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Melon Kinenbi – Melon’s Not Dead

The ironically titled final original album from Melon’s Kinenbi features their 2009 collaborations with various rock bands, as well as a few new rock tracks.

  1.  Melon Kinenbi no Theme (Rock Ver.)
  2. DON’T SAY GOOD-BYE (Melon Kinenbi x BEAT CRUSADERS)
  3. Pinch wa Chance Baka ni Narouze! (Album Ver.) (Melon Kinenbi x NEW ROTE’KA)
  4. sweet suicide summer story (Melon Kinenbi x Midori)
  5. Seishun-on-the-Road  (Melon Kinenbi x THE COLLECTORS)
  6. Melon Tea (Melon Kinenbi x GOING UNDER GROUND)
  7. Romantic wo Tsukinukero ~Break it now~
  8. ALL AROUND ROCK
  9. Ai da! Ima Sugu ROCK ON!
  10. ALWAYS LOVE YOU (Melon Kinenbi x BEAT CRUSADERS)

Whenever I think of Melon Kinenbi, I think of how they went out of Hello! Project – absolutely on fire, singing “This is Unmei“.  The crowd were jumping, the girls were rocking it out, and the Wonderful Hearts were probably wetting themselves knowing that they would have to follow in their footsteps. 

Out of all the ex-Hello! Project members, Melon Kinenbi have made the largest advance with their music in the last year, and rather than going out with a dull swan song, have opted to go out with rockin’ fireworks.  The album features collaborations with some of Japan’s finest indie bands as well as the BEAT CRUSADERS who are known by wota and otaku alike for their misuse of the English language.  It’s hard also to believe, that for such a prolific band within Hello! Project, this is only their third original full album, which probably tells us more about us H!P fans disoriented look on popular Japanese music than anything.

1. Melon Kinenbi no Theme – mixes quite heavy old school rock with the kind of 60s rock’n’roll type.  Instrumental.

2. DON’T SAY GOOD-BYE (w/ BEAT CRUSADERS) – a la BEAT CRUSADERs pop-rock style, this is a pretty awesome track.  Fast paced, energetic and littered with English, the girls split lines evenly and do a group chorus.

3. Pinch wa Chance Baka ni Narouze! (w/ NEW ROTE’KA) – Another energetic track, I’ve never heard of NEW ROTE’KA before but they look a little mental.  There’s lots of shouting, screaming and chanting from MK on this track – excellent!

4. sweet suicide summer story (w/ Midori) Wow you don’t see many – former or current – H!P acts with song titles like this.  Lots of weird guitar riffs and weird piano playing – the song almost sounds out of tune in places (vocals and all!).

5. Seishun-on-the-Road (w/ THE COLLECTORS) – This is the kind of chilled out track we need to slot in the middle of the album.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still rockin’, and I love the contrast of the male-band members voice against MK’s in the chorus.

6. Melon Tea (w/ GOING UNDER GROUND) – I thought they were singing “Melody” to start with in the chorus (hence why I should check the name of the song I’m listening to every now and then).  The chill-out of the previous track is dissolved and replaced with a faster tempo and funky guitar riffs.

7. Romantic wo Tsukinukero – “Samishii, samishii samishii kono kimochi” – I love this part of the chorus for some inexplicable reason.  Another really, really fun track and the first one where MK aren’t relying on another band.  There’s more of their clever vocals in this track than their previous ones, and you really feel the girls supporting each other better with backing vocals.  It’s also probably the most familiar sounding track in terms of relating back to their previous works.

8. ALL AROUND ROCK – This is a bit of a freaky song, it reminds me a bit of those weird rock songs with organs (“Rock Lobster” anyone?).  Once again we get those boisterous Melon’s vocals in it!

9. Ai da!  Ima Sugu ROCK ON! – Just in case you didn’t get that this was a rock inspired album, here’s another song with the word “rock” in the title. More energy, more Melons, more, more!

10. ALWAYS LOVE YOU (w/ BEAT CRUSADERS) – Probably my least favourite track, because it sounds slightly out of tune in places.  It’s not a bad track however, and a go finale to the album.

 So what’s the overall verdict? From the outlook, the album doesn’t seem to be that thoughtful, in fact it looks more like someone has put all the singles one-after-the-other and added a number of new tracks to the end.  The surprising factor is how well the album plays through, and manages to maintain balance.  One of the best features of this album is actually having some male vocals other than Tsunku‘s.  A lot of the bands who do add the MK’s flawless voices add an extra dimension to the song and pull them away from sounding like they’re falling back into the idol trap.  I’ve always prefered MK doing this rock-style music, and they’ve chosen tracks which suit them down to a “t”.

The other great thing is how many different styles of rock the girls leap around from.  Okay they’re mainly staying in the safety genre of pop-rock, but you’d never hear something as bizarre as “sweet suicide summer story” or as angry and energetic as “Pinch wa Chance Baka ni Narouze!” coming out of their elegant idol mouths usually.  This album also isn’t here to demonstrate vocal technicalities or to show off in any particular way.  It isn’t full of ballads which bore us and waste our time – it’s fun, and that’s all there is to it, and I like that it’s such an unassuming album.

The hardest thing I’ve found with writing about this album is to treat it as an idol album, because quite frankly, it’s not.  It’s grimy, it’s indie, it’s more sub-culture than the rest of those idols, and the novelty is just one of the mainly appealing factors of it!  But here’s where the problem with the sales, the quality and the originality of this album rest: although undoubtedly unique and mouth-wateringly refreshing this album is to us Hello! Project fans, to the mainstream, it’s the same old cobble of girl-rock to mainstream Japan, except instead of bouncy teenagers we have 4 women pushing 30 who can sing considerably better. Problematic?  Well, at least it gives more of an insight into some of the reasons behind their disbanding.

However, MELON’S NOT DEAD is probably the most fitting departure to the group.  It has more expression and freedom within it than any, past or present, Hello! Project artist has ever been allowed.  Also, for someone like myself, who grew up on a healthy diet of rock, spent most of my teenage years going to local or mainstream rock concerts, this album is a lot easier for me to relate to.

So listening to this album is a must for any fans of Melon Kinenbi or music in general, but one thing this album is not, is a Hello! Project album.

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Happy Graduation Anniversary

I almost forgot what today was, and what I thought to myself I’d do a year ago – HAPPY GRADUATION ANNIVERSARY ELDER’S CLUB.

But more to a point, a year on, we can reflect what the graduation was for the elders club.  Beforehand, I’d say there were 3 main theories to why Hello! Project graduated all it’s older members:

  1. Credit crunch time – get rid of the old idols who aren’t doing much and promote the hell out of the younger money makers.
  2. Elders’ had had enough – a la Maki Goto, the Hello! Project wasn’t very accommodating to new styles they wanted to try
  3. Nothing changes – graduating the elders was a mutual decision to generate a lot of cash for H!P and UFA and let the girls develope their careers further.

From the looks of things a year on, the theory that proved correct seems to be 3 – although the decision also seems to be more in UFA’s favour, as they have retained the majority of the graduated elders as well as being able to milk the Wonderful Hearts for what it’s worth.  But who have the real winners and losers been?  Well at least in my eyes…

Congratulation, you are a winner!

Ranking…

1. Mari Yaguchi

Mari Yaguchi is the overall winner in all of this.  Since graduating (well a few days before) she released a solo track, has released 2 joint singles (one of which she was lead singer).  She seems to have the highest profile of all the Elders Club.  Congratulations Mari, less control by UFA on your career and more popularity and success.  You even got to sing the theme tune to your favourite anime series – for an otaku, it can’t get much better than that!

2. Yossie & Charmy (AKA HANGRY & ANGRY)

The anti-twin 4th generation double act.   A trip to the US last year, an album and an impending tour, and that’s even before we mention stage plays, Ongaku Gatas and solo events.  Yossie and Charmy should actually be #1, but there still seems to be a lot of control over these 2 unlike Mari – and if HANGRY & ANGRY wasn’t such a marketing gimmick they would have made it.

3. Melon Kinenbi

Despite the fact that they’re breaking up, Melon Kinenbi had the best year last year for an act outside of Hello! Project, from my perspective.  They got to release awesome singles and an awesome album, it’s just too bad they wanted to go into an ultra competitive field of girl-rock from pop.  They seemed to make the most use of the freedom which not being a Hello! Project member gave them.

4. Mai Satoda

Mai is probably the most famous non-Morning Musume in Japan at the moment.  She’s kept a high public profile by appearing on Hexagon and by releasing a number of singles through them, which have all charted much higher than Country Musume ever did.  Saying this – this was all going on before she graduated.  Has the graduation made much difference to Mai – probably not!  But she’s still a winner.

5. Nozomi Tsuji

When Tsuji announced she was married and pregnant, a lot of people thew in the towel.  However, she has fought through it all by her uber-popular blog, and her baby clothing range (which looks adorable).  Tsuji, we salute you!

And the 3 losers are…

In no order…

Aya Matsuura

Despite having a tour last year, and although she’s taking a break right now, Ayaya seems to have completely fallen off of my radar.  Her small “outburst” of jealousy at Gomaki’s album was also duly noted.  I really hope she does bring out more material, but maturing into elegant songstress from a strange face pulling idol is not the easiest transition.  Also, next time, don’t let the hairdresser put a bowl on your head and cut around it…

V-U-DEN (minus Rika)

What are they doing now?  I’ve seen the one with big boobs on a variety show, and I follow her on twitter, but the other 1 is… er….  Well to be fair, V-U-DEN had disbanded before the graduation… somewhat.  Oh well, at least they will be forever remembered through Zoku V-U-DEN.

T&C Bomber

Nice come back girls – Inaba was back MCing concerts every now and then before she ended her contract with UFA.  I reckon UFA was able to sell about 4 more albums from your reunion.  At least I don’t have to watch them dance anymore at concerts, it was painful.

And the three to look out for…

Ranking…

1. Koharu Kusumi

Because of the way graduations now work, she has left Morning Musume but is still a OG and managed by UFA.  Koharu’s still appearing in Oha Star and has got that modelling career to think about, and is the OG we’ve definitely we’re watching out for the most at the moment.

2. Asami Konno

 Smartest OG (the only one to have attended university?), and broke history when she rejoined the Hello! Project.  Is currently rumored to be becoming a TV reporter.  Watch out Japan!

3.  Miki Fujimoto

Now happily married to the guy she got kicked out of Morning Musume for dating (and he also ironicly had a better selling single than her last), Mikitty has been quiet for too long.  Surely she wont fade into non-existence as a talento?  You’re going to do something more Mikitty… aren’t you?  AREN’T YOU?

And so this concludes the ramblings.  Hopefully next year, we can recap again – maybe by then Yaguchi will be running for priminister of Japan?  Mikitty will be having a solo career to rival… hmmm… Maki Goto?  And er… Ayaya will have pulled herself together and got a better hair cut.  Let’s wait and see!

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

Melon Kinenbi and BEAT CRUSADERS collab!

Melon KinenbiMelon Kinenbi have announced on their blog that they will have 5 rock collaboration singles, released consecutively from the 24th of June.  Their first single will feature the BEAT CRUSADERS.  However, I understand that release will be limited to certain outlets (Tower Records if I’m not mistaken).

I never really discussed much about how I felt about the Elder Club Graduating back in April from the Hello! Project – at the time when it was originally announced, I was deeply upset, but, I also understood that although a lot of my favourite acts would no longer share the same stage, it would give many of the girls a chance to break away from the constrictive Hello! Project image.

We all knew that Morning Musume OG weren’t going to suffer to badly from the EC graduation, but two acts I really hoped wouldn’t disappear into oblivion and would hopefully become more successful were Aya Matsuura, who’s popularity is waining despite having what was the best vocals in the Hello! Project and Melon Kinenbi, another set of excellent vocalists, but like so many other talents in the Hello! Project, became more notable for becoming back up dancers.

Despite this, I think Melons are some of the best performers Hello! Project had, in context of energy, getting the crowd going.  In fact it was really the live DVDs released this winter of the Elder Club and Graduation concerts which made me realise what big talents Ayaya and Melons are, and how sorely they’ll be missed by their Hello! Project fans.

And to justify my choice of Ayaya as best Hello! Project vocalist, listen to this mic recording of “Chocolate Damashi” – when you think of the mic hacks people get of Koharu, Saiyumi and even sometimes Reina and Ai, it puts the current Morning Musume line up to shame – albeit she was only singing three consecutive songs and Chocolate Damashi didn’t really have an energetic routine.

Hello Project! – Petit Best 9

l_p1012362180As Hello! Project seem to be sinking into a deep abyss, how does this years “Petit Best” selection sum up their year musically.  From Morning Musume to Melon Kinenbi to MilkyWay the best of H!P is pushed onto this CD.

1. Resonant Blue (Morning Musume)
2. Genghis Khan (Berryz Koubou)
3. Edo No Temari II (℃-ute)
4. 16 Sai no Koi Nante (Natsumi Abe and Mami Yajima(℃-ute))
5. Kizuna (Aya Matsuura)
6. Nannimo Iwazuni I LOVE YOU (V-U-DEN)
7. Charisma Kiirei (Melon Kinenbi)
8. Papancake (Tsukishima Karin starring Koharu Kusumi (Morning Musume))
9. Anataboshi (MilkyWay)
10. Seihun! Love Lunch (Atena & Robikerotsu)
11. Come Together (Ongaku Gatas)
12. C\C (Cinderela Complex) (High King)
13. Renai Rider (Buono!)
14. Koerou! Rakuten Eagles ( ℃-ute)
15. LALALA Shiawase no Uta (Wonderful Hearts)
16. Oki Tegami (Miki Fujimoto)
17. Hana Ichimonme (Aya Matsuura)

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