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C-ute – Momoiro Sparkling

I’m a little confused by C-ute. Their last few singles have shown a move towards a more mature image, yet all of a sudden, they come out with fluffy, ubeat “Momoiro Sparkling“.

To be honest, from the reactions people were having to the song, I was expecting it to be a regression of the girls, but instead, I was nicely surprised. A bright, airy summer PV, traditional H!P backing vocals (it sounds like tsunku and Atsuko Inaba although as her contract with UFA has ended it probably isn’t) and… equal line distribution – in C-ute?! For me it’s always been a fact of life that C-ute was the Airi and Maimi show, but to see and hear so much of Nakky, Chisa and MaiMai is great!

As people have said, this single is a bit of a departure from their previous singles. Since Dance de BAKOON! C-ute have been pushing hard towards a sexier image, which really worked for them. But, although I can understand many fans’ disappointment, I’m glad that they can still put Maimai in some dungaree shorts, let the girls play with water-guns and inflatable balls and still pull it off. I think all the girls are wearing fantastic costume choices, and those killer heels still give all 5 girls an element of maturity. I especially love Chiasato in this PV. She’s really starting to stand out, in a very good way, in C-ute – and her hair and outfit are adorable.

For once, the main problem with this song isn’t the PV, the vocals, the balance or even the arrangement of the song. It’s that the song just isn’t very catchy. The chorus just doesn’t draw you in enough, there are no real hooks to the song, making the track forgettable.

Overall though, I love this PV, and the song does grow on you. H!P have seemed to perfect the “budget PV” (although I’d ask for your money back for those pink CGI bubbles) and regardless of making comparisons to other groups it’s a cracking effort from C-ute, going in a different direction to their usual one.

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C-ute – Campus Life ~ Umarete Kita Yokatta

It’s no big secret that C-ute aren’t really up there in my favourites out of the H!P groups – and not due to their own fault.  As I said when I reviewed their 5th album, they’ve had a pretty turbulent 2009, and had a “SHOCK”ing start to 2010 with one of their worst selling singles.

But lets wipe the slate clean, and look at Campus Life ~ Umarete Kita Yokatta (which translates into “Campus Life – I’m glad I was born”), a fresh new PV and track, which, although still Maimi and Airi dependent, gives the others a fair chance to actually sing some solo lines.  Excellent, you’ve taken a tip from the amazing Berryz Kobo, this is already looking good.  In fact, I read somewhere that the PV is more like a AKB48 PV and hence why some fans like it more – but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves yet – although the PV is a vast improvement, there’s still some way for C-ute to go.

The song is, for a start, is more in line with the style the group have been putting out with the album tracks of their 5th album – C-ute, less synths and a nice spread of vocals.  Okay, C-ute is always about Airi and Maimi, and they still have the leads, but it’s nice to see the other three gets a few lines.  Fast tempo and light-hearted, I wouldn’t exactly put it in the easy-listening category, but it’s a lot less inoffensive to the ears than some previous singles which have proved to be an accustomed taste in some cases (e.g. SHOCK and BYE BYE BYE).

Outdoor PVs are always a preference of mine as there’s no rough CGI on garish green/blue screens.  Once again, fans are drawing comparison to Morning Musume‘s “Shouganai Yumeoibito“, however, the carefree nature of it reminds me more of “Tomadachi ni tomodachi nan da yo!” by Berryz.  The dance segments also feature bizzare yet cute matching costumes which I love, as they don’t make the girls look loli, but keep them looking cute.  However, what really grabbed me about the PV, and gave me a lot more empathy for C-ute was the girls acting and messing about – being teenage girls – the sceen with MaiMai and Chisato playing catch is a particular favourite of mine – it’s nice to see a bit of personality in these H!P videos for once, rather than pouting (although from the looks of all the single covers, they’ve overdone it a bit there).

One quite irritating thing is the over-obvious product placement.  It looks like Apple have bought Hello! Project’s souls in exchange for a few iPhones, and I’m sure I’m seeing more obvious focus of that than anything else in the video.  However, if it gives the girls a bit more cash to put towards making slightly better PVs, I’ll put up with it.

The Verdict? C-ute are obviously back on a path which is more fitting for them after a few previous hick-ups.  The song is a vast improvement on quite a few of their previous singles, but whether it will pull their sales up is another thing.  There’s a lot of competition out there for idols at the moment, and wota only have so much money to spread about.  Although I like this single it’s not as catchy as I would have hoped, but hopefully it will sell a little more than SHOCK and give the girls a little more confidence.

Hello Project 2010 Poll

I absolutely adore ptom’s annual Hello! Blog poll, but this year has been the most difficult to choose.  No more elders, no more interesting solo members, no more Koharu!  The hardest members I found to rank were C-ute and S/mileage – I just don’t know enough about many of them to rank them highly.  So let’s have a look at the method to my rankling madness!

  1. Reina Tanka – really we don’t need much explanation here.  I love Reina’s style, her voice, and the amount of glitter she applies on tour.
  2. Lin Lin – My favourite vocalist of MM – and funny to boot!
  3. Jun Jun – Another form of MM comic relief!  I love her personality and confused faces she seems to pull in all her photos.
  4. Captain – favourite Berryz member.  Cutest Berryz member.
  5. Sayumi – Sayu for next MM leader.  Great personality and really carries the group in interviews.
  6. Risako – Loving her “can’t be arsed” attitude.  Can’t believe she’s the youngest Berry
  7. Chinami – Most beautiful Berryz member
  8. Yurina – Another favourite Berry for me!  Don’t know why.
  9. Risa – Gaki, your voice is getting better – not sure on the new hair but you’re still great.
  10. Ai – *yawn* she needs a solo career
  11. Maimi – Excellent solo on C-ute’s latest album.  Love her new hair.
  12. Airi – Voice of C-ute, although I know more about her from Buono!  Nothing dislikable 🙂
  13. Maasa – She’s cute and sweet 🙂
  14. Manoeri – Slightly boring songs now and then, but I will agree that she is the Ranka Lee of Hello! Project
  15. Eri – *yawn* your head is too big for your body, and you seem to have 0 personality
  16. Mai Mai – Love her from her days with Koharu in Kira Pika
  17. Momo – Fake cuteness annoys me
  18. Miyabi – get rid of those extensions and you’ll rank higher next year.
  19. Teeth of C-ute
  20. Someone from C-ute
  21. The one from S/mileage who wasn’t in Shugo Chara Egg
  22. The one who played Ayu in the stage play of Shugo Chara
  23. You have a mini hat, which is far better than a beret
  24. Beret yori mini-hat
  25. Aika – I find your facial expressions annoying, and you’re not cool enough to pull off that hair style

But more important, and my favourite feature this year is the band ranking:

  1. Berryz Kobo – this group have grown so much over the last year, and been given some brilliant singles.  This aside, they’re the group emitting the most charisma and Hello! Project energy at the moment.  Although they have a lot to compete with, in respect to the vast history which Morning Musume has, they also don’t have the expectations placed on them.
  2. Buono! – Taking three of the strongest Hello! Project kids and puting them into one super group, you can’t go wrong.  I love my music with a twist of rock to, so Buono! are really hitting the spot right now.
  3. Morning Musume – Are only third for one reason – their history.  I can’t think of Morning Musume without thinking about Love Machine, Kago-chan, Yossie, Gomaki, Mari-pi etc.  However their current format is really beginning to irritate me.
  4. Erina Mano – She breaks you down until you can’t do anything but like her.  ManoEri has had some pretty crap singles, and my favourite one (Love + Peace = Paradise) didn’t chart to well.  Still, she’s cute and likable, and hopefully will go far.
  5. C-ute – Suffering from loosing 2 members recently, C-ute’s only redeeming feature recently, for me, has been their album.  I think they need new members or to let their three backing dancers have a few more lines.
  6. Guardians4 – A few weak singles, a few strong ones.  Party Time was epicly deathloopable!
  7. S/mileage – I’ve only recently heard their single which sounds similar to a song from Rythm Paradise (their first indies single).  They haven’t caught my attention much yet, hopefully once they make their major debut they’ll catch my eye a little more.

So there we go!  I’m pretty sure there’s no surprises here.  The biggest change since last year is my love of Berryz and my increased love of Sayu,  Hey, maybe next year we’ll find S/mileage high up in my lists!  Let’s hope this year is just as interesting for Hello! Project as the last!

C-ute – Shocking 5

  1. EVERYDAY Zekkouchou!
  2. The Party!
  3. Aa! Koi (Airi Suzuki)
  4. Bye Bye Bye!
  5. Lonely girl’s night (Maimi Yajima)
  6. Kimi no Senpou (Saki Nakajima, Chisato Okai & Mai Hagiwara)
  7. SHOCK!
  8. Shigatsu Sengen
  9. “Zansho Omimai Moshiagemasu.” (Airi Suzuki)
  10. Yume ga aru kara
  11. Shochuu Omimai Moushiagemasu (H22 Remix)

Albums are a great time to reflect on the past and make future predictions.  In the case of C-ute, Shocking 5 marks the last original album which will contain Erika Umeda’s vocals, while Kanna Arihara will fade into non-existance as she failed to make any of the singles released by the group for this album, despite being a member during at least one of them.

EVERYDAY Zekkouchou! – I was quite surprised that this was the opening track from the album, but it actually fit quite well.  This track is rather soothing, yet upbeat, and sets the tone of the album.  I love the brass on this track, it gives it that added feel good factor.

The Party! – A pretty mellow track, sung in unison by the girls.  I’m still rather undiecided on how much I like it, the backing vocals are pretty decent for C-ute, and although the track is soothing, it is over-synthed to an extent.  A better arrangment could have possibly done this song justice, without the horrible schreeching in the background.

Aa! Koi (Airi Suzuki) – This track is truely bizzare.  It has really harsh electric guitars powering it through, and the vocals remind me of something pretty dated.  Airi does a gret job here, but put together, the track reminds me of something you’d hear on a 90’s anime character song single, or from a Sailor Moon musical.  Despite this, it’s actually quite fun, if only for the novelty.

Bye Bye Bye! – Erugh I hate this song.  It sounds like some bad 80s track and I’m not too keen on the vocals – everytime I hear this, I think of the dance off scene from American Pie: The Wedding.  I’ll give it that it’s a bit “zany” in the warping of the vocals, but it’s not a track I can listen to too much.

Lonely girl’s night (Maimi Yajima) – This is one of the few recent tracks which reminds me of the old Hello! Project.  Beautifully arranged with a great strings section, Maimi’s voice – although not the best in C-ute, does well on this track.  What spoils it – THOSE GOD DAMN SYNTHS!  This song would sound absolutly esquisit if it lost the scratchy synths on the chorus.  Despite this, this is my favourite track on the album.

Kimi no Senpou (Saki Nakajima, Chisato Okai & Mai Hagiwara) – Oh how kind, the three C-ute backing dancers get a track to share.  It’s pretty fun, even if it is oh-so-typically Hello! Project.  It’s a cute, enjoyable track, a bit catchy, a bit Country Musume – but it works for me.

SHOCK! – This song sounds a bit like the James Bond theme gone wrong.  It isn’t a great track and reminds me far too much of Forever Love (maybe the spy theme).  Is this track as bad as everyone’s making out?  Well I think it would have been a half decent album track – maybe – too many synths for me… and we all know what I think of them.

Shigatsu Sengen – Another mellow album track.  Doesn’t do much for me, but it’s easy listening, contains a rocking guitar, and non-offence in every way.  Fits in with the other album tracks pretty well!

“Zansho Omimai Moshiagemasu.” (Airi Suzuki) – Another Airi solo?  Well why not!  This was the b-side to “Shochuu Omimai Moushiagemasu”, and is pure b-side material.  Although I like the musical arrangement and love the piano, it’s non-descript.  I don’t think Airi, yet, has the vocal prowess to really pull this track off.  I could imagine Nacchi or Ayaya – even Lin Lin or Ai, being able to give this track a lot more feeling and depth.

Yume ga aru kara – Another group singing effort, and a nice ballad to end the album with.  Beautiful arrangement, the girls sound great singing together in unison.  When C-ute produce something as wonderful as this, you wonder why they have been given some completly appualing songs to release as singles.  Is that really what the public want – I’d much rather this.

Shochuu Omimai Moushiagemasu (H22 Remix) – I never expect much from remixes, but this was actually great.  Very unpredictable – takes you from 8 bit music back into thudding J-Core type beats.  Would not recommend death looping as it might drive insane, but I love this!

If you were reading the track by track version, you could sum up what I said as “album tracks good, singles bad, too many synths” – but there’s also some underlying factors in my biased judgement.  My efforts to keep up with C-ute and their music recently have more than waned.  I felt they haven’t really produced an “enthralling” single since LALALA Shiawase no Uta, nor does the format of C-ute (Aira + Mami constant lead) really work me up into a frenzy.  I don’t dislike them, don’t get me wrong, I just dislike the music their given.  From the spate of dancy singles they’ve been given, I was fully expecting this album to be bursting with synths, and holding appualing tracks.

In fact, the main shock about shocking 5 is what easy listening it is, a lack of marmite (love them or hate them) tracks with the exception of the singles, the album tracks are all pretty melow and laid back, less synthy.  This instantly confused me, surely SHOCKING 5 was going to be full of god awful tracks like BYE BYE BYE and SHOCK? – what is this music with real instruments – what are these ballads – does tsunku know about this?!?!?!

The un-shocking thing is what we knew beforehand – who was singing which track.  Although most tracks are “group” efforts (which are mainly led by Maimi and / or Airi) while Maimi and Airi feature their own solo tracks, Mai, Chisato and Saki have only one track to share between them.  Unfair?  Well, no, it just solidifies what we already new about C-ute’s music really.  I know that I will get murdered for this, but I don’t think Maimi or Airi have enough power in their voices at current to be successful solo artists, nor do they have a great ability of emotional singing.

Despite this, the album is a cracking effort.  Although it may not have been received so great by the mainstream (if we’re talking about sales), it was really great to hear ballads from C-ute.  I think the girls have a lot of potential, and I’d love to hear more from MaiMai and the other two, but obviously the album after a year of instability was not the place to start taking chances.

So my overall impression?  I thought this album was a little premature for the group before listening to it.  I was expecting a number of flakey tracks, which hadn’t been properly thought out, much like SHOCK was.  Instead, I was nicely surprised by the album.  It showed a side of C-ute that a minor fan, such as myself, who only listens to singles and albums, gets to see.  Is this an album a statement of where C-ute want to go?  This year Hello! Project will have more competition within itself with S/mileage most likely making their debut – there will be 5 major acts now.  C-ute needed to make a statement of who they are, and just as Berryz are taking the fun, energetic route, C-ute are trying to do something mellow and relaxed, but with a push of maturity which maybe ManoEri lacks in her music.  With a little refinment, I think they’ll make it there.  In the mean time, let’s hope they stop releasing awful singles, as we know what they’re capable of!

Album Count-Down 2010!

I’m actually stunned at the number of albums coming out over the next few months.  Considering that albums sell worse than singles, and all 4 major Hello! Project acts had at least one album last year, it’s a bit of a shock.  Not only are C-ute, Buono! and the over-due Berryz Kobo releasing new, original albums, Morning Musume are also bringing us fresh material (well I won’t complain – we had to wait two years before!).

As well as H!P releases, there are two nice additions – Melon Kinenbi’s new album which features last year’s collaboration singles, and talento Ai Kago is also releasing an (overdue?) album.  What’s exactly happened to Kago-chan since last summer is slightly mysterious, so I’m quite interested in hearing what her music, as one single isn’t much to go by – so, in order of release, let’s start the great album countdown of 2010.

Buono! – We Are Buono!

I’d be lying if I said I was excited about this album, albiet that I’ve heard and really enjoyed some of their earlier album tracks before: Buono! seem to have lost a lot of that momentum they previously had.  Also the novelty of a sub-unit has rubbed off a bit, as they’ve been overshadowed by the revival of previous shuffles in 2009, as well as Guardians4 pushing for the lime-light.  With falling sales and a lack of mainstream excitement, it’s easy to over look that they are still a powerful group within Hello! Project – containing three of the most talented singers that came out of H!P kids.  Although they’re my, (do I dare to say it) favourite sub group ever to come out of Hello! Project – it would be nice to see them grow out of that Shugo Chara persona and evolve into a more mature group.  As the girls are now getting older, I could even see a V-U-DEN style working with them (there!  I said it!  I’m aghast with myself). 

However, with some cracking singles on this album (such as Bravo Bravo and My Boy), I’m sure many fans will have already pre-ordered this!  I’m hoping to find something a bit more fresh on this album.

Anticipation: Moderate
Expectation: High
Release Date: 3rd February

Melon Kinenbi – Melon’s Not Dead

Even the name of this album makes me smile!  It seems that this group, who were severely underused and underrated toward the end of the Elder Club era of Hello! Project have become pretty cool again.  Dropping out of Hello! Project and that idol image enabled them to release some awesome collaboration singles with rock bands in 2009.  Their new album features of all their collaboration singles which were released limited edition at Tower Records stores, plus new tracks, and a new collaboration with the BEAT CRUSADERS.  Although I doubt Melon’s will ever achieve the type of main stream success and recognition that some of their Elder Club colleagues had, it’s nice to see that they’re still active, and that they’re taking an approach they seem to want to.  This was a must for me from the release date!

Also, the album art… well it’s pretty crazy, and I’m not sure I exactly rate the stripy dresses the girls are wearing, but at the same time, I think it gets across the pop-rock persona of Melon’s pretty well!  It’s pretty interesting, and a lot better than the usual pouting idol shots we get on front covers.

Anticipation: High
Expectation: High
Release Date: 17th February

C-ute – Shocking 5

After what many fans called a terrible album last year, C-ute are back with their 5th original album, containing singles  BYE BYE BYE, EVERYDAY Zekkouchou!! and a remix of Shochuu Omimai Moshiagemasu as well as SHOCK.  C-ute haven’t been faring too well lately, and personally, I have always ranked them below Berryz for their lack of ability to push any singer forward other and Airi or Maimi – I also haven’t heard a really catchy track since “LALALA Shiawase no uta” – which is very disappointing, considering some of their indie tracks are more addictive than current singles.  Apparently there are two Airi solo’s on the album as well (I think fans are including SHOCK as one of them) – maybe C-ute fans are more forgiving as there are less of them – but if any Momusu member attempted that on an album these days, I think there’d be murders!

C-ute have reached a very criticle time as a group however – with 2 members leaving in a year and no replacements to be seen, this album and the success of various tracks could be what will pave the future of C-ute – whether it be continue to push Airi and Maimi in the mainstream singles, or to let the other three girls have a go.  At the same time, this album will mark the end of an era, containing the last singles with vocals from Kanna and Erika.

Anticipation: Low
Expectations: Moderate
Release Date: 24th February

Guardians4 feat. ShugoChara Egg & Buono! – Shugo Chara Album (Title Unknown)

Well this is a turn up for the books.  I’m not exactly sure what this album entails, but from the extract posted on H!O’s twitter feed, it looks like it has all the Guardian4 singles, the Shugo Chara Egg singles and b-sides and “Minna Daisuki” and “Kokoro no Tamago” by Buono! – no new material it seems?  Maybe I’m wrong, my Japanese reading is atrocious.  So would I buy it?  To be quite frank, out of all the new albums coming out, it wouldn’t be at the top of my list, but certainly something I’m considering taking up at a later date.  I’m interested in seeing the full track listing first though, as it looks more like a single collection of the less-rocky openings and endings for Shugo! Chara.

Anticipation: Low
Expectations: Moderate
Release Date: March 10th

Morning Musume – 10 My Me

It almost seems to quick for Morning Musume to be releasing another album, following relatively poor sales of the previous Platinum 9 Disc just last year.  I’m quite unsure what to expect from this album to be perfectly honest, and assuming it will be holding their three previous singles and Onna ga medatte naze ikenai which will be released in February.  Anticipating the album tracks is usually the most fun thing about these albums – there’s usually got to be a “kick ass” song on there which will be used as an opener, like SONGS, Genki+ or How do you like Japan?.  Following this, there’s usually a mish mash of ballads, fun pop and a bit of RnB.

But theres also the part of me that has seen Morning Musume pushing their die hard fans away for the mainstream.  All the reports I’ve heard of the relatively low sales at concert (although that could be more dependant on Hello! Project as a whole), may mean that this album could keep closer to the mainstream moody RnB and ballads.  A lack of fun concert songs like Guru Guru jump would really upset me, but the way things are going with Hello! Project, and the need to keep Morning Musume alive – it may be a necessity, if only just to keep the album in the top 20.

Then again, the name “10 My me” sounds a little more idolish than previous single titles, maybe it’s actually going to be an album which gives a bit more hope back to fans that Morning Musume haven’t reverted into a band more a-kin to their early singles.  To be quite honest however, as long as there’s not another Sayumi solo, I can’t see much I would dislike about this album in general.

Anticipation:  High
Expectations: Moderate
Release Date: 17th March

Ai Kago – Album Untitled

After remaining quiet for a while, Ai Kago has reemerged.  The first 6 months of last year seemed to be pretty busy for her, and I’ve made various comments left, right and centre about my feelings on that.  Her repeated scandal made me loose, near-enough, all intrest in her, until her single No Hesitation came out.  I began to gain a little respect for her, which was nice, as I’ve always, pre-2009, been fully supportive of Aibon, and felt that she had been let down buy UFA, her management and the people around her.  Based on her previous single, there’s little we can really place on expectations, but hopefully, her vocals may be slightly stronger than before.  Nothing more to do than wait and see here!

Expectations: None
Anticipation: Moderate
Release Date: March 24th

Berryz Kobu – 6th Otakebi

Really?  This is really Berryz 6th album – somehow the number 6th seems an epoch longer than the distance between 4th and 5th – but still – congratulations Berryz – you’re tying with Ayaya now with the most number of original albums released for a group in Hello! Project – and let’s be honest, you’re never going to surpass Morning Musume.  Enough of the waffle, this is the last in the 2 month album spree – and another one I’m looking forward too.  Obviously, the cards are still being held close about what will be on this album, other than an Inazuma 11 tie in song – but I’m hopping to see most songs from their double a-side bonanzer (I’m also hoping to see Dakishmete Dakishimete on there – one can always hope!).  All of their single of 2010 impressed me, not only in the bands ability to perform them, but it almost seemed as if tsunku had recreated a the golden era Morning Musume type songs in both style and arrangement.  It’s just a shame this music isn’t as popular as it used to be.

Berryz had a brilliant year in 2009, and to me, are still well in front of C-ute in many ways.  I feel they’re coming of age and really hope they can push forward more with 2010 – they’re singing the songs I want Morning Musume to sing, while their vocals are all becoming stronger!  They were my favourite H!P act of 2009, and sadly, I still don’t even own one of their albums!  This will change however, as it’s going right on my pre-order list.  I’m not too sure what to expect from the album tracks – I haven’t really paid attention to Berryz album tracks before… hopefully this will enlighten and surprise me.

Expectations: High
Anticipation: High
Release Date: 30th March