radio on the TuneIn app for iOS and Android, or through iTunes Radio (look under Alternative Rock to find Rok Out Radio).