Review: Morning Musume – Rainbow 7

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.



Review: Morning Musume – Ai no Dai 6kan

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.

Ai no Dai 6kan feels to me like the start of a transition to me – it’s the last credited album of Iida Kaori, Yaguchi Mari, Ishikawa Rika and the last appearances by Kago Ai and Tsuji Nozomi. While Yoshizawa Hitomi is on Rainbow 7, the next album, this feels like the last hurrah of what could be considered Golden Era Morning Musume. While Morning Musume was still doing relatively well when Ai no Dai 6kan released, they were definitely not anywhere near the popularity level of the golden era, especially with the two centers of Abe Natsumi and Goto Maki long gone.

1. Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago

Let me just preface this by saying I like Konno Asami and Michishige Sayumi just fine – they’re fine members. However, I’m not sure I quite get the decision to have a ballad focused on these two, and to have it start off the album. Because yeah, Konno Asami and Michishige Sayumi are weak singers. Morning Musume eventually figured out how to best use Sayumi as a member years later, but having two of the weakest vocalists headline a ballad is a baffling decision. I’m not particularly fond of ballads but when I like a ballad it needs to have vocals that can back it up. I think the choice to have a song focus on two members who were often in the back is really smart, but the choice to have it be THIS song is strange.

The song itself is fine. It’s not a particularly great single, but it’s a pretty pleasant melody. The lyrics and arrangement are a bit too saccharine, and coming from me that’s saying something. This song has some decent ideas – I like some of the arrangement (the strings, particularly when pizzicato, are nice), but for the most part it’s treacly, saccharine and not very interesting. It’s cheesy as hell.

Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago isn’t the worst song ever and has a few decent ideas, but it’s too saccharine and helmed by two of the group’s worst singers which makes it just not work. 5/10

2. Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a fun, kind of goofy song that reminds me a bit like a laidback Piriri to Yukou. It has a slow feel but it still has that traditional Japanese feel. In fact, considering Ai no Dai 6kan and Piriri to Yukou came out in the same year, Sukiyaki may have very well been repurposed from Piriri to Yukou – some of the background vocals sound very similar.

Sukiyaki is a fun song, and I always like hearing a Japanese festival sound mixed with idol pop – both of those sounds work really well together and can be a lot of fun. That said, for being a 3 minute song, Sukiyaki drags in places. It feels like it’s five minutes long when it’s only three. I think a bit of a faster tempo might have helped, but the melody doesn’t really do the pacing much favors. I like the feel of this song and the instrumentation works really well, but this is a lot slower than I remember and it doesn’t work as well as I’d like. 6/10

3. Haru no Uta

This is the song sung by the four highest seniority members in Morning Musume at the time and someone needs to tell Tsunku that mature doesn’t mean boring. This is a cheesy R&B track that sounds like it should have come out in the late 90s – it sounds dated now and I bet it was dated in 2004 when this came out.

This is performed well – Yaguchi Mari, Iida Kaori, Yoshizawa Hitomi and Ishikawa Rika do a commendable job of doing this song justice. That said it’s mostly a boring song. There have been great songs written for mature groups before (Taiyou to Ciscomoon’s discography) and after (v-u-den’s discography) this song, so I’m not sure why this doesn’t work for me. I think the biggest culprit is that this (and No.5) were the start of Morning Musume shoving filler songs onto its albums

Haru no Uta is a pleasant enough song to listen to – the effort the four members put on it works well and there are some solid moments, mostly relating to the performance. It’s a fairly solid, if dated song. It’s just not particularly good and I’m not sure why it would be put here on an album, especially after two songs that tend to drag as well. 6/10

4. Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari

Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari is a fun song that has understandably become a Morning Musume classic, since it’s a great way to introduce members. The lyrics focus on each member of the group’s personality, and while some of the verses in this original version seem like they aren’t specifically about each member it’s a way to focus on each member. While I think it’s kind of interesting that this became a single rather than just an album song, it works well as a song to introduce all the members of Morning Musume. While future versions have the members sing their introductions themselves, I kind of like this original version where other members sing about the member being introduced.

As a song, Joshi Kashimashi is pretty basic – it’s the same verse repeated for every member and occasionally a chorus. Sometimes one of the verses is hammed up a little differently or made more dramatic by the arrangement, but for the most part it’s a basic song. That said, it works here where the focus is more on the lyrics than anything else. The arrangement/instrumental is very fun, with a great sax solo throughout. While Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari is a very basic song, structure wise, it’s a fun intro song that’s catchy enough to sustain itself for several years. 9/10

5. Chokkan ~Toki to Shite Koi wa~

Most people are more familiar with the second Chokkan song, Chokkan 2 ~Nogashita Sakana wa Ookiizo~, which ended up as a single. The story goes that the single was originally Koi wa Hassou Do the Hustle, but because that didn’t have a great reception they made Chokkan 2 the single and made Koi wa Hassou the B-Side. Chokkan 2 is very similar to this original album Chokkan except there’s an updated arrangement and some of the lyrics are slightly different.

Chokkan ~Toki to Shite Koi wa~ feels a bit like a prototype Chokkan 2, even if that wasn’t initially the plan. The energy is pretty much the same and it has a similar level of excitement between the two songs, and the melody works for both. However, Chokkan 2’s arrangement gives it a bit more bite, and some of the lyrics sound awkward in the first Chokkan – the phrasing is a bit strange and doesn’t work quite as well.

It’s not hard to compare both Chokkan’s and the single one is a bit more polished. That said, the melody is fun and I love just how strong the energy is for both. Chokkan is a fun song, no matter what version. It’s fun to hear all the members who weren’t there in Chokkan 2 perform this, which is why I put Chokkan 1 on from time to time, but for the most part Chokkan 2 is the superior version. 7/10

6. Dokusenyoku

Dokusenyoku is a really cool sounding song – it has a much darker tone to it than most Hello!Project songs at the time (or even on this album – compare this to Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago). While Hello!Project had already had some rap verses and the occasional rap-heavy song (a few T&C Bomber songs are more hip hop focused), this is one of the earlier Morning Musume songs to have two fairly long rap verses throughout. The other cool part of the song is the section at the start and repeated at the end where seven members sing a single word. It’s not quite as trippy as WHY off 3rd Love Paradise where members alternated syllables but it still works well.

The biggest issue I personally have with Dokusenyoku is the over-reliance on Tsunku. Fans have mixed opinions on the presence of Tsunku as a background vocalist in Morning Musume songs, but I don’t mind it if it’s used well. Here, he just makes the song busier and doesn’t really add much with his shouting. And honestly, there are other members that could have done it just as well – Ogawa Makoto only gets a single word sung twice in this entire song, and she has enough attitude to be able to do these background vocals. It takes me out of the song, and it feels totally unnecessary. That all said, Dokusenyoku is a lot of fun and not like many other Morning Musume songs. 8/10

7. Lemon Iro to Milk Tea

I will never not love this song. This song was one that I really loved when I first got into Morning Musume about 9 or so years ago, and it’s nostalgic. It’s not the most sophisticated song – it’s pure fluff, almost overwhelmingly cute after Dokusenyoku. In many ways it’s a fairly typical idol song. The construction of it doesn’t do much interesting, the arrangement is cute, and while the performances are all good there’s not much to even make a performance extraordinary – Fujimoto Miki’s solo near the end is quite good but it’s not particularly demanding. But while it’s in many ways not special, it’s the platonic ideal of a cute, fun idol song that doesn’t put too many demands on the listener. If you like idol music and like the typical idol song, you’ll most likely like Lemon Iro to Milk Tea. It’s delightful from start to finish. 8/10

8. Roman ~My Dear Boy~

On a personal note, I’ve always been fond of Roman ~My Dear Boy~ for a totally biased reason – it’s one of the Morning Musume singles to best utilize Ishikawa Rika, my favorite member of Morning Musume. But beyond my own personal bias, Roman is just quite good. It has a great pace, and a solid melody, though if you strip it down Roman’s melody isn’t that unusual or interesting. What makes Roman ~ My Dear Boy~ really stand out more than anything is the fantastic arrangement. The individual instruments are all great – the electric guitar and sax solos put the song over the top. At its core, Roman ~My Dear Boy~ is a great pop song, but layer on the perfect arrangement/instrumentation and some excellent vocals from Morning Musume and Roman ~My Dear Boy~ is a standout track of Morning Musume’s discography. It’s definitely one of my favorite single songs and has been a favorite for several years. 10/10

9. Koe

I feel like whenever I listen to Koe I do a complete 180 on the song midway through. The start of the song is so cheesy, sounding like a cheesy late-90s r&b ballad that was out of date when Koe came out. That said, once the song kicks into gear midway through it’s a pretty, pleasant song. It’s not particularly interesting, but it has a solid melody. It also features some decent harmonies that I just wish were more prominent – when the harmonizing is put to the forefront Koe shines. I think that’s the biggest issue with Koe, really – if they had used it as an opportunity for Morning Musume to work at harmonies and let itself channel early Morning Musume, Koe could have been a highlight of this album. Instead, while some of these sections stand out and for the most part Koe is perfectly pleasant, it’s not as good as it could have been. It’s not the worst ballad I’ve listened to from Hello!Project but it’s not as standout of a song as I think it could be. 6/10

10. HELP!!

Relased around the same time as the Ecomoni song Acchi Chikyuu wo Samasunda, which is another version of this song from Morning Musume’s musical HELP!! this is Morning Musume’s environmental song. While Ecomoni’s version is slower and most of the lyrics are spoken (I wouldn’t consider it rap at all), HELP!! is a faster, poppier version, which works a lot better. Acchi Chikyuu wo Samasunda is cheesy, and I’d say purposefully so, but it’s a bit of a slog. HELP!! is a lot of fun, and I can see it actually succeeding where Acchi Chikyuu wo Samasunda doesn’t, which is making caring about the environment actually cool. HELP!! is a very short, brisk song, coming in at just about two minutes and thirty seconds, essentially repeating the same verse and chorus a few times. It’s not very interesting and doesn’t go any interesting places, which is a bit of a shame. That said, it’s still a fun listen and a good version of an OK song. 7/10

11.  SHIP! To the Future

Another song from the Morning Musume musical that HELP!! came from, SHIP! to the Future is a solid place to end the album – looking to the future. The arrangement and performances are solid, if not particularly interesting. That said, the melody drags, especially in the chorus. It’s not a particularly bad melody, and when the pace gets quicker it’s enjoyable. But this song drags and drags in the chorus, especially when the chorus repeats itself. There’s just not a lot here and so it gets stretched out to fit a three minute thirty second that should really be the two minute thirty second song HELP!! was.

I really like the intent of SHIP! to the Future but I shouldn’t get bored in a song that’s under four minutes. The core of the song isn’t bad, if they added an interesting bridge and sped it up it could be pretty great. It just drags and overstays its welcome, which is unfortunate for such a short song. 5/10

12. Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 2

I mentioned that SHIP! to the Future isn’t the worst idea for a song to end an album. Unfortunately, Hello!Project didn’t do that and added a second version of Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari. I get why they did this, in theory – the intent clearly was that each album would have its version of Joshi Kashimashi about the current lineup of members, since Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 3 is on Rainbow 7. I also get that they wanted a version with just the current lineup and that they wanted the single version on here. But putting two versions of the same song on the same album is the worst kind of padding, and it just seems bizarre. If they wanted the single, they should have picked that. If they wanted the version with the current lineup, they should have picked that. Putting both on the same album just looks lazy.

The reasons I like Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari still apply, though there’s some bizarre Tsunku vocalizations that add absolutely nothing to this song and are just annoying. I do like that this version and future versions have the member sing their own introduction, which is a lot of fun. It feels more like the member is introducing themselves. But the weird vocalizations and this being on the album a second time makes it extraneous and lazy. 4/10

Overall: While there are fewer songs included just to pad the tracklist, Ai no Dai 6kan feels incidental, more than anything. There are some good singles (Roman ~My Dear Boy~ and Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari) and some decent songs (my favorite album track being Lemon Iro to Milk Tea with Dokusenyoku at a close second), but there aren’t many songs that are particularly great. Most aren’t bad, but Ai no Dai 6kan is just incidental, with some decent, but not great, songs to pad out the singles on the album. The most egregious addition is Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari 2, but there’s multiple songs that just got boring. The songwriting was uninteresting for most of the album songs, even the good ones. I don’t want to sound like i’m bashing Ai no Dai 6kan – the songs that are good are good, and most are pleasant to listen to. But it’s not the best entry in Morning Musume’s discography.

Review: Morning Musume – No.5

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.

While 4th Ikimasshoi was historically my favorite Morning Musume album, I don’t really listen to No.5 all that much. I love the single songs on it a lot; Do It! Now and Koko ni Iruzee are both great. That said, the rest of the album songs aren’t anywhere near as well received as the ones on 4th Ikimasshoi nor are they performed all that much.The majority of these songs have been performed once or twice and have since fallen off the face of the earth. This doesn’t mean that much – there are plenty of early Hello!Project songs that haven’t been performed all that much that are fantastic. But of the post-Golden Era albums it feels like No.5 has had the least impact of any album. So is that deserved? I have to admit that I haven’t listened to most of these songs in a long while, so we’ll find out.

1. Intro

This is odd. This is a 9 second intro that’s basically a slightly different section from the chorus of Do It! Now. That’s it. I’m not sure why they didn’t just do an extended version of Do It! Now and start with that (though IMO another song on this album should be the first song). This doesn’t work at all, much less than the intro on 3rd Love Paradise, for example. The only thing I can think of with this is that they wanted to pad out the tracklist, because while there are new songs on this album it’s got a lot of existing stuff on it.

I just don’t think this should have been on this album at all. It serves no purpose.

2. Do It! Now

Do It! Now is great classic H!P song – it’s the type of song that just feels like the early 2000s era of Hello!Project in a way that’s hard to describe. It’s a mix of r&b and pop that has held up incredibly well. Do It! Now is notable in being Goto Maki’s last single, so she gets a fair amount of focus, but Do It! Now does well by all of the members – Goto Maki and Abe Natsumi get a lot of focus but so does then newbie Takahashi Ai, Konno Asami gets a suprising amount to do, and every member has a lot to do in the pseudo-rap break (I say pseudo in that most of the lines are actually sung, but it’s clearly supposed to be a rap break). It’s a song that works just as well for older members like Iida Kaori and Abe Natsumi as well as it works for the younger members like Konno Asami and Niigaki Risa, which is kind of incredible.

Do It! Now should be totally dated, in that it feels like it’s very much of its time, but it’s still a classic jam. Some things do feel dated, especially the Tsunku mandated sound effects (at least, I assume those are Tsunku-mandated). A couple of bits of this sound a little goofy. But at its core Do It! Now is a really solid classic pop song with R&B stylings, with a great melody. The chorus is the standout, but the verses work really well. The pacing of this song is great too.

Do It! Now isn’t a song I go back to as much as something like Souda! We’re Alive or Renai Revolution 21, but it’s still a very solid, very good offering from Morning Musume and a great song. 9/10

3. TOP!

TOP! should have been the first song of the album and it’s almost baffling it isn’t. It feels like they made the intro for Do It! Now, realized it would be weird if the next song wasn’t Do It! Now, but already had TOP! done so they just put it afterwards. The intro of this song, with the voice going through the names of all the members is a really great place to open an album, and I still think it should have opened it, followed up with Do It! Now, and scrap the intro.

TOP! has a lot of fun energy, and I like how much the members put into it. I love the feel of the song, and the lyrics focusing on aiming to be number one are a really good part. However, while I think the energy, members and lyrics work, the arrangement at points is a bit bland. It works about half of the time (the opening, some of the verses), but the chorus is kind of flat. Which is really bizarre, as the person who arranged this also arranged Say Yeah! Motto Miracle Night off of Morning Musume’s first best-of album as well as Country Musume’s Uwaki na Honey Pie and non-Hello!Project songs like’s Hate (which he fully wrote/arranged). He’s a quality arranger. So why does this feel a bit slapdash?

TOP is a fun song, don’t get me wrong, and I love a lot about it. The back and forth where each member sings “waratte” works so well, and the opening is fantastic. It’s a good song for the most part. It just could be so much better than it is, sadly. 7/10

4. Tomodachi ga Ki ni Itteru Otoko Kara no Dengon

This reminds me a bit of Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan, from 4th Ikimasshoi – at least it has the same, cute feeling and tone at a similar point in the album. Like Ii Koto this song has a really cute feel, but this time with an emphasis on electric guitar. The arrangement in general is pretty great for a song they could easily have played off as being the cute song, and I like the guitar solo.

While this isn’t quite on the level of Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan this is still a very fun, cute song. The chorus is particularly good but this has a pleasant melody, a good arrangement, and is a nice song. It’s not one I particularly need to listen to more than I do and it’s not one I feel the need to write a lot about but it’s solid, classic Morning Musume. 7/10

5. Koko ni Iruzee!

Koko ni Iruzee is a total gem and one of MM’s underrated tracks – I think people like it but it’s not quite as well liked as it should be. It’s a fun ska-inspired track with a great melody and some great performances. Each member has their own solo line or two and most of them tend to ham up their performances in a really fun way. The instrumentation is really great too, with some great horns and a solid bass line throughout. This song came at peak “Tsunku’s voice as part of the background and some of his vocalizations are extraneous, but that’s kind of a love it or hate it part of Hello!Project.

Above all Koko ni Iruzee is just fun – it’s a song that always energizes me and the “minna lonely boys and girls” section near the end, which comes out of nowhere, works so well and often gives me chills. I think the fact this isn’t a classic H!P song in the same way that Renai Revolution or Souda We’re Alive are is a testament to just how great Hello!Project was at this time – Koko ni Iruzee doesn’t quite live up to those heights but it’s a great pop song. 9/10

6. Suggoi Nakama

The fact that Suggoi Nakama isn’t performed more by Morning Musume or other Hello!Project groups is a total shame – it’s a very fun, almost goofy song about friendship that I feel like could be done well with the current group of H!P members. It’s even more peak “Tsunku has a separate rap section for each song and adds his own vocals” which I can’t quite decide if I like here. The rest of the song is fun enough, though, that if that’s not something you’re interested in the weird fun parts work. The arrangement was done by Dance Man, which makes the song work even more.

The biggest issue I have with Suggoi Nakama is just how repetitive it can be – the chorus is a single line that gets repeated several times. It’s not a particularly bad line nor does it get painfully repetitive, but there isn’t a lot there beyond it being fun and cheerful. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily – the line is super catchy. But it’s not particularly interesting, especially with multiple listens. That said, Suggoi Nakama is a lot of fun fluff that makes for a fun listen. 7/10

7. Tsuyoki de Yukouze!

Tsuyoki de Yukouze has gotten a lot of play and has been brought back for recent concerts in 2010 and 2016, which makes a lot of sense – Tsuyoki de Yukouze is a fun, short song with a fast, aggressive sound. It’s the type of song that seems like it would be a lot of fun at concerts – it’s fast and has a great energy to it. It’s a short song (it’s about 3 minutes long but has several seconds of lead up at the start) so it feels a bit ephemeral at times, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts. The arrangement is a great rock sound, but the real star of the song is the energy and the melody. More than anything else this feels like a song that would be great at a concert – it’s not a song I listen to much on my own but I can imagine this being a great song to jump around to. Tsuyoki de Yukouze is a ton of fun and I’d love to see it at more concerts. 8/10

8. Megami ~Mousse na Yasashisa~

Here we go, the first of the pocky tie-in songs. This was a song used in commercials for mousse pocky and I feel like that makes sense from first listen. Shorter versions were already put on the Petit Best end of year compilation so I’m not 100% why they needed to put this on No.5 and to be honest I don’t think it adds much of anything.

Megami ~Mousse na Yasashisa~ is a pretty dated ballad that sounds like it could have been dated back when this came out in 2002. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not holding up to me. The melody is solid and the performances (by mostly older members) and while the instrumental is cheesy as hell it’s not terrible. I’m not sure this really needed a longer version, above all – this is repetitive and not interesting enough to justify the full 4:00 minute song.

This song isn’t all that bad. It’s a pretty pleasant listen, especially if you’re nostalgic for this style of late 90s ballad. It’s just more than anything unnecessary – it’s a tie-in song that feels like it was added to pad out the runtime for this album. 6/10

9. Yes! Pocky Girls

Here’s the other pocky tie-in song, with all the members who weren’t present for Megami ~Mousse na Yasashisa. It also had a shorter version on the Petit Best album, and also doesn’t really justify its extended runtime. Yes! Pocky Girls is fun and definitely less dated of a song, but it’s mostly unremarkable. It’s cute and pleasant but outstays its welcome, and at some points the melody feels like it drags in a way it shouldn’t for a song like this. It doesn’t have the energy, drive or life to it to make this tie-in song work. It’s cute and not unpleasant but doesn’t justify its presence on this album at all. It’s a song that would work for a commercial but not for a song on an album. 5/10

10. HEY! Mirai

This is the first of two songs for the movie Koinu Dan no Monogatari which starred Morning Musume and the H!P Kids.Which also makes sense, because HEY! Mirai is a pretty standard, cute song but sounds like something that would make sense as a movie tie-in.

There’s not much to say about Hey Mirai, to be honest. It’s cute, it’s pleasant to listen to, and not poorly done at all, but it’s not particularly interesting. It’s a pleasant song for a kids’ movie, but it’s not fun enough to be a regular listen for when I want to listen to classic Hello!Project, nor is it interesting to merit any serious listens. It’s pretty paint by numbers classic H!P pop. I’m not going to skip this song if it pops up when I’m listening to Morning Musume music, but I’m also not going to seek Hey Mirai out. 6/10

11. Ganbacchae!

Ganbacchae is the other song from Koinu Dan no Monogatari, this time also featuring Goto Maki and the Hello!Project Kids. This is a lot more straight up cute but an also fairly straghtforward song about doing your best. That said, I like this a lot more than Hey Mirai, mostly because it has a great energy and a much more solid melody, which feels youthful and nostalgic in equal measure. It works well as a song that features both the older members of Morning Musume and the children in Hello!Project Kids.

The biggest issue in Ganbacchae is that the use of the kids can get a bit grating, especially when they are shouting seemingly random lines in the verses. It would have worked better if they’d done a few shouts throughout the song, sang the “ganbacchae” line with everyone and then sang near the end, if they’re not going to have them sing throughout the entire song.

Otherwise, Ganbacchae is a solid song and a fun one to listen to. 8/10

12.  Sugoku Suki na no ni …. ne”

Tsuyoki de Yukouze was a song sung by the younger half of Morning Musume, whereas this is a song sung by the older half. At the start of the song I always think this is going to be more of an 80s/90s callback than it is – it starts out with some synth sounds and heavy drums, but it ends up more of a standard H!P song. It’s not a bad one – i like that the older members are featured in this way. It’s just not one that stands out for me. Even though I have my problems with them, Tsuyoki de Yukouze, TOP, and the single songs are very memorable. Sugoku Suki na no ni … ne is just not memorable.

There are some interesting ideas – I like some of the background vocals and at one point the arrangement sounds like it’s supposed to be like a harpsichord. The members perform it well and I’m intrigued by the synth sound and the idea of a classic Hello!Project 80s throwback song. It’s just not at all memorable of a melody and a song in general. It’s a pretty solid song but just doesn’t stick with you. 7/10

13. Sotsugyou Ryokou ~Morning Musume Tabidatsu Hito ni Okuru Uta~

I find it interesting that they have a song that is explicitly for graduations in Sotsugyou Ryokou and they’ve only performed it once – this just hasn’t stuck like Never Forget or I Wish. The person this song refers to is Yasuda Kei, who graduated soon after this album came out. While I do love Kei I also find it interesting that she had two graduation songs (this and the Never Forget rock version), which is why I think this was intended to be used more but wasn’t.

I actually really like this as a graduation song – it starts off slow as ballad but then the tempo kicks up and is a remarkably positive song. I like how the song feels – it feels like the members will miss Kei but it’s also congratulatory, happy for the person making the choice to graduate. It has a pretty killer arrangement (strings, horns, some acoustic guitar at the start) and it works really well as a graduation song. It’s not quite as iconic as I Wish or Never Forget, but I kind of wish Hello!Project would bring this back for more graduations. I also like the song ending the album – it’s a good send off to Kei and to the album.

This song should be more highly regarded than it is – it’s a pretty great graduation jam. 8/10

Overall: There are plenty of great songs on No.5 – Do It! Now and Koko ni Iruzee are two of Morning Musume’s all time great singles, and I’m partial to quite a few of the other tracks. That said, this feels completely aimless as an album, with an intro added to pad out the tracklist, a song that should be the first song on the album (TOP!), and stuffed with tie-in songs for pocky and for a movie. It feels like they thought Morning Musume should have an album so filled it with these songs. There are no really classic songs beyond the two singles (and possibly Ganbacchae!) and for good reason – this album is fairly weak. Which is a shame, considering it came out while Morning Musume was doing really well and should have had an amazing album. I don’t actually dislike any of the songs here, but this doesn’t work as an album as a whole.

Review: Morning Musume – 4th “Ikimasshoi!”

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.

4th Ikimasshoi comes after two years and multiple changes in Morning Musume as a group – in part because Morning Musume’s first best of album came out in between that featured several singles. Even though I’m not reviewing that album (way too much overlap between it and my previous three reviews), all the singles that are only on that album are great, and the original song, Say Yeah! Motto Miracle Night is genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best.

4th Ikimasshoi comes after the 4th and 5th generation members have been added. While 3rd Love Paradise still had some more experimental, interesting tracks that were reminiscent of Morning Musume’s start, 4th Ikimasshoi comes out when Morning Musume is fully a pop idol group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – if I was pressed to name a favorite Morning Musume album it would probably be 4th Ikimasshoi. But it’s definitely a shift in style.

While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s biggest track, I’d say 4th Ikimasshoi is Morning Musume’s golden era album. It still features both Abe Natsumi and Goto Maki, is mostly pop-centric, and feels like Morning Musume at its peak, even if realistically it’s Morning Musume just slightly below its peak.

1. The☆Peace!

Starting it off strong – The Peace is a great album opener. It’s energetic, upbeat, and a feel good song. It’s on the level of something like Love Machine that, even if you’re not a Morning Musume fan, this is still a great song. Last May a friend of mine and I went out to do karaoke together. Near the end of our karaoke time one of the employees came in to tell us our time was almost up while we were singing The Peace together. The employee ended up joining in for some of the “Peace Peace” bits at the end, that’s just how infectious this song is.

Arranged by the one the only Dance Man, The Peace is a jam from start to finish. There’s an energy throughout the song that’s great, and it doesn’t let up. I might just be a biased fan here, but even Ishikawa Rika’s spoken monologue has a decent energy to it as well.

I also really love the lyrics to The Peace – a lot of them are nonsensical and jump from one thing to another, sure, but that makes it true to life. It takes small ideas about not being able to choose what size pizza to order or signing up for English conversation classes and elevates them. The idea is that being with someone you love elevates these small things to becoming major, to becoming important, and I love how it works in The Peace.

The Peace is one of my favorite Morning Musume songs ever. It is a nonstop joy, and if you’re one of the five Morning Musume fans who don’t know it then go and listen immediately. 10/10

2. Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan

This isn’t one of the more well known songs off of the album, but it’s kid of an underlistened gem for me. It has a great 1950s pop sound that is just happy and pleasant, which is created by a great melody and a great Dance*Man arrangement makes this song work. It’s perhaps not quite as ambitious as some of the other songs on 4th Ikimasshoi, but that doesn’t detract from this.

One of the things that strikes me about Ii Koto Aru Kinen no Shunkan is the vocal mix – the vocal production and overall sound of this song is super polished and works really well. At this point Morning Musume had a decent mix of performers who could sing well (Abe, Goto, Yasuda) and those who weren’t as great at singing (Tsuji, Konno, and yes, Ishikawa), but all the voices sound great here and mix well here. The actual instrumentation and arrangement work well too with strings, background vocals, what sounds like a glockenspiel, etc. This is a really well put together song.

I don’t know if I’d consider this a personal favorite song of mine from the album because there are so many greats and Ii Koto isn’t one of the more memorable songs. That being said, I think it shows the overall quality of the era to have such a well put together song not be the memorable one. 8/10

3. Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~ (Long Version). 

The Peace was technically the Complete Version, because the end of the song got to the end rather than fading out. Instead of something like that for Mr. Moonlight, there is now a roughly 3 minute spoken skit at the beginning with all of the members. It’s kind of interesting, but it’s mostly extraneous. Some of the members have some funny bits (Yoshizawa Hitomi hams it up and it is just delightful), but it’s a bit long and not gold all the way through – there’s a bouncer at this party who inexplicably has a lot to say. It’s fine, but if I just had 4th Ikimasshoi I’d fast forward through this after the first few listens, as it doesn’t add much of anything.

The rest of the song is classic Morning Musume gold. It perfectly incorporates a big, brassy, big band sound (hence the title) while also being a tribute to the Takarazuka theater. The arrangement is lush and fantastic – obviously the brass is the star here, but there’s a great bass sound to everything, the drums are particularly good, and everything works well with that. The performances are great by the main three, not being afraid to ham it up a little but being appropriately suave. Yoshizawa Hitomi was a perfect star of Mr. Moonlight, and her performance works very well here.

Mr. Moonlight is musically fantastic – every note, every element works perfectly. I’m not a huge fan of the extended intro for the long version, but the original is one of the absolute greats of Morning Musume’s discography. 9/10

4. Hajimete no Rock Concert

The most immediately noticeable thing about Hajimete no Rock Concert is that there’s no real rock sound to it – aside from a short electric guitar note near the end of the song, there’s nothing about this that feels like rock music at all. It’s much more late 90s / early 2000s r&b than anything. This isn’t bad – I actually really like Hajimete no Rock Concert as a song, but there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance between the title / subject matter and the actual music.

The song works really well, and I like the mix of electronic sounds and strings – the more classical strings are great here, and I like whenever they’re more pizzicato. I also really like the dark feel of the song. It’s not the song that’s aged the best out of this album, but it’s still a fun listen.

This is a unit song, with only six of the members of the group on it. I actually really like how many small units are on this album – I think that’s something more idol albums should do, actually. The only thing is, while most of this group sounds great, Tsuji Nozomi’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb. I get they didn’t want all of 4th generation on Densha no Futari, the other small group song, but I’d rather hear Kago’s voice on this than Tsuji’s. Her part is pretty short, but it takes me out of it whenever I hear her. That said, all the members sound fine, and Ogawa Makoto’s spoken monologues work really well here – she’s a member who I really think should have gotten a better shake within MM.

Hajimete no Rock Concert is probably my least favorite song off 4th Ikimasshoi, but that’s not a bad thing – it’s a solid r&b track with some good strings and good performances. I think more than anything that shows just how solid of an album 4th Ikimasshoi is. 7/10

5. Otoko Tomodachi

Four albums in and we still need to have an Abe Natsumi-driven song on every Morning Musume album. That’s not a bad thing, though, because Otoko Tomodachi is so great. In fact, the lyrics make me feel like this isn’t a song that could be done as a group – the song lyrics are very specifically about one person and are focused on this one person’s experiences. Natsumi also performs it pretty perfectly and, beyond her being the lead singer of the group, it fits her perfectly. So even though some Morning Musume fans at this time felt something of a Nacchi fatigue, I don’t think this would work quite as well with Goto Maki, Takahashi Ai, Yasuda Kei, or any other member of the group – Nacchi’s vocals and vocal performance carry Otoko Tomodachi.

The rest of the song is relatively simple, rock-inspired pop song but it works because the melody is so great, the performance is great, the lyrics work, the background vocals work. Everything about this is the ideal standard pop song – it might not be breaking ground in the same way something like Mr. Moonlight does, but instead this feels like a carefully, well-constructed song with a catchy melody and great vocals.

Otoko Tomodachi is a classic, and a deserved one. 9/10

6. Souda! We’re Alive

I recently wrote about Souda! We’re Alive for my Song of the Day posts, but I’ll say it again – Souda! We’re Alive is underrated. Not because it’s unloved or disliked – it’s not. But I think it’s genuinely one of Morning Musume’s best tracks ever and is genuinely pretty perfect, blending a variety of genres and sounds to make something really special, I’d say even on the level of a Love Machine or Renai Revolution 21 in terms of quality.

More than anything I’d say this is one of Dance Man’s finest arrangements – the bass sound adds to the funk feel of much of the song, and he handles how much the song changes with panache. My favorite part is definitely the great bassline, but the entire song works.

If you’re familiar with current idol composers this feels in many ways like a proto-Hyadain song in the best way – there are various sections in this song that feel completely distinct (the sung/shouted “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines, the sweeter chorus, the funky verses, the vaguely Russian/funk bridge), but despite how much things change over the song it all works together well. It also has a ton of energy – the repeated “doryoku, mirai, etc.” lines build up really well, as do the rest of the verses, and I love how the pay off to this build up is the sweet, poppy “shiawase ni naritai” chorus. The tone of the song varies, but the energy is always solid and I love how different the song sounds throughout.

Souda! We’re Alive is a masterpiece, and one of the best songs Morning Musume has ever done. 10/10

7. Dekkai Uchuu Ni Ai Ga Aru (Album Version) 

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru is a fairly simple song, not quite as strange as a Souda! We’re Alive, but it still is a good one and comes in at a good place in the album – after an off the wall, strange song like Souda, having a more subdued (but still upbeat) track be the middle track of an album works really well as a little breather. The song is mostly sung in unison and has been performed during some charity events because of its relatively uplifting / positive lyrics. I think it fits this role really well – it’s supposed to be a heart-warming song but it doesn’t veer into being too cheesy or saccharine. I also like how upbeat the song ends up being – it could easily be a slow dirge of a song but it works well at this tempo.

Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru isn’t as original or interesting as some of the other songs on this album but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a very well put together, solid pop track with a great instrumental. It’s not a song I turn to a lot, but when I do I end up liking it. 7/10

8. Ikimasshoi!

After the relatively restrained Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru comes another more upbeat song with Ikimasshoi. Ikimasshoi is pure energy, even more so than the other songs that have been featured on this album. While not quite as well written or as interesting like something like Souda! We’re Alive, Ikimasshoi is like eating pure sugar. In a good way. In many ways, Ikimasshoi feels like the start of a lot of current Hello!Project, emphasizing energy over refinement. The song is great, to be sure, but the arrangement in some ways leaves something to be desired, as it mostly seems to eschew real instruments for whatever they can do electronically. This works a lot here, but I wish that there were some real strings at the start of the song rather than the computer approximation sometimes. It works in a song like Ikimasshoi just fine, but it feels like the lesson from 4th Ikimasshoi was that this would work for most songs, which it really doesn’t.

All that being said, don’t get me wrong- Ikimasshoi is pretty wonderful, and it does what it sets out to do well. It’s supposed to be high energy, the song to pump you up – this is a song that would be so much fun at a concert. I’m not sure it set the best precedent for H!P, but it’s still a great song. 8/10

9. Densha no Futari

The second small group song after Hajimete no Rock Concert, Densha no Futari works a little bit better. It’s one of those songs where I’m surprised at the restraint – Abe Natsumi is in this and yet she generally takes a backseat. The style of the song also works well with making the lesser vocally talented members like Ishikawa Rika and Konno Asami work well, often having a more breathy sound to their vocals.

Densha no Futari is one of the more underrated tracks off of 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a shame because it has a great, almost darker sound to it. It’s fast paced, but it’s much more subdued than something like Ikimasshoi, which gives it an interesting energy. I’d say there’s more tension than pure energy in Densha no Futari. It also has a pretty solid arrangement, with melding electronic sounds, a solid beat, an acoustic guitar.

If you haven’t listened to Densha no Futari, check it out. It has a really interesting sound, makes good use of all of the members on the track, and every element works well. 9/10

10. Honki de Atsui Theme Song

This is the other majorly underlistened track on 4th Ikimasshoi, which is a total shame. This is yet another collaboration with Dance*Man, and as evidenced with his other songs it works really well. Honki de Atsui Theme Song also had a separate arranger for the brass/horns, which is a good sing for me liking a song. And it works here, there’s a lot of brass sound throughout which works well. That said the entire arrangement works well – there’s a great guitar solo near the end, there are some great background vocals throughout as well.

Honki de Atsui Theme Song is a funky, upbeat song that I’m surprised didn’t catch on more or that wasn’t used more. I love how energetic it is, but I also love just how this song needs to be sung with a lot of passion. And all the members do a great job of infusing it with this level of energy and putting a lot of effort into it.

All that being said, the melody is great as well, and this song further cements just how great the collaboration between Tsunku and Dance*Man was. Honki de Atsui Theme Song is one of those songs where you should absolutely give it a shot if you haven’t yet. 10/10

11. Suki na Senpai

Suki na Senpai is one of those songs where I don’t know if I can easily separate the song from what it’s become. Rather than just being a pretty standard pop song, it’s become a Hello!Project institution, sung by new members of Hello!Project groups fairly regularly. I’ll do my best, but Suki na Senpai is one of those songs that is kind of bigger than the actual song itself.

Suki na Senpai is generally a pretty solid, standard pop song, but I think it stands out in the lyrics and performances. The first line sung by Konno Asami about loving to sing even though she can’t do it well just feels real in a way that not a lot of idol songs feel – even though the song is theoretically aimed at someone in a school, the lyrics are all focused on the questions and worries of someone new to something. This is the perfect song for new members of Morning Musume, as it feels like it leans into the insecurity of being a new member to an established girl group rather than pretending things are going just fine. I think there’s a reason that this still gets performed very frequently.

Suki na Senpai is, on its surface, a pretty standard pop song, but is elevated by the lyrics and performance. 8/10

12. Renai Revolution 21 (13nin version)

I feel like this goes without saying. While Love Machine is Morning Musume’s best known song, I believe that Renai Revolution 21 is Morning Musume’s best song. It’s a perfect mix of a catchy melody, fun performances, and one of Dance Man’s best arrangements. Renai Revolution is epitome of classic Morning Musume and classic Hello!Project’s disco pop sound and it does it near perfectly. It’s also the type of song I’ll never get sick of. Over the past 9-10 years I’ve listened to Renai Revolution 21 countless times and it still pumps me up every single time.

There is nothing I can say against Renai Revolution 21. Every element works well together perfectly. One interesting element is that with all the various parts sung by the members of the group and all the vocals, the song almost always has vocals on top of the instrumentation. However, it’s one of those things I never really think about because all the various layers of vocals and instruments work just perfectly.

Every element is perfect. All together this song is perfect. Renai Revolution 21 is perfect. 10/10

13. Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You

I actually don’t listen to this version of the song that much, because I honestly prefer the version performed as a cover by the group v-u-den. That said, this version is still solid. It has a good melody and I love the feel of this song. While this isn’t necessarily as upbeat or as interesting as many of the other songs on the album, this is a pretty nice way to end the album, with a warm, positive feeling. It’s maybe not the song I would have chosen (I might be inclined to end 4th Ikimasshoi with Honki de Atsui Theme Song), but it’s a nice song.

The song starts off in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s aged well (it feels very 90s and not in a great way), but as the song progresses and more members start singing it works very well. It has a heartwarming feel in general, even if it’s a bit cheesy with it. I still think that v-u-den’s version is a bit better, but that’s partially virtue of being released several years later and it not feeling as dated.

Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You isn’t the best song on 4th Ikimasshoi but it is a very solid way to end this exceptional album 7/10

Overall: 4th Ikimasshoi is a pop music masterpiece. Every song is great, and there are several songs on this album I would consider to be Morning Musume’s finest. The songs are well written, well arranged, and this group of members performs them well. After listening and reviewing 4th Ikimasshoi I have to say that I stand by my insistence that it is Morning Musume’s finest work.

Review: Morning Musume – 3rd Love Paradise

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.

In many ways, 3rd ~ Love Paradise ~ is Morning Musume’s biggest pivot. While you could make arguments for different albums and different singles introducing new sound or something new, 3rd Love Paradise has the introduction of Goto Maki and Love Machine, the single that I’d say is the most influential of Morning Musume history. I mean, when it’s Morning Musume’s breakout hit it makes sense. But this represents a shift, from old-school era to golden era. From the era of artist Morning Musume to the era of idols. I’m making this sound more dramatic than it is – it’s not like they went straight from Morning Coffee to a recent song like Brand New Morning in nothing. The shift is still gradual. But it is a shift indeed. Also, it went from the Abe Natsumi and no one else era of Morning Musume (as emphasized in Furusato, the single which is all Natsumi all the time) to the Abe Natsumi Goto Maki led era, which in many ways feels like a template for the Takahashi Ai Tanaka Reina era a few years later.

1. ~Ohayou~

While there are 12 tracks in 3rd Love Paradise, three out of these are spoken monologues over music – one at the start, one at the end, and one in the middle. So there’s not much to say. I like the idea of bookending an album like this – v-u-den did it well with Suite Room Number 1. But ~Ohayou~ veers into being too long. It’s well put together – the music in the background is mostly orchestral, which feels very old-school Disney Princess, with a strong hip hop beat underneath it, and each member doing a short spoken peace. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily what I want to wake me up in the morning (Ohayou being ‘good morning’) but it’s fine. Individually I don’t want to give this a score, but I’m not sure why this was chosen to be the opening, knowing what the next song would be.

2. Love Machine

The one, the only. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to be critical of a song quite so legendary as Love Machine. It’s Morning Musume’s biggest hit and it’s still a widely known song. I’d also say it’s for good reason. I’ve been listening to Love Machine for nearly 10 years, and it still gets me pumped up to listen to. It’s paced pretty perfectly, with enough interesting sections so that the song isn’t just homogenous. It’s arrangement, by Dance*Man, is just perfection. It’s got a great bass beat underneath the song, the melody is catchy, it’s weird in the best of ways. The only thing I wish from Love Machine is that there would be a few more real instruments, but even then it’s perfect as it is now, glossy and exciting. Love Machine is well deserved as Morning Musume’s most famous song. 10/10

3. Aisha Loan de
While Love Machine certainly does this, I feel like 3rd Love Paradise as a whole is really the move from old school Morning Musume to what the group became afterwards, which is an idol group. While it might be possible to name both singles, Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site, as flukes, the rest of the songs in 3rd Love Paradise reflect this trajectory. For example, while there are some harmonies in Aisha Loan de, they’re kept to the background and the focus is on solo line taking the melody. Gone are the complex vocals of Summer Night Town, which is a little bit of a shame. That’s not to say Morning Musume’s pop-focused trajectory is bad, but it’s just easy to see how they got there.

This song is a little bizarre in its execution. It’s generally a catchy pop tune, but all the vocals are clipped and short. Where you might expect someone to sing out, most of the vocal lines aren’t held very long, which makes for an interesting effect. It’s also not executed perfectly – there’s a couple of lines sung by a group where one member sings much longer than the others, which just sounds strangely sloppy, as if they were in a rush to get this record out and didn’t have time to rerecord those vocals. The background instrumental is strange and fun, and has some good parts, but the best part of the instrumental takes place when none of the members are singing.

Aisha Loan de is a pretty cute song, and relatively fun to listen to. However, it’s not one that I find particularly memorable. 7/10

4. Kuchizuke no Sono Ato

I really like the feel the acoustic guitar gives this song – it has a real folk /unplugged feel to it, even though there are more instruments than that acoustic guitar by a long shot. It’s specifically going for a laid back but still upbeat song, and I think they succeeded.

Much like Aisha Loan de, there’s one or two lines that are extended a little too long. Both times seem to be Ichii Sayaka, so it feels like they brought her in for a different time to record these songs and just didn’t direct her in the same way? It’s just bizarre and a little distracting, once I’ve listened.

The song that weirdly enough reminds me of Kuchizuke no Sono Ato is Iida Kaori’s solo song Aegekai ni Dakarete, especially in the chorus. I don’t know if this was an inspiration for Kaori’s Mediterranean inspired pop career, but that’s the feel I get from a few lines of melody and a little of the instrumentation with the acoustic guitar.

More than anything, though, while Kuchizuke no Sono Ato is nice it’s not particularly memorable one way or another. It’s pleasant to listen to, and it has a nice melody, but it’s not a song I’ll revisit much. It’s not quite as vocals driven as early Musume but not as polished as later Musume. 6/10

5. Koi no Dance Site

I’m finding it incredibly hard to be in any way critical of classic, golden era Morning Musume. While my personal knowledge of the group mainly kicks off starting with the introduction of the 4th generation (considering I’m an Ishikawa Rika fan), Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site are still incredibly familiar songs to me. And while I have a lot of nostalgia and love for Koi no Dance Site, it’s not without its flaws.

It’s in many ways based in some stereotypes of Indian people, which they’ve also used in songs like Happy Summer Wedding and Odore Morning Curry. The bridge section that’s just “Uh! Ha!” lasts about twice as long as it needs to. And yet, it’s still just a fun song.

I think it’s to Morning Musume’s credit that they went with something very different but with a similar energy to Love Machine. When a group has a breakout hit, it can be easy to just want to emulate that hit over and over again. And yet, while it bears some resemblance to Love Machine, there’s no denying it’s a very different song fundamentally.

Even though it’s flawed, Koi no Dance Site is goofy, fun, and a good choice of a song for Morning Musume. I love this unabashedly – even though it’s not on par with something like Love Machine, that’s an unbelievably high bar. 8/10

6. Lunchtime ~Rebanira Itame~

I don’t even know how to review this. This is a three and a half minute interlude that’s set up like a radio show, except it’s more often than not nonsensical and just strange, with Morning Musume just repeating the phrase “rebanira itame” (which is a leek and liver stir fry) over and over. But then that phrase occasionally gets remixed into kind of a dance track for a few seconds? And the majority of the spoken part is a male announcer?

I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand I like just how goofy and weird it is – doing stuff like this is what made me interested in Hello!Project in the first place. Having a strange spoken interlude of nonsense is just great. I just don’t know how it works in the album. 3rd Love Paradise isn’t conceptual in the way that, say, v-u-den’s Suite Room no 1 is. Aside from the opening, the ending, and this middle interlude, it doesn’t feel like any sort of concept album. It also goes on a bit too long – three and a half minutes of this is a lot, especially if you want to listen to music. It kind of breaks up the flow of the album in a way that I’m not sure I like.

7. DANCE Suru no Da!

Man I love this song. I mean, it is kind of in my wheelhouse, having a funk/disco feel to it, but it’s a great, happy song that almost surprises me to come out of this era – it feels a lot more like something that should have been on 4th Ikimasshoi, with 4th and 5th generation members.

Much like Koi no Dance Site and Love Machine, this is arranged by Dance Man and that’s where this song shines. The melody is pretty basic, but the arrangement makes it all shine, with a lot of strings and a great bass sound – I almost wish the bass took a more prominent role in all of this, but most of the instrumentation is in the background to the vocals, which isn’t unexpected for a Morning Musume track.

Partly cheesy and partly Jackson Five inspired, Dance Suru no Da is silly, fun, and an incredibly catchy tune. It’s not a top tier song in the way that Love Machine is, but again that’s a tough comparison to make. 9/10

8. Omoide
This feels a lot closer to old school Morning Musume than something like Dance Suru no Da – it’s jazzy but with some Spanish guitar thrown in. Probably my favorite part of Omoide is the vocal performance – the vocals are soft and breathy, but they’re also clipped and short at points. The vocal production of this is solid, and all the members sound great. This is the type of song that suits Iida Kaori well. All the members sound like they fit a song like this, though.

I also like the vocalizations in between the chorus and the verse – they work really well. The whole mix of the song works well, with the drums, the strings, the guitar, bass, etc. The overall sound of this is built up well. At certain points in the verses the instrumental isn’t quite as impressive, but the vast majority of the song works really well.

Omoide is, ironically enough, not the most memorable song for me but I really do enjoy it. It isn’t quite as good as some of the other tracks on this album, but it’s very well put together 8/10

9. Harajuku 6:00 Shuugou

Much like Omoide this is more of a jazzy sound, but one that I’m not entirely sure about. The entire song sounds too busy throughout. There are a lot of background sounds that are pretty constant, even some animal sounds which are a little bizarre. The song is so busy that it’s distracting.

That all being said, once you peel back the layers and busy sounds it does have a nice melody and some lovely harmonies. The song itself is good, and, to be fair, the extra noises do make it pretty interesting. That said, it’s mostly just distracting.

Harajuku 6:00 Shuugou is in general good but not necessarily memorable, and the extra background noises make it a song that I don’t really feel like revisiting much. 6/10

10. WHY

This song exists almost entirely as a gimmick – each member of Morning Musume sings a different syllable of the song except for a few lines. While it is a gimmick it mostly works – all the members sing this ina breathy voice and so all the members singing individual lines gives it a dreamlike, almost ethereal effect – it has a very interesting sound to it that I appreciate.

The arrangement is great too – it’s very laidback, with guitar and an r&b type sound. It works really well with the dreamy vocals, to create an interesting overall sound.

The only baffling section is that about 2/3 through the song there’s a much louder, much noisier section – it’s almost like a dubstep break except over ten years too early. I appreciate the change of pace, but I’m not sure it entirely works.

WHY is the type of song that should be pure gimmick, but it manages to have an interesting sound that I love. 9/10

11. …Suki da yo!

The last real song of the album is an upbeat, disco/funk track, which you know I’m all about. Suki da yo was arranged by Dance*Man, so it is understandably a polished and well put together track. It also had a separate arranger for horns, which makes sense because the horns are just fantastic – I’m a sucker for pop songs with a solid horn section, so Suki da yo makes me happy that way too.

As I mentioned with my last couple of Morning Musume album reviews I look for the last song as a place to leave the album. Suki da yo does that perfectly, as it is just a delight from start to finish. The melody’s fun, there’s a great bass line, and I love the section near the end where various vocal sections overlap each other. Suki da yo is pure fun, and a worthy track. I wish it was performed more – I think it would be an interesting song to hear from the current slate of Morning Musume performers.

The only thing is that initially I wasn’t sure how I liked the vocal mixing in this – the vocal line is kind of quiet and the vocals aren’t sung with quite as much gusto as with Love Machine. However, this still works well in Suki da yo and I don’t have any other major complaints. Suki da yo is a total joy. 10/10

12. Oyasumi
One last spoken monologue, with music box music in the background. It certainly fits the theme of being the “good night” monologue and as a bookend with Ohayou, but at the same time I don’t know if I like where it ends the album. Suki da yo ends on such a big, positive, happy note, and Oyasumi takes all that energy and gets rid of it.

It’s certainly not a bad monologue, and I wouldn’t mind a more structured, thematic Morning Musume album. I just don’t know if 3rd Love Paradise is it.

Overall: 3rd Love Paradise is an interesting beast. On the one hand, it is a collection of some very good music. None of the songs are particularly bad, and even the songs I like least I still like a lot. It might not be quite as musically challenging as something like First Time or Second Morning, but it also has some very solid upbeat tracks like Love Machine, Dance Suru no Da and Suki da yo. It signifies a move to these more upbeat tracks, but still maintains some interesting stuff – WHY is interesting and fantastic.

The biggest issue I have is that the framing device feels unnecessary. It makes me think of v-u-den’s album Suite Room no 1 – that is structured in a very similar way, where the start of the album is checking into a hotel and the end is checking out. However, the album songs are structured carefully and in a way that makes sense. Aside from the three framing monologues, I don’t feel like 3rd Love Paradise is structured in a way that warrants this device. It feels like they wanted to get an album out fast to capitalize on Love Machine and Koi no Dance Site’s popularity, but needed something to pad the tracklist from 9 tracks to 12.

That being said, it’s not a huge deal, especially if you just want to listen to the songs. Purely on a musical basis, the nine main songs of 3rd Love Paradise are excellent and well worth your time, especially if you’re a newer Morning Musume fan looking to explore the group’s discography.

Review: Morning Musume – Second Morning

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.

Second Morning is a really interesting album for me because it’s a pretty definitive end of an era. It’s the last album with Fukuda Asuka, the first member of the group to leave, and it’s the last release of any kind before Goto Maki joined the group and they put out Love Machine, the two things that kicked off both the golden era of Morning Musume and the current trajectory. Morning Musume before Love Machine was more artists than idols, but Love Machine was a major turning point. So this is the last hurrah for artist group Morning Musume before they became idol group Morning Musume.

1. Night of Tokyo City 

So last review I wrote briefly about album pacing and song orders and how I thought Samishii Hi, while a great song, was a weird choice for the last song. Night of Tokyo City is a great way to start out an album. Right off the bat there’s a great energy and electronic sound, and then all the members shouting the first lyrics of the song. It’s an immediate burst of energy, which is a great way to not only start off this album but establish it as something different from First Time. There’s nothing quite like Night of Tokyo City on First Time – Summer Night Town possibly comes closest, but even that has a different vibe. It’s slower, slightly more laid back. The intro of Night of Tokyo City is a brand new Morning Musume.

The rest of Night of Tokyo City is great too. It combines the best of both worlds with early Morning Musume. It has the energy of the golden era lineups from later years, but has the musicality of early Morning Musume, with harmonies, back and forth vocal parts, some great background vocals. This is using a group to its fullest. The cool feel and energy of the song starting off an album feels like the start of a trend that really started with Morning Musume’s Rainbow 7 album, which is starting off an album with an upbeat song with a cool image (think SONGS, Moonlight Night ~Tsukiyo no Ban da yo~, Genki+, that sort of thing). Which is not a bad place to start – all the songs I listed are fantastic and some of my favorite songs to listen to. It’s a great way to kick things off, which is part of why Night of Tokyo City.

If I had any quibbles with Night of Tokyo City it would be that the instrumentation is pretty workmanlike. It’s not bad – there’s a great beat and the keyboard solo is especially memorable. That said, this is pretty clearly the start of Morning Musume opting for more electronic instruments rather than having actual instruments perform the arrangement. That said, the parts that stand out (like said keyboard solo) are great, and the lush vocals more than make up for this. 10/10

2. Manatsu no Kousen

If you ever asked me to name the most underrated Morning Musume single, I’d first tell you that’s a weird request, but then I’d immediately mention Manatsu no Kousen. It’s hardly ever mentioned when people talk or write about classic Morning Musume (the focus tends to be on Morning Coffee, Memory Seishun no Hikari, and gee isn’t it weird that Furusato is basically an Abe Natsumi solo?), and I’d say it’s pretty handily the most underrated single of pre-Love Machine Morning Musume. I once knew someone who, perhaps facetiously, mentioned that Manatsu no Kousen was when early Morning Musume concert-goers took a bathroom break. All of this is to say I think that Manatsu no Kousen is a very good song.

I think the thing I love about it is how perfect of a summer song it is for me. While I like a lot of the other summer songs that have been released lately (AKB48’s Ponytail to Shushu, Super Girls’ Max Otome Gokoro, etc.) is that summer songs tend to be super upbeat, cheery. While I love listening to songs like that, Manatsu no Kousen feels like summer to me – more laidback, more breezy, calling for an endless summer. It genuinely feels like a summer song.

Beyond that it has a great disco feel to the song, a great arrangement, and some beautiful vocals and harmonies from Morning Musume. The entire song has a great relaxed feel to it while simultaneously being a great song. The album features a “Vacation Mix” rather than the original on the single – however, there isn’t all that much different, at least from what I can listen to, just a few updates to the background vocals and arrangement mostly.

Manatus no Kousen is unfairly overlooked, but it’s a really great track. 10/10

3. Memory Seishun no Hikari

As I mentioned in my look at Manatsu no Kousen, Memory Seishun no Hikari gets quite a bit of attention, and I’d say for good reason – it’s a great song that shows off the talent of Morning Musume. It’s also no surprise, then why this song has been performed as a solo to show off vocal skill in some other members of Hello!Project. While the intention is good, I’m not sure any of them really can pull this song off, and I’m also surprised at the prevalence of Memory Seishun no Hikari being performed as a solo song, when the vocal line works especially well with a group. Much like many of the tracks off First Time, Memory Seishun no Hikari has harmonies, multiple vocal parts, and so many overlapping parts. Even when Abe Natsumi (and to a lesser extent Fukuda Asuka) takes the main vocals, the rest of the group still has plenty to do. It’s part of what makes Memory Seishun no Hikari shine – just the melody line isn’t interesting, when compared to the melody plus the harmony.

The other notable aspect of Memory Seishun no Hikari is the rap sections, which aren’t really the norm in Morning Musume tracks, at least not performed by the members of the group – the only other example I can think of is maybe Take Off is Now, off of Platinum 9 Disc, but again it’s a rarity. It cements the R&B sound of the song, but also that combined with the melody and beat really dates this song – this more than perhaps any other Morning Musume single sounds VERY 90s. It’s the kind of song that I look back on fondly, but it’s hard not to laugh a bit at the rap, especially “You’re the love of my life, word.” which makes me giggle every time. This all combined with the song being fairly serious makes many aspects of it a bit hilarious in hindsight.

Memory Seishun no Hikari is a lovely song but man is it dated. 9/10.

4. Suki de x5
Suki de x5 is more of a song that I admire rather than a song I like. This song is pure jazz, and almost feels more experimental than most Morning Musume songs, even when they veer into different genres. There’s a whole lot going on, instruments overlapping each other, dissonant sounds, instruments clashing with each other. The vocal melody sung by the members also clashes, never really feeling like it fits with the instrumentation. In many ways the melody often feels like it would fit with an arrangement similar to Memory Seishun no Hikari’s – there feels like there’s a ballad buried under there, the jazz only emerging when words or phrases are repeated several times.

Because of this, Suki de x5 isn’t the most fun song to listen to. There are fun aspects – I love all the instrumentation. The drums sound great, as does the double bass, as does the saxophone. Each individual element works, but they don’t really work well together. However, it feels like this might be intentional, especially if you take the song togehter with the lyrics. The lyrics are a mishmash too, love mixed with hate, I love yous followed by tears. The lyrics focus on mixed emotions, so is it any wonder that the song would be a jumble too? This all makes Suki de x5 really interesting and unexpected from an idol group. Granted, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to listen to the song many more times.

Suki de x5 is a weird beast of a song – it’s not very pleasant to listen to, but one of the more interesting songs on the list. I feel like I could be justified in giving this a 5/10 or a 10/10 for different reasons, so I feel like it almost defies ranking systems. Still, I’ll give it a 7/10.

5. Furusato

Let’s get this out of the way right away – yes, this is pretty much 100% Abe Natsumi’s solo. The rest of Morning Musume performs background vocals and some harmonies, but those are minimal. Yes, earlier songs featured Nacchi as the lead vocalist, but the harmonies played a significant part of the enjoyment of the song. This is pretty much a solo song with some background vocals slapped in. Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of this style of focusing almost entirely on one or two front girls – my view is that you have a group, use it for a reason, either for harmonizing or spreading the solo parts to the rest of the group. That all being said, at least with the Nacchi focused group at least she’s a great singer, and performs Fusuato very well. Her vocals fit the song, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if Tsunku wrote the song with it being a solo song for her in mind.

I really love the instrumentation of Furusato. It almost sounds nostalgic in itself – part of that might be my own experience listening to this song about nine years ago for the first time, but the whatever keyboard sound they chose to use at the start of the song almost evokes the same kind of twang of a harpsichord or a shamisen. I realize those are two completely different instruments, but it feels more like a plucking noise rather than the percussive sound of a piano. It feels old-fashioned, and even though the background vocals don’t get the same amount of significance here as they do in earlier sounds, they sound forlorn, adding a lot of effect. The piano-heavy sound for the rest of the song works really well, too – the melody, lyrics and instrumentation all sound nostalgic and work well together.

One thing that does bug me about Furusato, though, is the weird electronic blip that pops up every few seconds – it’s not a bad effect, but its frequency is impossible to ignore. It’s a bit grating, and I’m almost annoyed that I started to notice it!

For all its criticism over being an Abe Natsumi solo, Furusato is great and a great addition to this album. 8/10

6. Daite Hold on Me!

First off, much like Manatsu no Kousen before it, this is a special remix for the album – however, there’s not all that much different in this version than the original single version, just some extra mixing. Next, Daite Hold on Me! has a special place in my heart because of the TV show Utaban, where Iida Kaori’s spoken “Nee Waratte” line at the end became a running joke. Because of this, I can’t listen to this song without laughing to myself a little.

That all being said, Daite Hold on Me is very good – it has a similar feeling of datedness much like Memory Seishun no Hikari, but at the same time has a lot of energy to it. The strings make it have a disco feel to it, which I definitely appreciate it. There is a rap section, but this time performed by Morning Musume themselves. I wouldn’t consider any of the members of Morning Musume to be particularly proficient at rap (perhaps why they hired someone else to do it in Memory Seishun no Hikari) but they don’t really need to be – with a song this energetic, all you really need is some shouting, which they do admirably.

Daite Hold on Me has a lot of energy and doesn’t really let up. It’s the most energetic single in this pre-Love Machine Morning Musume. That being said, it has a lot of what makes early Morning Musume great – some great vocals, harmonies, the back and forth of the chorus is great. I wouldn’t put it as being as great or timeless as, say, Summer Night Town, but it’s still a fun, energetic song that works really well. And yes, Nee Waratte. 8/10

7. Papa ni Niteru Kare
Again, right off the bat, the lyrics are literally about dating someone who reminds you of your dad. That’s creepy to me, so the rest of this review is going to be in spite of that added weird factor about the lyrics. It’s not only dating someone who reminds you of your father, that’s the reason the song protagonist likes him. Tsunku, what were you really thinking?

The shame of lyrics like that is that Papa ni Niteru Kare is a pretty great song outside of that. It has an old-school feel to it – the strings and flute that start out the song are pretty lovely. It has a nostalgic feel and the chorus is genuinely pretty catchy. The vocals are all breathy and not exactly showing off Morning Musume’s vocal prowess, but are pretty fitting. For the most part it’s not the most memorable song but nice, which is almost more unfortunate because the lyrics stand out to the front. 7/10

8. Senkou Hanabi

This song is basically “hm, we liked Furusato, but how about a song with MORE Abe Natsumi?” This is basically a Nacchi solo with some background vocals and echoes by Ichii Sayaka and Yasuda Kei. Nacchi’s voice is fantastic, so it’s not a huge deal, but I wish there was more of a chance for featured vocals for Ishiguro Aya and Yasuda Kei in particular because their vocals are great.

Senkou Hanabi has a real nostalgic feel to it, not even counting its age as a song. I think this is mostly the instrumentation, which is mostly pretty acoustic with some nice strings and piano at the start. While there is some electric guitar in here, it still maintains a home-y, nostalgic feel.

If at this point you’re not sick of ABe Natsumi, and I’m not, it’s a nice little song. It has a nice melody, the instrumentation is nice, and I like the echoes sung by Sayaka and Kei. It’s not necessarily a song I go back to all that often, but it’s nice. 8/10

9. Koi no Shihatsu Ressha

The keyboard and guitar intro is probably one of the most dated parts of any Morning Musume song – it is VERY 90s. However, I find it kind of charming for it. Even as it’s kind of a cheesy song, it has an earnestness to it that makes the cheesy 90s feel work. It’s a very upbeat song too, which makes a lot of difference – most of the rest of the album has been sad, wistful, and aggressive, with the most upbeat song so far being Manatsu no Kousen, which is more laidback. Koi no Shihatsu Ressha is a much needed happy reprieve.

The song is well put together throughout, but it really shines in the chorus – the way it just bursts into action is very nice. The verses feel like they are building up to the utter joy and sweetness of the chorus, and I love the transition from verse to chorus in the song.

Koi no Shihatsu Ressha has stuck around a bit more than, say, Senkou Hanabi or even Night of Tokyo City. I think that’s due to how joyful and fun it is as a song. 9/10

10. Otome no Shinrigaku

This is possibly my favorite track on the album, maybe tied with Manatsu no Kousen. It has a really interesting sound to it, a solid energy, and it’s just fun in an interesting way. I barely know how to describe the sound – it has a bit of a mysterious, darker sound coming from the bass line, but it also has a great guitar sound to it. It’s very old-school rock, but even then I don’t know of any songs like this, especially songs by Morning Musume. It’s rock and roll (hence the “I love rock and roll” at the start), but not in the way typical idol music does it. It’s a really interesting songs.

It’s pretty easy to see this as a proto-Petitmoni. The song is primarily sung by Yasuda Kei and Ichii Sayaka, who would join up with Goto Maki a few months later to put out one single. But even then, Chokotto Love, the only Petitmoni single that Ichii Sayaka featured on, is much happier and poppier than Otome no Shinrigaku – if anything, Otome no Shinrigaku reminds me a bit of Seishun Jidai 1 2 3 or Baby Koi ni Knockout, the singles put out after she left.

The vocal line is where the song shines – both Kei and Sayaka sound great and have a great back and forth. The rest of the group does some harmonies that work well together, too. If I had any complaints occasionally the echo/reverb is a little too much, but even that’s a tiny quibble. Otome no Shinrigaku is a great song and one that H!P should perform more. 10/10

11. Never Forget

I find it a little weird that Morning Musume would include this on Second Morning when it’s a solo song by Fukuda Asuka, who is not on the album cover nor is she credited in the album. It is a pretty seminal song, but it’s just weird that it would be on this album without credit for the soloist singing this.

This is the graduation song performed by the first member to ever leave Morning Musume, Fukuda Asuka, and has since been a major graduation song for Morning Musume members. And it’s pretty easy to see why it has been – it’s a pretty timeless song. The arrangement is very good, with a mix of strings, acoustic and electric guitars. The melody and pace of the song feels bittersweet – it’s nostalgic and pretty, but doesn’t linger. The lyrics reflect this too – they speak of leaving as an inevitability rather than a choice. It’s accepting, as if “I have to leave, I don’t want to, but I also want to move on” which is probably the nicest way of putting the real choice that Asuka made.

It’s not a song I choose to listen to very often, but a very good one. 8/10.

12. Da Di Du De Do Da Di

After the sadness of Never Forget, it’s nice to have something upbeat like Da Di Du De Do Da Di. And really, this is a nice place to end the album. Whereas I thought First Time had a weird ending with Samishii Hi, Da Di Du De Do Da Di is upbeat, happy and fun.

In many ways this feels like foreshadowing for Morning Musume to come. It’s upbeat and fun and focuses more on being fun rather than quality in the vocals. There are a few times where two members sing a line together and they aren’t mixed perfectly, or one member is a bit off. There are several spoken/shouted lines, and at one point during these Nakazawa Yuko starts to laugh. This gives the song a very off the cuff feel, as if it was recorded with Morning Musume performing from start to finish and goofing off. I know this isn’t how it was done logically, but it’s a fun touch.

The arrangement is a bit weird – sometimes it feels like the guitar clashes a bit with the vocals. However, for the most part it works pretty well, and the guitar sound is nice. It’s not particularly interesting, but works for the most part.

Da Di Du De Do Da Di isn’t particularly my favorite Morning Musume song, but it’s interesting to listen to in the context of current Morning Musume, where serious vocal skill is traded for Morning Musume as a group goofing off and having fun. 8/10

Overall: I can’t really tell if I like Second Morning or First Time better. Both albums are excellent, though Second Morning is more of a move towards the Morning Musume current fans know, which would probably make it a bit more accessible. Songs like Otome no Shinrigaku and Manatsu no Kousen are my particular favorites, but even listening to songs like Memory Seishun no Hikari, Senkou Hanabi and Night of Tokyo City, while dated, still feels a little more like current Morning Musume. This is a solid collection of songs and I like all of them – even something like Suki de x5, which I don’t know if I actually like, is at the very least interesting. While a little less cohesive than First Time, I almost prefer the overarching pacing of Second Morning to First time. Second Morning is a great collection, though, and if you like Morning Musume and haven’t listened to this you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Review: Morning Musume – First Time

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.

Released in July 1998, First Time is about as far from the current Morning Musume as you can get. With an emphasis on real instruments and heavy uses of harmonies, First Time sounds much more like an album of a band or an artist rather than an idol group.

1. Good Morning

I don’t understand why this song isn’t performed more as an anthem for Morning Musume, it feels energetic and still pretty fresh today – a pretty amazing feat, considering that this is not quite 19 years old. I think a lot of that has to do with the pace of the song – it’s not hyperactive like some of Morning Musume’s later songs but not a ballad. I think it also has a great arrangement – not much about it feels cheesy or outdated (there’s occasionally a few audio effects that are very 90s, but that’s about it). The acoustic piano sounds wonderful and does a great job in setting the tone. While there are some good harmonies here, they’re more subtle than some of the songs later in the album. Good Morning is a great start to the album – upbeat and cheerful while also having a great arrangement and a classic sound. 8/10

2. Summer Night Town

Summer Night Town is Morning Musume’s second debut single, and an interesting one in that the harmony and melody seem almost completely connected. The harmony is needed to make the melody sound even remotely interesting in some places – for example, the line that ends the chorus is “daikirai daikirai daikirai daisuki.” However, the interest is in the harmony (that goes higher with every repeat) whereas the melody stays on the bottom line, repeating the same three notes for each word. Just the melody line alone is pretty uninteresting, but the harmonies add a lot of interest.

The other thing I find interesting about Summer Night Town (and other songs on this album) are just how much they’re geared towards being performed by a group. Attempting to sing this solo doesn’t sound anywhere near as compelling. The harmonies are too significant, there’s a back and forth during the verses. It’s a group song through and through.

That all being said, Summer Night Town is still a great song. It’s a bit dated – it feels straight out of its era. That’s not a bad thing, though, and stands up as being a great song from 90s idol music. I love the harmonies throughout and how much they matter – all of that is a good thing. The members all do a great job vocally, too – it’s a shame that Fukuda Asuka left the group so early because she’s very talented. Abe Natsumi makes total sense as the front member of the group, and I’m very partial to Ishiguro Aya’s voice and she does very well with what she’s given here. The entire group sounds great, and share a strong level of vocal talent. It’s mostly the arrangement that sounds a little dated, but it works and I especially like how much percussion there is at times.

Summer Night Town is a song that would only really work with this group of members at this point in time, and it’s a great song. 9/10.

3. Dou ni ka Shite Douyoubi

I absolutely don’t know why I don’t listen to this song more because, if you know me, this song is way up my alley. It’s a upbeat disco track in the vein of Dschinghis Khan and is so retro in its stylings. The intro horns are probably my favorite part of the song, but the rest of the arrangement is great, including the strong bass line, the strings and the clapping. The strong brass sound works the best.

The only thing I can say negatively about this song is that it’s a little repetitive and pretty simple in structure – the verses are the same melody repeated twice, so there’s basically two repeats per verse, then the chorus, and then there’s an instrumental bridge. It’s comparatively fairly simple. However, the pieces that are there are so compelling that this doesn’t matter much. Dou ni ka Shite Douyoubi is a great song, and if you like the recent disco revival in idol music you should like this. 9/10

4. Morning Coffee

Much like what I mentioned with my writing about Summer Night Town, Morning Coffee is very much a song that can only be done with a group – it’s full of harmonies and overlapping vocals. While I’d say that Morning Coffee could be done solo more easily than Summer Night Town it would lose much of the flavor,

However, Morning Coffee is a much more easygoing song, much more in the vein of Good Morning but even then more mellow. While it might be easy to say this since it’s Morning Musume’s first major debut single, Morning Coffee has a really classic feel to it. While it has an old-fashioned sound, it doesn’t feel overly 90s or tied to its time period. I wasn’t listening to Morning Musume when Morning Coffee came out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was seen as being a bit old school when it came out.

That said, I really like it – it’s a song I’ve listened to a thousand times since getting into idol music. I love how acoustic the instrumentation is, how mellow it is. It’s perhaps not as exciting or ambitious as Summer Night Town, but it’s a very solid first single and it works. 8/10

5. Yume no Naka

Speaking of feeling dated, this is pretty retro sounding – like more of a 70s/80s classic idol ballad. This is the type of song that gets more interesting the more you pay attention to it. While it’s not necessarily my type of song, there are so many layers to the sound which make it a really rich sound. The back and forth harmonization of the vocals works really well, and so the vocal line is just lovely.

The instrumentation is beautiful as well – the strings sound old fashioned and romantic, the horns work really well too. Everything meshes well together – there’s never a part where the instrumentation sounds empty, nor does it ever sound too busy. There are a lot of things at play but it never feels overdone. It all works really well.

I’m not a big ballad person so Yume no Naka isn’t really a song that I’d gravitate to normally. But all the elements of this song work really well and the product is just lovely. 9/10

6. Ai no Tane

Ai no Tane is Morning Musume’s only indie single, the single they had to sell 50,000 copies of in five days before being a group. It’s bright, upbeat and a very peppy song – not a bad song to start a group out with. I find it kind of interesting, though – most of the songs on First Time so far have had a lot of focus on singing as a group and harmonies, whereas Ai no Tane is almost more similar to current Morning Musume songs – the verses are mostly solo lines and the chorus is mostly sung in unison.

Ai no Tane isn’t a bad song, far from it. It’s a really solid pop song with a great melody, solid production. However it’s a lot less ambitious than the other songs on this album. It’s a very good song, but not particularly interesting.  7/10

7. Wagamama

The two things that stick out to me about Wagamama more than anything else are how mature the vocals are and how much this sounds like an indie pop song rather than a major pop group. The vocals in this sound great, deeper than what I’m used to with Morning Musume. The instrumentation is very drum and electric heavy, which contributes to it sounding very indie rock. In fact, some of the electric guitar really reminds me of Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space album, which is a good thing for me.

Wagamama is more laid-back than a lot of the songs on this album and it’s not immediately my favorite. However, I love the guitar and vocals and the song works well. It’s not a song I come back to very often, but when I do I always enjoy it. 7/10

8. Mirai no Tobira

This is probably the album song off of First Time I listen to the most, and for good reason – it’s just a great song. It’s also one of the most upbeat, fun songs off the album – this is probably the closest to current Morning Musume we get on this album.

One thing I really love about Mirai no Tobira is the contrast between the verses and the chorus. The entire song is upbeat, but the verse has a laid back feel that transitions to a very different chorus perfectly. The lyrics are also performed in a silly, kind of laid back way – this isn’t beautiful in the way that Yume no Naka is beautiful, but this is fun and silly.

While this doesn’t have the elements that I’ve been praising First Time for as a whole (harmonies, lush instrumentation) it’s still probably my favorite track off this album. It’s just pure fun, happy disco music and I love that. 9/10

9. Usotsuki Anta

Now it’s back to more of the standard upbeat, heavy harmony songs, but I love this one too. The electric guitar in the instrumentation works really well, and the harmonies work really well. The phrasing of the solo lines is also pretty great – the melody and lyrics work well together in a way that is not something I hear a lot in idol music.

Really, Usotsuki Anta is in many ways more of the same with this album. That being said, it is its own song, and there’s nothing wrong with having more of the same when the same is this good. Usotsuki Anta is great. 8/10

10. Samishii Hi

I haven’t focused a whole lot on the composition of the album so far, but Samishii Hi seems like a bit of an odd choice for the last song on the album. Samishii Hi is one of the slowest songs on the album, a ballad with the backing being primarily an acoustic piano. Ballads can work as the last song on an album – Momoiro Clover Z’s album 5th Dimension ends with the fabulous Hai to Diamond and that’s a pretty perfect ending. That said, Samishii Hi is a weird place to leave off on. This is a song I’d most likely put in the middle of the album, after something particularly upbeat (Mirai no Tobira?) and end the album with something more upbeat and on a happier note (Ai no Tane maybe?).

Samishii Hi is a pretty good song – it’s a pretty standard ballad with a pretty melody, the acoustic piano works well, and I like the background vocals a lot. There’s a lot to like about Samishii Hi, and I think having a song this slow works well. However, I think this is a really odd place to leave the album, especially when it doesn’t feel representative of the album of a whole. 7/10

Overall: My scoring of songs is pretty arbitrary and mostly serves to be a guidepost to show how much I prefer certain songs to others. However, the ratings are all pretty high here because First Time is a flat out great album. All of the songs are well-written and well-arranged, using lots of varied, real instruments. Everything about this album works pretty well. Not all the songs are perfect, and I’d rearrange the album some if I was given a say. But the emphasis on harmonies, quality vocals, and quality arrangements makes First Time a treat. It’s wildly different from the Morning Musume of today, but that’s part of what makes First Time so fun. It’s the type of album I’d share with non-idol fans, I think it’s that well made and produced. I only wish Morning Musume of today could pull of this kind of music! 9/10

Idol Thoughts: On Michishige Sayumi

Honestly, if you told me several years ago that I would be contemplating a lot about the nature of idols and idol fandom over the graduation of Michishige Sayumi, I probably would have laughed at you a bit. Not that I had anything against Sayumi; I’ve never hated or even disliked her. She’s just never really been on my radar. She was never a particular favorite or least favorite, and as I settled into my all time favorite Morning Musume member (Ishikawa Rika) and then my current favorites (then Mitsui Aika, now Ishida Ayumi) I never gave Sayu too much thought.
That said, looking back, I do think she’s come quite a long way as an idol and as a member of Morning Musume. Reflecting on Michishige Sayumi’s tenure in the group is actually a very interesting time capsule. Her first single was Shabondama, well past Morning Musume’s peak in sales and in the public consciousness, but there were still first generation members in Morning Musume when she was there. While she wasn’t someone who was in Love Machine while it released, she was with members who did. She went through all the graduations and dips in Morning Musume’s popularity, through the constantly changing lineup to the stagnant lineup of the Platinum era, and saw Morning Musume through to its 12th generation of members and heights in popularity they haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
Sayumi has also grown a lot in the years. Again, ask me in 2009 if I thought that Sayumi would be leader, and a great one at that, I would have probably laughed at your face. She had a reputation as being self-centered, and it was possibly deserved. Even if most of what she said was an act, it was still pretty self-centered. She publicly (and justifiably) complained about how many lines and how much focus she got in singles. Yet now I’d consider her a fantastic leader, given how much she has really let the other members shine. A lot of this is due to the various line distributions and where she is positioned in PVs and in photo shoots, but she hasn’t seemed to complain like she did in 2008-2009. She has let the group shine over herself, which is what I would consider the mark of a great idol leader.
This year I also gained a stronger appreciation for Sayumi after seeing Morning Musume perform in New York. Honestly, while her handshake had very little impression on me, her performance won me over completely. While I don’t think even Sayumi fans would consider her to be an accomplished vocalist (though she has improved a lot over the years), her performance of Lalala no Pipipi was fantastic. She had a completely magnetic stage presence, and controlled the stage. While I think the other girls will be able to handle losing Sayumi, this year I appreciated how strong of an idol she really is.
Ultimately, though, I don’t think it will affect the group too much, at least not sales wise. While some Sayumi fans will surely leave, more fans will join in. Morning Musume is at its strongest its been in many years. Heavy hitters like Takahashi Ai and Tanaka Reina have left in  the recent years, and the group has only grown stronger. I think this will be an adjustment for some of the girls, but at this point 9th gen has been a part of the group for over three and a half years and I think they are more than ready to take on some leadership.
As I think about this graduation, I’m reminded a bit of Maeda Atsuko’s graduation. Sayu has never been the center of the group in the way Acchan was, and she certainly doesn’t have Acchan’s popularity. However, when Acchan left, the big reason that she gave was that it was time for the juniors to shine. I think in a way this is what Sayumi is doing. She has been a part of the group for a long time and has seen it rise to its current heights, but it is now her time to move on and let her junior members shine.
So really, thanks for all the years, Sayumi.

Morning Musume ’14 Live in New York Concert Report

Hey guys! It’s been a while since I’ve posted last, but I just had an amazing weekend. The reason it was so amazing was because I flew to New York City to see Morning Musume ’14 perform at the Best Buy Theater!


It’s been a long time coming, really. The concert was announced on May 5, 2014, exactly five months before the concert was held, and I think I decided on that day that I was going to this. Morning Musume isn’t the top group I’ve been waiting to see, but I did really regret not going to see them when they came to LA in 2009. Even though, in hindsight, the Platinum era is one of my least favorite eras of MM history, I felt like I had missed out. This felt like a big chance for me. Ishida Ayumi is one of my favorite idols, and I’m generally very fond of this era’s music and members. This was an opportunity I couldn’t miss out on.

Fast forward several months, and I flew into New York on Friday afternoon. That day I met up with one of my best friends, Dani, who I’ve mentioned several times on this blog (in fact, she helped come up with the name Happy Disco, so there you go!) Seeing Dani was a major part of why I went on this trip, so it was really fun to hang out with her in person all weekend!

Saturday was Hello!Party night, and that was a lot of fun. I’d link a video of the games, but I’m pretty sure I made a fool of myself with one of them so I’ll leave you to find those. Basically, Hello!Party has been run four times now by Jen and Bryan Veloso as a Hello!Project fan meetup. Attendees get split into teams, and play games inspired by games played on things like Hello!Morning, competing for prizes. In addition, there were chekis taken for a scrapbook, dancing to music provided by Johann from (who I missed out meeting at Idol Matsuri and was happy to see there!), and general fan meetup goodness.

That night I got to meet up with one of my favorite bloggers, The Number 244! Hanging out with him was a highlight of the weekend, as we’ve been twitter buddies for some time. I was very glad to meet someone from the idol blog world on this trip!

Sunday morning I spent in line. I had initially planned on getting up, checking in on the line to see when it got long enough, and then joining when I felt like it was long enough for me to really want to get in. Well, I woke up at 8 AM, checked twitter, and saw that the line was already VERY long. I rushed, got ready, grabbed some food for the line and got to the line at about 8:45 – 8:50 AM. Which means that yes, I stayed in line for over six hours.

That said, the line certainly didn’t feel like it took that long. Even though people got shuffled around in line a few times, it was very fun to meet people and chat with them in line about Hello!Project and idols in general. Some Japanese fans brought extra CDs and photos and handed them out in line, so thank you for the Ayumi photo! I really appreciate that!

Right before the concert (about a half an hour/45 minutes before doors) I got to meet another Twitter buddy by accident, Rebecca . We only knew it was each other because I mentioned Team Syachihoko which is kind of a dead giveaway for my identity. We chatted in line with some other fans before the doors opened.

Idol fans are serious fans. Even as we were told to not run, we definitely speedwalked and tried to get there faster. I bought an additional ticket late in the game which granted me early entry, which ended up being a VERY good idea because of my height and how quickly everyone lined up. We were right after VIP, though. No one really knew where anything was in the theater, so someone asked for merch before we were pointed to it. Even though I had thought that the VIP fans would beeline straight to the stage, it was packed by the time I got there. I secured my Ayumi towel, my t-shirt and, most importantly, my CD and handshake ticket. I nearly forgot my wallet with my excitement, so thank you to whoever handed it to me. That was very nearly a disaster.

I got a spot RIGHT next to the official video cameras and a bunch of Morning Musume staff, which was kind of intimidating at first. This was a great choice for me, though, since it was elevated which meant a much better viewing experience for short me.

Then finally, the concert started. I have to say it was kind of surreal to see the members walk out on stage one by one. I’ve been following these girls for years, and actually seeing them in person is a little weird. One Two Three started, which was a pretty perfect way to start the concert. It’s known as being a very popular song abroad, so we were all very pumped for it.

The setlist itself was really more than I could have hoped for, really. I feel like everything I was told wouldn’t happen did end up happening. Most songs ended up being short versions except for a few, but that enabled them to perform a lot of great songs so I was very OK with that.

As expected, the biggest focus was on the current group’s most recent songs. I was very happy about this, as, like I said, I’m very fond of the current group’s songs. One Two Three, Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke and What is Love seemed to be particular crowdpleasers, but everything from the recent songs came off almost better live than they were recorded. I had long hated The Matenrou Show, for example, but I came out loving it.

There were a few older songs, though, mostly through their “updated” album. As a MM fan who cares a lot about the golden era I would have preferred to hear the originals. However, being able to hear Renai Revolution 21, The Peace and Love Machine was incredible. The Peace especially, as a huge Ishikawa Rika fan, made me incredibly happy. I was also pleased to hear Shabondama and Kimagure Princess, which were both fun to see the current group do.

The biggest surprise, for me, was the updated version of I Wish and Sayumi’s solo, Lalala no Pipipi. Hello!Project groups tend to perform every song as a whole group while abroad, so I was really surprised to see that they went for a solo performance. I Wish was definitely a highlight, but I cried through a lot of it. It’s a very touching, emotional song to me. Lalala no Pipipi was FUN. Sayumi might not be the best singer, but she’s an excellent performer. She commanded the stage and performed with such gusto that it ended up being one of my favorite performances of the concert.

I have to say I was really impressed with the girls. I’d always assumed that concert DVDs were doctored, vocally, which isn’t a bad thing. However, all the members sounded really good here. Riho’s voice was particularly delightful.

Performance wise, I tended to watch Ayumi more than anyone else. She had a fantastic stage performance and was almost magnetic. I know a lot of people are reevaluating Ayumi after this concert, which I’m very happy about. She deserves it 100%. That said, everyone’s dance was fantastic, which is impressive given the amount of jet lag they were all feeling.

The MCs were very fun, as well. The first big MC was member introductions, and everyone did a great job at appealing in English. The crowd left Zukkii speechless, literally, after giving her an incredibly loud cheer that she didn’t seem to be expecting. She forgot her English, which was pretty adorable. Eripon announced she liked Spiderman, and threw a fake web into the audience, telling the lucky guy who caught it that it was a present from her.

The other highlight MC was the one during the encore, where Sayumi read a letter to the fans. I got a little teary-eyed as she told us about how happy she was and that “You made this happen.” I had an immense feeling of pride towards the international idol fan community. We may have a small community, but we’re passionate. I think everyone else felt similarly.

After the concert ended, it was handshake time! All the people who had tickets sat in the back of the theater and waited to be called up, row by row. Not really thinking where I was sitting mattered, I sat up near the back. Even though I had to wait, it was kind of worth it as the girls tended to play with the audience during free time. Riho mimed doing the wave, which we all eagerly tried to do without any coordination making it not really the wave at all. Maachan shouted back and forth with a couple of people.

Finally, it was my turn. I honestly can’t remember some of the girls as well as others. I had heard before that Hello!Project had short handshakes, but I didn’t really realize it until I went to this. The handshakes were sometimes absurdly short. For example, with Zukkii, I barely got out the word “Kanon” before I was pushed along to the next member. I don’t regret the handshake event, but how ridiculously short it all was was a tad jarring.

The event was held in member order, from lowest in seniority to highest, so Sakura was first. I told her that I really liked the English goods video she did, and she thanked me. She was very sweet.

Kudou and Maachan I thanked and was moved along quickly. My go to thing was thanking the members as I was getting pushed along.

Ayumi I got a couple of extra seconds with, which I was grateful. Immediately she noticed my Ayumi gear and asked me if they were her colors. I told her yes and that I really really liked her. She was happy about that.

Harunan I called Honey, and she responded with Honey back. It was cute.

Zukkii I barely got to say “Kanon” before getting pushed along. Ah well.

Riho is not a member who I have been a huge fan of in the past. That said, I’ve warmed up to her a lot very recently, and at this event she charmed me even more. I moved up to the handshake and called her Rihoriho, one of her nicknames. Her eyes kind of widened and she went “ohhhh, thank you!” It was ridiculously adorable and won me over, so Riho is now my #2 favorite current Morning Musume member.

Eripon and Mizuki I basically just thanked. I wish I could have said more but no time!

Sayumi I congratulated on her graduation and thanked her.

Like I said, it was short, but I’m glad it made some really valuable memories.

That night the Japanese fans were hosting their own party. I wanted to go, but as soon as I sat down, my legs basically stopped working so I just took it easy that night instead of going out and partying.

All in all, it was an incredibly fun and rewarding weekend. The performances were top notch and the handshake was fun, even if it was short. I got to meet friends I’d never met before, and chat with other fans. It was a fantastic experience, and hopefully one I’d like to repeat soon!

Review Monday: Morning Musume – Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa, Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai, What is Love?

That’s right, I’m reviewing Morning Musume’s latest. I’m sure you guys don’t need much more introduction!

Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa

Song: When I first listened to Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa, I hated it. Not just dislike, I thought it was just terrible. However, something amazing happened. I kept watching the PV (partly out of my interest in the group and partly because of the PV), and the song suddenly grew on me, where I began to like it where I had hated it.

This isn’t to say the song is perfect. By all means, there are still the flaws it had before. The most noticeable flaw is the weird phrasing of lyrics in the song, where words get bunched together and the girls have to very quickly sing lyrics in small places. It’s hard to imagine this particular melody without the weird phrasing, but it does sound unprofessional and a bit odd.

I think the thing that I appreciate most about Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa is more of what it represents for Morning Musume than anything else. While I’ve really enjoyed Morning Musume’s latest output, I have wondered, like many others, if the group would get stuck in the EDM genre and eventually play out the genre until people were sick of it. Hello!Project has a terrible habit of adopting a “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality, and since Morning Musume has been suddenly selling better than the group has sold in years and years, I was worried the group would get stuck in a rut. Egao no Kimi wa Taiyou sa still fits the mold in that it does use EDM. However, this song experiments with using the group’s signature sound and making a lighter, happier song. In a way, they’ve proven that they can take the group’s signature sound, and still have very varied songs.

This song, while initially something I really hated, has grown to become a song I love, and one that I think represents good things happening for Morning Musume. 8/10

PV I think green screen has been getting a bad rap lately. It’s a tool, and like any tool it can be used well and used poorly. I understand why Morning Musume fans have lately held it in contempt, for sure; Up-Front tends to use it pretty poorly, like in the case of the Help Me PV where it was a poor substitute for actually being outside. However, with an interesting aesthetic style, a green screen can be a great asset. Morning Musume has somehow managed to use this well.


By only using the green screen sparingly, as patterns that move with the girls to the song and to the dance, the PV looks a lot more interesting than in something like a Help Me situation. This elevates the standard H!P studio PV from being basic to being something visually interesting and appealing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a H!P PV because I found it to be an interesting PV.


The PV is actually shot well, too. I really enjoy the opening shot that starts up overhead and tracks down to in front of the girls. Since Morning Musume is still (rightfully so) getting known for its formation dance, I’m glad that they capitalized on this with some good bird’s eye shots.

The lighting is also good, especially by Hello!Project standards. While I would change it a few places, this is miles above the awful flat lighting they were trying to use for a while.


By far my biggest complaint is the blurry, bloom effect that they used on the close-ups. I don’t object to the idea of it, but I do object that it gets used as much as it does. This isn’t as bad as some other effects (see: One Two Three), but it does detract.

This is a solid PV that is a step up from other recent H!P efforts to show off Morning Musume’s strengths while having a unique visual style. 8/10.

Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai

Song: This is the least interesting song on this single. Not to say this is bad; I actually quite like it. But for being a fairly experimental and interesting single, Kimi no Kawari wa Iya Shinai is fairly standard. Which makes sense; this is being used as the cheer song for the Japanese team at the Olympics this year, so they would want something that was energetic, exciting and all that (I do particularly like the “Nippon” chants; they sounded nice here).

This doesn’t sound particularly like Brainstorming or Wagamama Ki no Mama Ai no Joke (It might be a bit closer to Ai no Gundan) but it’s in the same mold of cool song. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Brainstorming or Wagamama, but that’s in part because of how great I thought those two songs were when I first heard them and now some of the novelty has worn off.

Really, I don’t have much more to say about this song than that. I know I like it, but as a song it’s the least interesting and least remarkable one of the lot. 7/10.

PV: As a PV, this is a lot less interesting than Egao no Kimi.


Production values are still good here; I like the camera angles and the lighting. I feel like H!P hired a new team or got their PV people in gear, which makes me VERY happy. This PV is shot much better than a lot of H!P’s older stuff.

Like everyone else ever, I’m not sure how I feel about these outfits on this background. They kind of clash, but at the same time look fine. H!P’s always had iffy costumes at times, and this is hardly the worst of the lot, but it does stand out.


One of the biggest strengths of these PVS (not just Kimi no Kawari but all three) is just how strong these girls have gotten. Gone are the awkward days of early PVs, Morning Musume is now full of pros. While I think that a stagnant lineup is a mistake and that they really ought to be working on that 12th gen, I can see why H!P would be hesitant; all the girls in MM are solid, and work well together. Riho and Ayumi do a great job of starting things off here, and Kudou Haruka stands out.


The green screen used in the closeups is the weakest part, but it’s mostly harmless and unobtrusive.

Despite weird costume choices, H!P puts out a solid effort with this PV, even despite being unremarkable. 7/10

What is Love?

Song: What is love? How I feel about this song.

What is Love brings back Morning Musume to what made me fall in love with the group in the first place; playing with genres within the contexts of pop music. The first Morning Musume song I heard and loved was the good old Mr. Moonlight Ai no Big Band (also probably why my first favorite was Yossy), and I still love how it brings back an older genre of music into pop music. What is Love does what Mr. Moonlight did to big band, only with swing, and adds on some additional interest with combining it with the EDM/dubstep inspired sound of Morning Musume’s current era.

What is Love is catchy, exciting, and I just love the swing music sound that they throw in there. This is one of Morning Musume’s best songs in years, and I don’t say that lightly. Morning Musume has improved a lot in the past year, year and a half, and What is Love is, to me, the culmination of that. 9/10.

PV While I’m not opposed to the idea of a live PV (especially on a single where there’s two other PVs going on). However, live PVs can be done well and they can be done as, well, an easy PV.

Team Syachihoko’s Soko Soko Premium is a good example of a live PV; it takes multiple live performances, and edits things together so that the PV conveys some of the energy of the group’s live performances. What is Love often falls a bit flat at this.

What is Love isn’t bad, per say, it just feels like a bit of a cop out. I like Morning Musume live, and I don’t see much wrong with the PV, but it could be a lot better. 6/10

Overall, I’m impressed by this single, in addition to being impressed by Morning Musume as a whole in the past years. While the first two songs took a while to grow on me, once they did I really enjoyed this single and I’m happy it’s been so successful.