2017 marks an important anniversary – it is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Morning Musume. While the group has had many iterations, 13 generations of members, name changes and both waxing and waning popularity over the years, 20 years is a major achievement for a group. This is especially notable given Morning Musume’s recent resurgence in popularity – while Morning Musume has been around for almost 20 years, I can’t see it going away any time soon.
To commemorate this I’ve decided to review all of the main Morning Musume albums through 2017, First Time through 14 Shou ~The Message~ or any Morning Musume album that comes out this year. I won’t be covering the two best of albums nor the updated album. The main goal will be to see just how Morning Musume has evolved over these 20 years.
Rainbow 7 is a weird album for me, personally. It’s after the peak of my Morning Musume interest, as an Ishikawa Rika fan, has passed, but before the first album I was aware of coming out, Platinum 9 Disc. It’s in a weird transitional period that honestly lasted quite a few years – the only member left who has any real ties to the golden era is Yoshizawa Hitomi, and while Kusumi Koharu has joined the group as the ‘miracle’ the group just didn’t have an identity at this time, really until the Platinum era with stuff like Resonant Blue. Maybe if you’re a particular fan of the intact 5th and 6th generations of the group this time is special, but for a long while Morning Musume feels particularly aimless. While this has happened again (I’d argue that after the end of the Platinum Era Morning Musume spent a good couple of years trying to figure out their identity as a group), it’s really the first time as a group, though it’d been a long time coming.
I do like the basic concept of the album, which is colors – quite a few of the songs have a color theme to them, which is a nice touch. Most Hello!Project albums are little more than a collection of songs with some added album songs, so giving a loose connection tying this together is a good touch. This is also one of my favorite album covers, so good job Morning Musume for having interesting album art (which can sometimes be rare, to put it lightly).
1. How Do You Like Japan? Nihon wa Donna Kanji Dekka?
This song was made for live performances. It’s the perfect song to pump up an audience and to let the members of Morning Musume go a little wild while performing. There’s a reason How Do You Like Japan? has been performed more than any other non-single song on Rainbow 7 – it’s a great live song, and one that’s been performed (for good reason) outside of Japan for international concerts. It’s also a really great place to start an album, with so much energy.
How Do You Like Japan’s fatal flaw, though, is that it’s so geared towards live performances that it’s not really the most fun song to listen to when you’re sitting at home. It’s not a bad song, and if you’re looking for something to pump you up it’s a good one. But the instrumental can be a bit empty at points and the pacing is a little bit slow for solo listening without any cheering in the background. I don’t know if this is a bad thing – having a song aimed at live shows is fine. But it means that How Do You Like Japan is a song I’d be really excited for at a show but that I don’t listen to at home much. 7/10
2. The Man Power!!!
The Manpower is a fun song – it’s never been one of my all time favorites but it’s likewise never been a song I’ve disliked. I think the thing I like about it so much is that the song has a great energy to it. I like the repetitive nature of the song contrasted with Takahashi Ai and Yoshizawa Hitomi alternating vocals. It works really well and the entire song feels like it has power and energy in a way idol songs often don’t. I also particularly like the instrumental, though I think a lot of songs from this era just sound a little empty to me. There is a good contrast between some electronic sound and some horns that works well for me.
The Manpower isn’t extraordinary – it’s never blown me away as a single but it’s a nice, little song that has some power. It’s a little goofy, fun, and while it’s not quite on the level of something from Golden Era Morning Musume it doesn’t have to be. 7/10
3. Aozora ga Itsumademo Tsuzuku You na Mirai de Are!
I mostly know this song from the Dream Morning Musume cover, which I do prefer to this song. But I think it says a lot that one of the songs chosen for the Dream Morning Musume album, which mostly covered relatively well known tracks, to do this song from Rainbow 7. While How Do You Like Japan has had more concert performances, Aozora ga Itsumademo Tsuzuku You na Mirai de Are has had a huge impact, and for good reason – it’s a pretty great song. It’s the type of song that I’d expect from something like 4th Ikimasshoi, honestly – it’s endlessly positive and happy, with a great brass arrangement that makes the song work. I’ve complained a lot in the recent reviews about the arrangements sounding empty, but that’s not a problem here – the sound is lush, but it never overdoes it. It’s a happy, fun positive song that is pretty refreshing. It’s one of the highlights of this era of Morning Musume for sure. 9/10′
4. Osaka Koi no Uta
While Osaka Koi no Uta has always been a personally important song (the last song of my favorite member of Morning Musume), it’s not one I particularly return to. While the gimmick of the song (that the entire song is sung in the Osaka dialect) works for me, and it’s a solid song, it’s not one of Morning Musume’s best. I do like the cool feel to the song, and the arrangement is mostly solid. The biggest individual issue I have with Osaka Koi no Uta is that Tsunku’s background vocals completely over Morning Musume’s vocals throughout a large portion of the song. While I don’t mind some of Tsunku’s vocals adding some depth to the vocals, here it’s sometimes difficult to hear Morning Musume over it. All the Morning Musume members who have solo lines sound excellent, so having to strain to hear them is pretty unpleasant.
All told Osaka Koi no Uta is fun. Its melody works and the members are at the top of their game. I just wish I could hear them more. 7/10
5. Indigo Blue Love
I’ve mentioned songs sounding dated several times over the past couple of reviews, which comes with the territory of reviewing music from the late 90s and early 2000s. But Indigo Blue Love seems like it would be dated even in 2006, far enough away from the late 90s R&B that inspired it. It’s not a terrible song, so if you’re feeling nostalgic for this sort of song it might be an option. The members (Niigaki Risa, Kamei Eri, Tanaka Reina) do a solid job with it and it’s a pleasant enough listen. However, it’s not at all memorable, and there are so many better songs in this kind of vein in Hello!Project’s discography. Aa, the subgroup featuring Tanaka Reina, put out First Kiss which is a better song, and I’d point to old school Hello!Project for better songs like this. The arrangement is OK but kind of mediocre (It’s pretty easy to tell there’s no actual real instruments) and it’s a bit grating at times. It’s not offensively bad nor is it a bad listen, its biggest crime is being just bland. 5/10
6. Rainbow Pink
Rainbow Pink is the textbook definition of love it or hate it. You either love this song or can’t stand it – I imagine it is purely polarizing. Personally, I can’t help but love it. They took the two worst singers of the group at the time, put them in a unit, and made a goofy, overly-saccharine idol parody. Rainbow Pink is the type of song where, if it was a serious attempt at a good song, it wouldn’t be very good, but since it’s pretty clearly a joke it’s a lot more palatable. All that being said, while Rainbow Pink is pretty clearly a joke, a parody, it’s a lot catchier than it has any right to be. Of all the songs on this album Rainbow Pink is the one I gravitate towards most.
Your tolerance towards goofy, overly cutesy idol pop is going to determine how you feel about Rainbow Pink, but, god help me, I love this song. 9/10
7. Iroppoi Jirettai
The first single to feature Kusumi Koharu, Iroppoi Jirettai feels a bit like the start of a new era and it’s a good start. The entire song has a Latin feel to it which work swell with Morning Musume continually shifting sound. Iroppoi Jirettai has a great melody, too, and it’s a super catchy song. The lyrics are a bit awkward, the repeated “sexy island” line being the most, but at the very least they are memorable. The whispered intro is also not my favorite thing, but at least it’s not a continued motif throughout. The arrangement and instrumentation featuring real brass instruments is my personal highlight, as it works a lot better than other Morning Musume songs of the time.
While Iroppoi Jirettai isn’t a song I come back to all that much, it’s well put together, catchy and definitely memorable. It’s a solid song for this era of Morning Musume. 8/10
8. Mushoku Toumei na Mama de
The last small group song on this album and man this is even more forgettable than Indigo Blue Love. It’s not a terrible song, and in many ways it’s superior to Indigo Blue Love – the arrangement in particular stands out as being interesting, full of lush strings and a traditional Japanese sound. It reminds me a bit of Morning Musume Sakuragumi’s Sakura Mankai, which isn’t a bad thing. I actually really like the arrangement here, and the more I listen I like this song – it’s a solid ballad with some beautiful vocals and a good arrangement. The biggest sin of Mushoku Toumei na Mama de is that it’s just not memorable. The melody is slow and kind of boring, and no matter how long I listen I just can’t remember it. I think the arrangement is so good that having it with this melody is a bit of a waste. While the chorus is decent, I don’t remember how the verses go while even listening to the song. 7/10
9. Purple Wind
Purple Wind is a lot more memorable than some of the other tracks on this album – unfortunately, while it’s in many ways a fun, funky song with an upbeat melody that is very welcome at this point in Rainbow 7, it’s also flawed too. The arrangement leaves something to be desired, with the background instrumentation empty and uninteresting during sung sections (though the opening of the song works very well), and the melody during the verses is very repetitive. Purple Wind has a fun feel to it, and I love the funk sound to it, but its arrangement and the songwriting are fairly mediocre. Purple Wind is the type of song this album needed, but I just wish it was better. Given what is there, it could have been an excellent song. 6/10.
10. Sayonara See You Again Adios Bye Bye Chacha!
Can someone give me a reason this isn’t the last song on the album? I feel like they had no idea what to do with the actual last two tracks of the album so they just stuck them on the end, when there was already a perfect ending song to the album. Sayonara See You Again Adios Bye Bye Chacha is a fairly nontraditional song on this album – while there’s sung sections that are slightly repetitive, a big bulk of the song is spent on all ten members doing a short spoken monologue over the others quietly singing in the background. While this makes the song slightly less re-listenable it seems like something that would work well in a concert setting more than anything else – you could fit in specific messages to the concert or with new members, and end out your concert on this. And in that way it works. Listening to an album, it works slightly less well, but at the same time the melody is catchy enough and the arrangement is solid enough that it works just fine. It’s a bit long, especially when you get to the last spoken sections, but it’s listenable. 7/10
11. Chokkan 2 ~Nogashita Sakana wa Ookiizo!~ (Mattaku Sono Toori Remix)
So another version of Chokkan on this album, after it was on the last one. Only, instead of putting the version released as a single, they put out a remix. While the remix has some interesting ideas, emphasizing more of a chant and some more drumming, it feels wholely superfluous and some of the other choices they made (shifting the pitch of the melody) just don’t work. The single version of Chokkan 2 is by far the best version of Chokkan, so the fact that neither album has it is a bit disheartening. This remix isn’t bad, but Chokkan 2 changes enough from the original Chokkan that I’m not sure why they thought this was necessary. This remix is fine to listen to, but I’m not sure why you’d choose to listen to this. 6/10
12. Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 3
This is the third time I’ve reviewed this, so I’ll keep it brief. But it’s Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari again, and not very different from the other two. There are fewer Tsunku vocalizations than Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 2, which is appreciated, and I do like that they kept up that the members sing their own introduction, but it’s the exact same song. If you like Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari and this is your preferred lineup this may be the version you want, but otherwise it’s pretty extraneous. 7/10
Overall: Surprisingly this is the most solid album since 4th Ikimassshoi. While there are individual songs I prefer off No. 5 and Ai no Dai 6kan, for the most part Rainbow 7 has a lot less filler and is paced well as an album. While some of the songs aren’t the best of Morning Musume, all are fairly listenable, and while the last two songs are mostly extraneous the first ten are a solid, neat package. I also really like the color theme to the album, which works well and I wish would be something that Morning Musume revisited for later albums. Rainbow 7 isn’t the album I’ll revisit very soon but it’s a solid addition to Morning Musume’s discography.