Saturday, 28 April 2018

Here Lies A Damn Good Album - A Look At '℃maj9' by ℃-ute (Album Review)

In their 9th major studio album release - and their last original album overall - ℃-ute are ready to impress me with their vocal prowess and undeniable chemistry. They're also going to set the bar for any other albums I review very. Damn. High, and ruin other groups for me here on out.

It's time to check out ℃maj9, people. Get your earphones at the ready~


There is a little bit of background as to why this review happened, and it goes a little like this: One day on Facebook, I decided to make a post asking friends to list me their top one or two albums from Hello! Project, with the hopes to eventually review whichever album was mentioned most once my blog re-awakened. I did this both for a desire to know which albums people genuinely liked, and to perhaps find something new to listen to. Admittedly, I also wanted to review something that I might enjoy, I just didn't know what I could write about.

That, and I wanted to try out a few more albums. I have a tendency to ignore these types of releases - especially from the groups I follow - as disappointment in what I hear is a given due to the copious amounts of single songs vs. new tracks on studio releases. It more annoying than anything and leaves me with a distaste for albums. However, I would like to challenge this view, and I am starting it here.

In regards to the response to my post, it was favourable, much to my surprise. A lot of my friends posted their favourite albums and their corresponding covers, giving me some varied response on what people considered their favourites or even the 'best' of the bunch from all of the albums that H!P has to offer fans. Quite a few had repeat mentions (4th , Aya Matsuura Aya Best 1), but none compared to ℃maj9. It had around - if not exactly - 12 votes, making it the album that I would review for you all today. So here we are.

Thankfully this is an album I haven't heard, so all new tracks sans Iron Heart will be a surprise,  with the hopes that each song will be somewhat pleasant. Because it's ℃-ute though, I anticipate only the best. Still, let's pray that these girls and their composers don't let me down.

For everyone who listed their favourite albums - and for those who mentioned this one specifically - thank you! This review's for all of you, and I hope that you enjoy.

℃maj9

Release Date: December 23rd, 2015
Editions Available: 3 (Regular / Limited A / Limited B)

Track List:
  1. ℃maj9
  2. Iron Heart (アイアンハート)
  3. Otoko to Onna to Forever (男と女とForever)
  4. Jounetsu Ecstasy (情熱エクスタシー)
  5. DIGITALIC →0 (LOVE) (デジタリック→0 (LOVE))
  6. Urayanjau (羨んじゃう)
  7. Yokaze no Message (夜風のMessage)
  8. Tokai no Hitorigurashi (都会の一人暮らし)
  9. Aitte Motto Zanshin (愛ってもっと斬新)
  10. Kokoro no Sakebi wo Uta ni Shitemita (心の叫びを歌にしてみた)
  11. Love take it all
  12. The Power
  13. Kanashiki Heaven (Single Version)  (悲しきヘブン (Single Version))
  14. I miss you
  15. THE FUTURE
  16. The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~ (The Middle Management~女性中間管理職~)
  17. Tsugi no Kado wo Magare (次の角を曲がれ)
  18. Gamusha LIFE (我武者LIFE)
  19. ℃maj9 (Reprise)
  20. Arigatou ~Mugen no Yell~ (tofubeats remix) (ありがとう~無限のエール~ (tofubeats remix)) (Regular Edition Bonus Track)
℃maj9
- Album Review -

1. ℃maj9

More than anything, I'm surprised that an opening sequence like this is included in ℃-ute's album. Though it's not uncommon to include a short opening track in an album, this seems like the type of thing H!P wouldn't do, especially to this kind of quality. It's only a small sample of what's to come , yet it was completely unexpected (in the best way possible).

Sung completely in an acapella style, we are introduced right away to the talents of ℃-ute as they sing together in harmony, demonstrating not only their vocal prowess, but their strength as a group. ℃-ute are completely unified here, their vocals beautifully layered together but never drowning one another out. You can hear each members vocals clearly when alone and together, and though Airi undoubtedly carries this tune more beautifully than the others, I can't deny how impressed I am by each of them - they all sound incredible.

It's 38 seconds long - standard for an album intro - but it's a lot of fun, a nice surprise, and pretty impressive. It was an unexpected surprise, one that I am glad to have heard. We've only just started, but with such a promising premise, I can't help but feel excited to hear the rest of the album!

2. Iron Heart

If an Intro track was weird for a Hello! Pro album, then here's something even stranger from this album: a leading track that comes with a music video. It's something that just isn't done within Hello! Project for any given reason (budget, maybe? Or they just don't care about promotion), however ℃-ute changed that here, and it was honestly a nice change of pace to see this video come out when it did.

And yes, I remember when it came out. I recall some hullabaloo in the Western fandom about it being a live performance with a studio track tacked on top, but I also remember that a lot of people loved the song, my sister being one of them.

Well, I get it: this is a great song, and whilst I haven't listened to it that much since it first came out, I feel as happy as I did when I first heard it. Iron Heart isn't an incredible song, don't get me wrong, but it definitely fits this image of perseverance and unity that ℃-ute represented throughout their time as idols. It's a pivotal song in their career, one that showcases their talents and unbreakable spirit whilst also giving us something that feels not only powerful, but youthful.


In regards to the video, there really isn't much in terms of variety in editing or location. It's not flashy, it's not extravagant, but it's heartfelt and beautiful in so many ways. Can't you feel the fun they're having, the love they share with one another? It's a gorgeous display of friendship, energy and delight, and ℃-ute truly shine on stage as they perform this song with unbridled passion.

It's a really spirited, sweet performance, with the bridge making it that much more heartfelt. I cried the first time I saw that scene where ℃-ute sat together, showcasing their unity and friendship. It's a bond that very few groups can claim to have these days, but it's evident in ℃-ute's performance from start to finish, and it is that friendship, their energy and their clear passion and joy for performing that makes this video so incredible to watch.

Iron Heart may not be a strong track - I have a feeling there are stronger, more memorable tracks on this release - but it's a cute, heartfelt opening that displays the feelings of ℃-ute and their unbreakable bond, and I wouldn't have begun this album any other way.

A truly enjoyable track that lifts my spirits. I can't fathom why anyone might dislike this song.

3. Otoko to Onna to Forever

The second this opened, my mind went right to murder mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, cat thieves and all those fun things. Well, that's because this song feels very blues inspired, maybe a little bit noir, thanks to its beautiful jazz sound. It's smooth and charismatic and damn, it's pretty sexy, too.

I feel like the cherry on top of the cake is Okai's opening here, making the song that little bit more appealing to me. With her husky vocals, Chisato truly encompasses an image of maturity and sass as she sings along, creating an air of mystery and allure that the others - sans Airi - lack here. Of course everyone sings well here, but it's fairly obvious from the get-go that this was supposed to be an Okai-heavy song, and damn, it suits her so well! I am honestly impressed.

Admittedly, I didn't expect such a drastic change in tone or style right after the energetic, cute style of Iron Heart, but let's be real: Otoko to Onna to Forever really switches it up and gives us something a lot more exciting that not only displays the groups variety in sound, but their maturity, too. It's a sound that's new to them, something they hadn't tackled previously in any leading tracks, and thankfully it's a style that really compliments their vocals and image.

Also, I could honestly see this song being played in an upscale lounge. It has an upperclass quality about it, and reminds me heavily of cigars and trilby hats, liquor and glittering dresses. The image is strong, and I would love to see this performed with a live band.

Otoko to Onna to Forever is a femme fatal track, if every there was one. It's a sexy, smooth sound that is oddly satisfying, and a lot more tantalising for those seeking something with a little more bite. What can I say other than: I'm impressed.

4. Jounetsu Ecstasy

This song is a beat and a half, and it honestly makes me want to dance to it. And after finding out that this is the Nakky-centric track, I can't help but think 'no wonder', because she was the dance Queen of ℃-ute. And yes, this song really suits her.

High in energy, fist-pumping and heart pounding, Jounetsu Ecstasy would be the perfect concert song thanks to its rush of adrenaline. It really brings up an image of energy and coolness thanks to its sound, and delivers a lot of drive and power in its performance. It doesn't feel like a studio recording, actually - I feel like I'm in a concert setting. It's actually incredible how vivid and alive this song is, and the imagery it creates.

I feel like there is a lot to like about this song - the surge of energy, the joy it holds, the inclusion of fan cries in the background, the incredibly catchy instrumental - and I am honestly impressed by every second of this. I'm having a lot of fun listening to Jounetsu Ecstasy, and honestly, this could be my favourite song on the entire album. It's just so overpowering and entertaining.

This is a song I would love to hear live, and I feel like this would be a fan-favourite for a lot of people, too. It's just incredibly catchy, and yet again, it fits this image of cool and mature ℃-ute. The fact it panders to their dance skills also helps, too.

Long story short: It's incredible, and Airi's solo at the end killed it. I love that bridge, too, and urge all of you to listen to it if you haven't already, and to hear it once more if you already have. Go on. You know you want to~

5. DIGITALIC →0 (LOVE)

First and foremost: Why does this sound like a tired, wasted old Morning Musume track? More specifically, why does it sound like a crap variant of Ren'ai Hunter? Because that's saddening, that someone would rip off a decent song to create... well, this.

Not to say it's bad, but it's definitely disappointing in a way, especially when they filled it with the horrible thing that H!P like to call 'autotune'. Sad to say, this song is simply a product of its era, and it really does show it's year and what H!P was extremely fond of at this point. Still, it's not the worst I have heard - it's actually quite catchy, and I do find myself enjoying it. I'm just very put off by the amount of 'autotune' thrown into this.

To further my disappointment, this is the MaiMai-centric track, which slightly annoys me, too. I know that Mai isn't the best singer - the worst in ℃-ute at this point - but it's a little disheartening to hear her voice layered over and over again in this metallic, distorted way. I know, I know - the other members are subject to this torment, too, but given this is the MaiMai track, you immediately know it's made this way because it's MaiMai, and that no one had faith in her singing abilities to make it work. And yeah, it ticks me off.

Anyway, getting back on track. This song is not detestable. In fact, it's really catchy and enjoyable, and features a lot of layering and whispers that are really fun and unique. I love how fun the overall track is, delivering this metallic, sci-fi feel that would befit a club scene. I could totally see the members having a blast singing this, and I could see fans enjoying it at a concert filled with flashing lights.

It's not a lost cause, because despite the terrible autotune gig H!P did on this track, they at least salvaged it by not subjecting it to whatever treatment they did to MoMusu's songs way back when. Sure, DIGITALIC →0 (LOVE) feels like it's more experimental than anything, and it was definitely snatched from MoMusu's vault of crap tracks, but it's a lot of fun as well, at the end of the day.

Disappointing, but a hell of a lot of fun, too. It might make you hate yourself for liking it, though, because that's how I feel at this point. Guilty. Dirty. Yet having fun hearing it.

Okay, time to cleanse my soul. Next track, maestro!

6. Urayanjau

Next up is the Airi-heavy track, and unlike the others before it, this features about 90% Airi, and 10% everyone else. Where the others seemed fairly decent in line distribution (despite having different leads), this one definitely takes liberties in dishing out the Airi solo's, but honestly, why are we surprised at this point? Airi's the leading lady of the group, and let's be real: she's a great singer.

Honestly, I'm not mad - ℃-ute have actually delivered more in terms of fair line distribution than any other groups album at this point (sans Juice=Juice, I'd wager), so to finally have a fairly heavy Airi track six songs in is impressive, by H!P standards. So, yeah. Not mad at all.

Anyways, the track itself - why does it sound like a weird mix of K-pop and American street music? It's an odd, but strangely satisfying, twist of sounds, a mixture that works really well for the members of ℃-ute and Airi herself. It's upbeat, energetic, fun and holds a hint of cuteness that makes you want to smile. It also sounds really unique, and I honestly want to find out who made this gem of a song, because it is - thus far - one of the 'original' sounding tracks on this entire album, next to the delightful Otoko to Onna to Forever.

Honestly, whoever did Urayanjau and Otoko to Onna to Forever needs to return to H!P and give their sounds to the other groups, because these two songs are divine, unique, and a flavour that is desperately needed against the mix of vanilla and nope that H!P dishes out sometimes.

Urayanjau is a great track, one that makes you want to clap and sing along, and it sounds incredible. It's a beautiful display of ℃-ute's flexibility in style and tone, and only furthers my interest in this album. I'm invested thanks to the variety in sound, and impressed by this display of unique sounds in this beautiful blend of songs.

It's a great song, one of the best in the original song selection, and Yasushi Watanabe is a genius composer. Bring him back to H!P, please!

7. Yokaze no Message

From the get-go, I anticipated this song would be a ballad. And whaddaya know, it's a power ballad lead by Maimi, so I'm happy. It's really pretty as well, full of emotion and power that only ℃-ute could provide at this point in Hello! Project. Incredibly, this song is not only emotive in voice, but instrumental as well. The powerful display feels different to other H!P ballads, making it yet another unique track to the company in general. It's so nice to hear this amount of effort being thrown into an album.

All of the members sound incredible here, with Airi standing out especially. I know it's Maimi's lead track, but I can't deny who stands out in this, and who steals the show, but in general, they all sound good, with the ballad complimenting their vocals individually and when unified. Yet again, this album features music that displays ℃-ute's amazing ability to switch genres and styles without trouble or strain. It's incredible.

Because  it's a ballad, there's not a lot I can comment on in terms of its energy or fun-factor - ballads are rarely a mixed bag, so I'll leave it at this: It's a beautifully textured song, one which evokes powerful emotions and conveys a beautiful image of someone delivering a message to the winds. Yokaze no Message is a gorgeous track, and though a lot of people might pass on it for its ballad qualities, I feel like it should be given a chance. It's a gem, worth the listen, and a beautiful display of this groups talent and efforts. Hear it out at least once, and see how you feel after the initial listen.

8. Tokai no Hitorigurashi

And now we come to A-side territory, which creates the bulk of this album. Mostly padding at this point, these songs simply serve to remind us of the previous tracks ℃-ute released, but honestly, I'm not mad. After all, it's ℃-ute, and they're the one group that refuse to rehash as much as the others. For that, I'm thankful.

So, onto Tokai no Hitorigurashi. This was the groups second and final release of 2013, and only furthered peoples interest in the group. Though the song itself isn't the strongest, the imagery displayed and the colourful nature of the song piqued the interest of fans. Catchy, a little bit cute and very energetic, this song is a ball of fun, and it's also one of my favourites from the group in recent years. I go back to it a lot, and I just love how flavourful it is in sound, and how energetic the instrumental and vocals are.

And then there's the music video.


I won't deny that the video is better than the song, because it is. Finally showing off their editing skills, H!P went through a weirdly fascinating experimental period with ℃-ute, using their videos and songs as templates for quirky edits, jazzy cuts and snippets of effects that would be used in future PV's for other groups. Well, this is where it seemingly began, with H!P showcasing fast edits that matched the pace and tone of the song beautifully, whilst also delivering colour and energy that didn't slow down the imagery or the song itself.

It's an incredible display of effects and editing, and still one of the best I have seen from H!P since they started doing this kind of thing. It's truly entertaining, delivering an interactive feel tthat relies on the members' movement and the flow of the song.

Tokai no Hitorigurashi is great, both in sound and in image, and it's still one of my favourite ℃-ute tracks to this day. I can't fault it. Likeable, catchy, fun and bright, this is a music video for lovers of energy, display and pretty imagery. But if you don't like it... Why Not?

9. Aitte Motto Zanshin

I honestly don't remember this track, and I hardly remember the MV itself, though I think it had a pretty powerful reaction from the fans when it was released. I'm unsure why, because upon starting this track... well, I'm not keen, at least with the opening verse. It just doesn't feel that exciting as a song at the get go.

The chorus, however, is more up my alley. It's a little more cute mixed with cool, creating a really fun and entertaining sound that, admittedly, derails a bit from the verses. They're different, and though it's not completely jarring, it's a little bit weird as well.

Essentially: I dislike the verse, but I really like the chorus. It's catchy and cute, but the verse is quite boring to me and feels try-hard. In sound it's cool, but once that chorus hits I forget what the verse even sounds like, and I can't relate to it at all. It just doesn't work for me, and that's that.



Looking back at the video, I kind of remember it, though the choreography is something I must have blanked. I really do like it, though, because both the style of the song, the location, the lighting and editing are a stark contrast to Tokai no Hitorigurashi, which this song was paired with when released. It's grungy, a little bit hardcore, and focuses more on the choreography and a fast editing style. it's erratic, and that is so damn appealing to me.

Also, those costumes are incredible. I love how military they feel, and the way everyone's hair is styled is just incredible. Each member looks amazing, and pairing their looks with this dark and dismal setting, hardcore editing and interesting camera angles was a good call.

Aitte Motto Zanshin's music video yet again displays H!P's prowess in video editing, delivering sharp yet jaunty edits, interesting camera angles and beautiful framing. I love the various locations used in this one building, the change in lighting for each member, and how everyone showcases a powerful solo choreography, and an even more erratic dance when together. It is intoxicating as a video, and the members look like they're having a blast whilst still showing off their cool side.

The video is incredible, but the song itself is a pass from me, aside from the chorus. I love ℃-ute and their sound, but this time around, Aitte Motto Zanshin is a little bit of a dud, and I get why I never returned to it as a song. It's kinda crap.

The video, however, is good. How could I forget this beautiful display of erratic, grungy joy?

10. Kokoro no Sakebi wo Uta ni Shitemita

I remember that this song was a pretty big hit when it came out, or am I just imagining it? I'm unsure, but regardless, I like this song. I actually remember it pretty well, considering it's been a fair while since I last heard it, and the video is one I remember fondly as well. It's a damn pretty video, too, and returns to that whole H!P editing delight thing that's bee prominent since around 2013.

The song itself is cute, though I don't think it's anything special. More than anything, it's a fun track that is memorable, catchy and fitting for the mature image that ℃-ute were conveying. The members all sound beautiful, the song has a lovely mid-tempo beat, and it's an easy listen that people could really get into. I actually feel like this would be a great walking or jogging song.



The video is, of course, one of the highlights of this track. It's a beautifully orchestrated piece, featuring the members of ℃-ute posing as mannequins before coming to life and dancing, whilst also including some nice scenes of them walking, drinking or writing, delivering a little bit of realism to the MV. One of the most obvious efforts is of course the grainy, sepia overlay used for those alternative shots, creating a nice contrast between the real variants and the mannequins.

Kokoro no Sakebi wo Uta ni Shitemita is another well-made song and music video, and though the video itself has a slight Perfume vibe, it's still enjoyable and shows off the maturity and prettiness of ℃-ute. I won't go as far to say that it's the best song and video they've ever produced, but it's entertaining enough, and the simple but delightful editing used as well as the members' expressions create for a memorable, sweet music video that allows us to see just how grown up the members are, and how far the group has come.

11. Love take it all

Here's another one I barely remember, though it might have been because I was consumed by Kokoro no Sakebi. Or, I just didn't like it, and looking back at it now, I just can't help but think about how dull this opening verse is, and how the song lacks some sort of flare. Even the video isn't that exciting, though there are some nice close up shots thrown in there.

It's honestly just not my cup of tea, and yeah, I get why I forgot about it.



The video itself isn't that incredible, though it features some nice panning shots, and the choreography itself feels a lot more fun than the song itself. The costumes are, of course, really not my flavour of tea, however I appreciate the club vibe they are creating here with this dance track, and the lighting really works in favour of the outfits and the style of the song, but I still can't get my head around it.

There are some nice uses of colour and editing here, though, and I do give H!P props for making something simple look decent. They didn't really go as far as they could have, but yeah, they still did a good job. It just doesn't appeal to me.

Love take it all doesn't seem to work for me in general, but I will say this: the girls sound incredible, and they look and sound like their having a blast. If anything, I can always count on our beloved ℃-ute to bring their all in any song and PV. They're a constant delight.

12. The Power

The Power is another song I can't recall, but it's one I like. High in energy, fun in sound and delightful in execution, this is one of those songs that would work well in a summer track list, and wouldn't sound amiss if you paired it with Koi no Dance Site, Cha Cha Sing or Morning Curry. It's not as silly as any of those songs, mind, but it definitely has the spirit and heat that those tracks deliver.

It's a ball of fun, and though it's not as powerful as its sound might suggest, you will still adore it for how quirky and different it is against a lot of tracks that ℃-ute has brought out during their career. It has flare, and it's yet another track that shows off H!P's and Tsunku's love for cultural sounds.

The Power as a track is honestly a blast, and I can't fathom why I haven't returned to it recently. It's a damn bop, and I just love how it sounds!




Now the video is something I recall, though not as vividly as I'd like. I remember thinking that at times, it felt a little small in scale, and that impression lasts to this day. The location used isn't that big, however you can see that the members make use of it. Plus, who cares how big it is? It's fairly clear from the get-go that the location fits the style of the music, creating this bright, summery setting that is perfect for the song. I feel excited just looking at the video and its set. It's really beautiful, and again, very fitting.

Of course, this video also marks the return of some heavy editing on H!P's part. With the mandala prints taking up a chunk of the alternative shots, we are given some impressive editing from the editing faculty of H!P HQ, creating a fun, energetic and unique approach to the video. It feels like another universe, and I am absolutely floored by it. Plus, looking back, I'm reminded of the editing techniques used in Mugen Climax. Though not explicitly similar, the styles are familiar enough, and I can't help but feel that this practice was used later on for Mugen Climax.

It looks pretty, and it must have taken a while to do, but i applaud H!P on their efforts. It looks amazing, and really ties the music video together.

I could say a lot more about the video - the focus, the framing, depth of field, etc. - but I'll leave that for now. I really do like this song and PV though, and so far, it's one of my favourites from the single tracks on this album, aside from Tokai no Hitorigurashi, that is. It's energetic, entertaining, and beautifully edited. I really can't fault The Power at all.

13. Kanashiki Heaven (Single Version)

Now here is a song I remember fondly, and let's be real - you all remember it, too. This is the song that really struck a chord with fans to a point where it was re-done for a single release. Originally a b-side track for the single Aitai Aitai Aitai na released back in 2012, Kanashiki Heaven became so popular during concerts that producers realised it needed to come back, this time as a Double A-side track. This time, however, they included the rest of the members as background dancers and chorus vocals, instead of keeping it as an Airi-Chissa display.

I mean, it's still only Airi-Chissa centric, but it's nice that they included everyone else, I suppose? It's a little like SHOCK! in its approach to lines, but as it was a duet on a coupling track beforehand, it's no surprise they kept it like this. After all, it's the power duo that is Airi and Chisato that really gripped the fans, as well as the general tone and style of the song.

And yeah, it's an incredible song. A little reminiscent of Maji Bomber in the chorus, tis song is energetic, powerful and strong. It's a bloody beautiful track, one of the best this group has created since their incarnation, and an incredible display of both Airi and Chisato's talents as singers. These two really compliment each other, with Airi's pure voice bringing out the best in Okai's rougher vocal style. It's a breathtaking display, and yeah, I get why this song returned in single form. It's kick-ass, and I absolutely adore it!




The video is a wonderful display, too. A stark contrast to the original PV for the b-side, we move away from a simplified music video to something a little more interesting. Featuring roaming camera shots, long shots of each member, locations in and outdoors and some monochromatic outfits, we're given an aesthetically stylish display that is fast in pace and blue in tone. The lighting perfectly matches the mood, the locations are glorious, and the girls look incredible. Airi and Chisato especially look like they are having a blast, and in turn, so are we.

The inclusion of the pole dancing choreography is quite different, but also shows off that maturity of the members once again, as well as their prowess in dancing. It's something that few groups would dare to tackle, but the suggestive scenes truly fit the style of the song, and create an image that is sexier and more explicit than any we have seen before. It's a fun little snippet, and it works well for the video.

Kanashiki Heaven has a gorgeous music video, and the song in its updated format is glorious. With its rumba-style strums in that flare up throughout the instrumental, this song feels exotic and exciting, sexy and mature. It's one of the groups best creations yet, and one of my favourites. A beautiful display of talent, and an incredible display of yet another style that ℃-ute have conquered. How anyone could hate this song will be a mystery, because it's just too damn good.

It's heaven, and it's going to be replayed until I get sick of it.

14. I miss you

I don't recall I miss you that much, but from the get-go, it seems like a solid song. A bit more down-tempo than anticipated, but it works quite well as a song, and the opening verse is really interesting in terms of its texture and sound. With a layered and almost rough sound, the verse feels as if it's been distorted a little until finally, Maimi breaks up the distressed vocals with a crisp, clean solo line. It's jarring actually, but it works in a haunting, almost otherworldly way.

I can't help but shake this feeling that the song is a little ghostly, with the clear, crisp vocals bringing us back into reality when we need to be pulled away from the strangely edited vocals. I don't think the instrumental helps with this feeling, either. The melody is a little more sombre than what we're used to, once again bringing me to the thought that this is yet another wonderful display of ℃-ute's maturity, a running theme in this review.

Another thought that strikes me with this song is that perhaps this was the prototype for Mugen Climax. It encompasses that sad, lonely feel in its instrumental, making it seem almost Gothic at times despite its electronic sound. The inclusion of the members adding subtle du-du lines during clearer solo lines is also really interesting, and only adds more texture to the track.

This is an interesting track, if anything, and it keeps me wanting more. I wouldn't call this my typical flavour of sound, but this one does things that are unique and interesting. The sound is enticing in a cold, detached way, and the vocals are beautiful yet lonely. This is a unique display, and it's glorious in a weird, scary way almost.




I miss you's corresponding music video is just as intriguing. Shot with three different cameras - each scene done in one take - we see the members roam the rooms and halls of a manor house before coming together to dance. There are times their scenes overlap and pass one another, but it never disrupts the course the members are on. I really applaud the members' efforts, as well as the camera crews, because one-shot takes are never easy to organise, and one little mistake can ruin the process entirely. So, kudos to the director and their crew, and ℃-ute themselves here.

Yes, there are still some edits that are obvious breaks from the cameras themselves, but otherwise, it does look clean and well done. I really like the video, and I think the efforts put into creating this created something beautiful. It works well with the song, and it looks wonderful.

I like I miss you, but I won't lie and say I will remember it. It's one of those fleeting fancies, I think, and despite how good the track is and how much it intrigues me, I know I won't return to it any time soon. Still, it's a good listen, and I love how haunting and Gothic it feels. It's so similar to Mugen Climax, and it's a beautiful display of what H!P can do when they try and make a genuine, good song.

It's beautiful, and it kind of freaks me out a little with its sound, but nonetheless, I enjoy it. I just wish it was the kind of song I would return to more often.

15. THE FUTURE

I remember very little about this song, other than the amazing ZA FUTURE! line that the members sing during the chorus. It's one of my favourite lines that I remember frequently, despite the song itself being one of many that I have forgotten. Luckily, I get to refresh my memory, and I really do hope the song lives up to my expectations, given that I remember that title line ever so fondly.

And from the get go, I suddenly remember it. This is a fun song! How in the heck did I forget it? This is the type of song I'd actually return to a lot, because it's a little bit weird in its instrumental, but really fun as well. Plus, it reminds me of Pink Ladies for some reason. Maybe it's the costumes. Maybe it's the space vibe I get from this song. Either way, I really dig it thus far. It's energetic, fun, and it feels like it'd be a lot of fun to dance to!

There's a lot of adrenaline in this song, and I'm really enjoying how it plays out. The vocals are incredible - what's new? - and the members seem to be having a blast with it. It's a whole lot of fun, and I love how the song flows together beautifully. It also has some nice effects on the vocals, effects that I can't complain about because they fit so well with the song. It really does sound incredible.

Again... How could I forget about this one? It's amazing!




Now the video is one I never paid attention to. I believe I saw those costumes, and I went the other way. Sometimes my shallowness gets the better of me, but right now, I am kicking myself, because firstly: Those costumes are hella cute, if a tad silver. Second, this video is awesome! Featuring some nice contrasting imagery - happy, dance heavy ℃-ute vs. static and dismal ℃-ute - this video plays nicely with the lyrics of the song, featuring a struggle of the mind as the members try to break free from an invisible force, but can't. The girls are in a standstill and are of two minds - to stay, or go.

There is also a nice bit of duality happening here, representing their thoughts beautifully. Looking into the shattered glass, the members thoughts about staying or going fleshes out this idea that they don't know what to do. Furthermore, the broken mirror itself represents that lyric 'Break it. Break it. Break it yourself', and is a really powerful image that shows the fragility of the situation and their own minds.

I actually want to go a little more in depth about this video - there's a lot to take in, from the way everything is framed to the whole broken mirrors theme - but this is an album review, I don't have time. Still, it's a really effective music video, and one I am absolutely kicking myself over now that I have realised I neglected something so powerful and thought provoking. It's a really interesting glimpse into something deeper, and I love it. So, yeah. I need to think about reviewing this one at some point all by itself.

As a whole though, THE FUTURE is really interesting. By no means is it unique to H!P, but it's certainly fun and different to some of the sounds the group had produced by this point. For such a happy, energetic sounding song, the message it conveys is serious, maybe even a little dark. I like that contrast it creates in both sound and lyrics. It has an edge to it, certainly, but I love its catchy sound and its upbeat nature, and yeah, it's a memorable track for the most part. I just need to listen to it more.

And yeah, I need to review this PV. It's too good to pass up on taking a look at!

16. The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~

Oh, good grief, I have to listen to this song again... well, better pull of the band aid and get on with it, because yeah, it won't get any easier, no matter what. I just hope that after ignoring it for however many years since its release, it gets a little easier to listen to.

... Pray for me?

It's no secret that I don't care for this song, in fact, I really didn't like it upon release. Even the video left me with something to desire, disappointing me greatly when I first viewed it. That said, because of how good the other two songs are, it made sense that ℃-ute's first triple A-side would have one shit song, and it was this.

Well, not shit, per say. But definitely not good.

There are some interesting sounds in this, and I love its opening, however the overuse of autotune and the butchering of Mai's lines thanks to the heavy editing is just unappealing, creating a very unattractive sound that feels like it should have been scrapped. It's also just a bit of a confusing song, trying to be upbeat yet serious in its tone, only to never find a good middle ground to bridge that feeling of seriousness or the sound of energy.

Also, sad to say, but I think MaiMai's obvious boredom in this tones down the song. I guess at this point she wanted out of the group, or she just didn't like the song. Either way, her vocals - n0 matter how heavily they are edited - show her lack of enthusiasm for the song, and yes, that brings it down quite a lot. Sad, but true.

Basically, it's not a good song, though it has some redeeming qualities. Namely, Chisato, Nakky and select parts of the instrumental.




Now, the video. Good grief, this video is brown, and oddly, it matches my feelings towards this song in general. Muddy, unappealing, and dull. There's little life in this, though it's intentional - this song is about the thankless and dull daily life of an office lady who is tired with work and the crap she gets. Now, I like that. I like that the video is relevant to the text, and that it works in line with the song, but I also don't like how plain and vanilla the entire thing is, either.

I get it, though: it's plain because it's meant to be as dull as the life that the lyrics portray, and it doesn't deviate from that dullness throughout, if you don't count the choreography. It's a glimpse into the mindset of a bitter office lady who wants to be youthful and in love, and live an exciting life, and yeah, it's a great idea, and played out to perfection... but i want more exciting camera angles. I don't just want a really cool choreography to spice this up.

I appreciate what the editors and director did to create a really dull video that doesn't stimulate the mind, but again... stimulation. I need it.

This is where Shuukatsu Sensation did it right, aye?

So, yeah... a crap song, and a dull video. They really do fit perfectly together, but for me, this one is a no go. I like the song more than I did when I first heard it, however, it's just not good. It goes back to a lot of the old faux pas that H!P went through during their 'colourful' era, and is just a strong, solid nope from me.

It's horrible, and I am honestly glad to be rid of it (again).

17. Tsugi no Kado wo Magare

Do you remember how crazy we went for this? Like, the entire fandom went absolutely crazy for Tsugi no Kado wo Magare because it was fresh, a zing that hit us all and didn't leave. Everyone was mesmirised, and suddenly, we were all aware of the talents of Nakajima Takui and the doors that had opened after Tsunku left H!P. It was one of the first singles released that didn't have his signature on all three songs, and it was the first to really allow us to see just what kind of music we could have if H!P continued to branch out.

And yes, it was glorious.

I adore Tsugi no Kado wo Magare, and I still think highly of it even now. It's such a powerful, gripping song that hooks the listener and keeps you interested. There is passion and drive, the members themselves are truly invested in the lyrics, and it feels like we are listening to artists, not idols. When I first heard this, I realised then that ℃-ute had branched away from 'idol' to 'artist', and it shook me. It shook me hard.

I feel like this is one of the defining moments of the groups career, not only because it's from their 10th anniversary single, but because the group had truly grown into women at this point. They understood themselves and became true performers, and in all aspects, they showcased just how good they are at performing. No one is a weak link here, they all look and sound mesmirising, and they're all showing their dominance as the Queens of J-pop.

I feel that the lyrics do play a huge role in this as well, because they're rather reflective of the groups career as a whole. It feels personalised (though they weren't, amazingly), so the members can respond to them in a more meaningful way, something that they couldn't exactly do in Middle Management. It's a far more personal display, and you can see that the members each react to it with honesty and confidence.




The video is beautiful. Simple in its execution and technique, but beautiful all the same. There's a lot of walking shots here, as well as your standard choreography and solo scenes, all of which look fantastic thanks to the lighting and whoever styled the members. I love Chisato's hair especially, but the clothing, the makeup and everything really does look amazing, and I applaud the wardrobe department for not mucking it up.

I think that some of the more memorable moments are the solo shots, if anything. We see the expressions of the members, the blue lighting behind them, as well as them dancing solo and showcasing their skills. They all look amazing, too, and the panning shots only enhance the beauty we see and the expressions they deliver. These scenes just intrigue me, because they feel honest and personal, and the members give it their all when performing. Of course, I love the black and white shots, too; those are nicely handled, and add a spot of style to the video.

Everything looks incredible, actually. I really can't fault this PV, because despite its simplicity, they made it work incredibly well with the song. This power and simple editing style mesh together really well, creating something that brings out the true beauty of the song. Nothing ruins it, and I'm glad they didn't heap on effect after effect to try and ring home a message, when the message is as clear as day already.

A fabulous song, and a beautiful music video. I love it, so what more can I add?

18. Gamusha LIFE

Did I cry when I first heard and saw this? Most likely. I mean, it's such a pure and beautiful song, and it represents the hardships of ℃-ute during their 10 year journey as an idol group. With meaningful lyrics, and a simple but cute video to match, this song is all about the path an idol takes, the determination to stay on that path, and the changes they have gone through to become the people they are today.

It's emotional. It's sweet. And yes, it's a message we've all sobbed to, because ℃-ute are an inspiration, and they have given us so much joy since their beginning, and it's this song that expresses their gratitude for the career they chose and the support they have had for all the years they were together.

... And now I want to cry again, Crud muffins.

I love this song and how it came to be. I love that SHOCK EYE didn't know anything about ℃-ute, yet researched the group and its history in order to create such a beautiful and meaningful song. I love that this is the song that represents the group in its 10 years history, and that it perfectly reflects their thoughts and feelings. It's a beautiful song, and whilst it might not be the most original in its sound, it's a sound that is so idol, it's almost too perfect for the situation. After all, these girls came into this world as youthful, vibrant idols with the hopes and dreams of being as recognised and adored as Morning Musume, so to have a 10th anniversary song sound like your typical idol track feels right, and reminds us of the energy, the youth and the dreams these girls held so many years ago.

It's right, and it's perfect. I adore this track.




The video is, as I have said, simple. Featuring a graffiti backdrop that adorns the groups name as well as the member names - including former members - the girls express their gratitude and memories in song. Alternative shots feature a more professional approach to the group, showcasing the girls psyching themselves up as they would before a concert, creating a nice contrast against the graffiti scenes, which are a lot more personal, and showcase the girls' friendship with one another.

Aside from their expressions and how they interact with one another, very little goes on here, but from the colours used and the path that the members walk down in the alternative shots, we get this image of a group who have had a colourful journey, one that they will continue despite being a group for so long. They reflect on the hardships, but also the good times that brought colour into their life, and it's these experiences that are splashed onto the wall behind them, on the very road that they are journeying down together. It's incredibly symbolic, these two things, despite how simple it seems at first.

Gamusha LIFE is incredibly meaningful in both sound and vision, and it's beautiful in so many ways. This song truly marks the decade long run of ℃-ute, and it does it in such a beautiful, heartfelt way. I love this song. I love this PV. I love everything about Gamusha LIFE, and watching it even a year after ℃-ute's disbandment, I still feel the happiness and emotion I did back when it was first released.

19. ℃maj9 (Reprise)

We come back to ℃maj9, the penultimate track on the Regular edition track list, and a nice little farewell to the album.

This time, the acoustic, harmonised song is a lot slower, with a little 'thank you!' thrown in at the end to close the album. It's pretty, it's a nice little touch, and again, something I don't expect from H!P, because they're generally far too lazy to give us something to this quality for an album. that said, given how long this album is - 19 tracks on the Limited release, 20 on the regular - it makes a lot of sense to give it this much focus, care and attention. So, I'm glad they included both the opening and ending for this.

A nice touch that will not go amiss, I assure you.

20. Arigatou ~Mugen no Yell~ (tofubeats remix)


I admit, I don't listen to this track that often. In fact, I have a feeling I heard it once and forgot about it. Likewise, I seldom listen to tofubeats remixes, however, this is really pretty, so I might have to eat my words and give both the original song, and any other tofubeats remixes, a try. I mean, this is seriously pretty.

Arigatou ~Mugen no Yell~ was released in October 2015, a few months before ℃maj9 came out, so it makes sense why the song doesn't have a prominent feature on the release. That, and it'd make the album far longer than it already is, but it's nice that it was included in its remixed form here, especially when you consider how high the single sold.

I do like this remixed form, but honestly, I like most ballads - even the retuned ones, it seems - so I feel like it comes as no surprise that I would enjoy this track. And, given how this is technically the final song of them all, it's a nice send-off for ℃maj9 and the journey I experienced whilst listening to it. Is it as good as the original? No, but I appreciate the efforts put into this track, and I like that it's here.

It's a cute re-do, and the effects are nicely done, but this ballad is pretty in its original form. Still, give this one a listen, and enjoy the difference. It's worth a try, right?

To Conclude

It honestly feels like this is one of the better planned albums, with Hello! Project not only placing the songs effectively, but also including a wide array of sounds and styles that not only feel fresh amongst the A-side tracks, but unique as well. To say I am impressed with this album though would be an understatement, because I have never heard something quite like it.

Firstly, I love that whoever organised this album, did so in a way that allowed us to hear the new tracks first. That doesn't happen with H!P - or any artist in general - because typically, new songs are thrown amongst the older ones, meaning that fans have to dig through crap or sub-par A-sides to try and find decent, new tracks that will barely see the light of day after the promotional concert is finished with the songs. Yet here, the new songs are all on the top, giving us easy access to the tracks we want to hear first and foremost, before finally delving into the older songs that you've heard already.

I like that. I like that there was some thought put into this, and I like that we can skip the older songs if we feel like it, and experience the new, undiscovered gems in uninterrupted pleasure. Sadly, Hello! Pro haven't followed this course of action with other albums, so it's safe to say their experimental phase in albums ended with ℃-ute.

Of course, having the other A-side tracks is wonderful, because it's allowed me to revisit some that I haven't heard since their release, whilst also allowing me to discover the music videos all over again. That said, there is a hefty amount of A-sides here as well, and whilst a majority of them are enjoyable and songs I want to revisit in the future, these very songs make up a bulk of the release, something I am less than impressed with. I say this because, ever since H!P cut away coupling tracks, there is very little extra content in releases these days, so to see that most of this album is comprised of A-sides - 12 songs versus the 6 new ones, not including ℃maj9's intro-outro duo - feels a little disappointing. However, 6 new songs, plus the intro and outro, is a lot more than I expected. A typical album will include two or three new tracks (not including remixes), with the rest being leading songs and b-sides from previously released singles.

I can't be mad at this album, though, because despite how many A-sides it includes, it's still an impressive array of songs that excite and intrigue me. I love the mixture of sounds and styles here, how varied and unique ℃-ute's sound is against other Hello! Project groups. Even their A-sides are different to one another, no two sounding the same. If this was Morning Musume, all the A-sides would have sounded similar at one point or another, and the only saving grace would have been the new tracks. Thankfully, the entire album that is ℃maj9 is glorious from start to finish, and I truly enjoy it.

As always, please do determine for yourself whether or not this album is worth it. Personally, I find it delightful, a perfect representation of ℃-ute's vocal abilities and their talents as a group in general. There are various styles and tones thrown in here, and different editing techniques that work really with the group in a good chunk of their songs. It's an impressive display, and only reinforces my idea that this group has the reigning Queens of J-pop within it, past and present.

Songs to Note: 3. Otoko to Onna to Forever, 6. Urayanjau, 15. THE FUTURE
Songs to Avoid: 9. Aitte Motto Zanshin, 11. Love take it all, 16. The Middle Management

ALBUM RATING:


(gif made and sent by a friend. It's quite apt, I think xD)

Here lies a compilation of three years' worth of tracks by ℃-ute. All of them are incredible in their own way, and there are very few duds. No wonder people suggested I review this one.

What are your thoughts on the album, and which song did you enjoy the most out of the new and old tracks? If you don't like the album, can you let me know why, and open me up to more ideas and possibilities regarding the song. Also, please feel free to comment and talk to me! I would love to hear your thoughts on anything, whether it's about this album, the group, or other Idols in general!

And now it's time to go. Thank you very much for reading and sitting through this long review, and also for being here. I am grateful to you all, and hope to see you again soon. Take care everyone, and love your idols!

Until then,
Chiima~

2 comments:

  1. Great review! I'm eagerly waiting for your thoughts on Airi's solo debut =D

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    1. Thank you very much! Once I listen to it I'll be sure to dive into her debut properly! :D

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