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 Charisma.com’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.

TIF 2017 Recommendations

The time is nearly here! Frankly, I initially thought Tokyo Idol Festival was the first weekend of September so I thought I’d have a bit more time to work on TIF posts. But, while I still have a ton of groups I’d love to profile and cover, here are some recommendations for the lucky people who are planning on going to TIF. Please note – I haven’t seen most of these groups perform live so I can’t really speak to the live experience, and the TIF experience may vary even further (as a festival). That said, these are some of my favorites that are going to Tokyo Idol Festival!

Idol Renaissance

I feel like Idol Renaissance goes under the radar for a lot of foreign fans but they are absolutely a group I need to follow more and you should too. While the vast majority of their music is covers (their first original song is coming out this year) they choose great songs and their performances are solid. Their album is now on American Spotify and I’ve been listening to it a lot lately – both YOU and Funny Bunny are two favorites of mine. They’re a remarkably solid group and one that deserves more attention.

Up Up Girls (Kakko Kari)

This is almost 100% a recommended group because their latest single, Upper Disco, is easily one of my favorite songs of 2017 and they are almost certainly going to perform it at TIF. But Up Up Girls is a solid group with members who have been at it for years and years and some really solid music in their discography. While they aren’t a group I follow all that much they are a group that reliably puts out some new great music every year and has solid performances. Up Up Girls (2) is also an option if you want newer members performing Up Up Girls songs (and probably smaller crowds).

AmiinA

This group is such an unexpected surprise of my TIF posts – their music is uniformly interesting, dreamy and unlike most other idol groups. I have been listening to their music since discovering them and have been really enjoying amiinA as an unusual group. I’d definitely check out their music before seeing amiinA because I feel like if you’re not into the music you may not be into them, but I think they have some really solid stuff.

S*Spicy

While S*Spicy doesn’t put out that much music and isn’t too active, they are a really fun group with a great vibe. The older sister unit with members in their mid-late 20s, S*Spicy is goofy and entertaining. I wish they were active and promoted more, but if the idea of an older group with a very Stardust sensibility then I’d recommend S*Spicy.

Osaka Shunkashuto

While some people would argue that Osaka Shunkashuto went downhill after they got bigger, I respectfully disagree. While songs like C’Mon and Chameleon Shoujo are the best the group has been, this year’s New Me is just fantastic and shows how great they’ve gotten. The main vocalist Maina is a powerhouse and the other members are great dancers/performers. If Osaka Shunkashuto isn’t on your radar it very much should be.

KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!!

This is another surprise. They have some excellent music they perform and are completely energetic. If you’re looking for an energetic fun group that might have a smlaler crowd then I’d give KAMO ga Negi wo Shotte kuru!! a shot.

Kikkawa You

Kikka’s always had a solid solo career with some great music and great performances, but her latest work,specifically her music written by Oomori Seiko, has been fantastic. Yuu seems to be going more towards an indie sound and presentation, and if you know any of Oomori Seiko’s music you’ll know if you should be interested in Kikka. But I think she’s doing some great stuff and would love to see more from Kikka.

Keyakizaka46

Yeah this is going to be a tough act to actually go see if you’re at TIF. But Keyakizaka46 is easily my favorite 46/48 group right now and they’re backing it up with some great music – Silent Majority took the idol world by storm last year and their singles have all been great, with this year’s Fukyouwaon being pretty phenomenal. With their popularity actually getting to see Keyakizaka46 might be a tough ask, but if you’re thinking of seeing one of the 46/48 groups I’d go with Keyakizaka46.

Sasaki Ayaka

Yeah OK, this recommendation is painfully obvious. But Aarin is genuinely a wonderful person and performer AND is starting off her solo career this year with her first solo single. The entirety of her solo concert from last year is really great performances and I would expect nothing less from her TIF performance. Aarin has great stage presence and performing skills and should be really fun to see at TIF.

GEM

GEM is one of my favorite of the Avex idol groups – while opinions might vary on which Avex Idol Street group you like best, it’s pretty undeniable that they have strong performances and production value. GEM has a lot of personality and some great music – their single from 2017 “Sugar Baby,” which is almost certainly guaranteed to be performed at this year’s TIF, is addictive and wonderful.

Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku

While following Ebichu has been difficult for me in the wake of Matsuno Rina’s passing, they are undeniably a great group – they have some great performances and phenomenal music – their music is often not necessarily traditional idol music but well written and well produced. Ebichu should definitely be a group you follow at TIF and beyond.

Zettaichokkyuu Joshi Playballs

Yeah I had no idea I’d be interested in a baseball themed group but here we are. Playballs is a new interest of mine but they are incredibly fun, have some great music and seem like a fun group to see live. Their 2016 song Diving Catch has been one of my most listened to songs of this year, so I wouldn’t miss the chance to see them live at TIF.

Sora tob Sakana

Sora tob Sakana is one of the groups I’d like to follow most in the future – they have some really interesting music I’d compare to amiinA’s on this list, in a way – it’s very unusual music for idols and tends to have more of an indie rock / post-rock feel to it. The group often performs with a live band, which is something I love, so if you’re looking for a group with interesting music that doesn’t have an idolly feel I’d check out Sora tob Sakana.

Takoyaki Rainbow

Yes, another Stardust recommendation. Takoyaki Rainbow is one of the many Stardust promotion groups, but this time they’ve made their major debut with Avex which gives them some great production value. Quite a few of their songs have been written by Maeyamada Kenichi, my favorite songwriter, and they have a ton of energy in their live performances. Takoniji is a group that combines fun and great music so they are definitely a group that deserves attention.

Team Syachihoko

Another Stardust group, but of course I’m going to recommend Team Syachihoko. They have excellent music, members, and are incredibly fun to watch. They are an energetic group that puts on a really great show and my favorite idol group.

Chubbiness

Yes, Chubbiness is Avex’s chubby group. While I wish that more idol groups would have some body diversity, I know that’s not necessarily something that’s going to happen. That said, Chubbiness is a whole lot of fun. Their debut song Manmadeiya is really addicting and they have a lot of fun idol songs. I wish Avex would promote Chubbiness more because they’ve assembled a fun group of girls who are fun to follow.

Tsubaki Factory

If you told me this was the year I was going to become a Tsubaki Factory fan I would have probably laughed at you. However, after two stellar singles and a major debut I am hooked. Their singles this year have been really great, the members are all really fun, and this seems like a great group to follow. They’re still a relatively new group but that’s also fun too – it’s exciting to see where Tsubaki Factory goes. They are on a great path, though, and are making immense progress over a very short amount of time.

Tsuyogari Sensation

This group is almost 100% on this list because their 4th single, UG Stepper feat. MIZ, is one of my most listened songs of the year. But Tsuyogari Sensation seems like a great group with some great rock idol songs and some powerful vocals. UG Stepper is my favorite of their songs, but with a little publicity and some more polish Tsuyogari Sensation could go places.

Niji no Conquistador

Niji no Conquistador has become one of my favorite idol groups over the past couple of years. I think they hit a really great sweet spot where they have interesting songs, are a bit weird, have energetic performances and also do fun idol songs. Nijicon is a pretty indispensable group for me and one you should be following if you aren’t already – they are such a fun group that I know they’ll have a great showing at TIF.

Batten Showjotai

OK, yes, I am recommending yet another Stardust group, but Batten Showjo Tai fits in a niche I had no idea I was interested in – ska idol pop. Quite a bit of their music, including the wonderful Osshoi, is ska-inspired and it is just delightful. Aside from that they have the energetic performances and quality music Stardust has come to stand for. Batten Showjo Tai is still fairly new but have made a splash with their major debut singles and are very much worthwhile.

Band Ja Naimon!

In many ways Band Ja naimon is essentially another Dempagumi.inc but really more Dempagumi.inc isn’t a bad thing. Band Ja Naimon has some great music and great, energetic performers. I definitely prefer Dempagumi.inc but Band Ja Naimon has become a solid group in their own right, worthy of attention on their own. They’re a  group I want to follow more and one I’d recommend checking out.

Philosophy no Dance

I discovered Philosophy no Dance because someone sent me links on twitter saying they thought I’d like it. I don’t know if I just have super obvious taste but Philosophy no Dance is super fun – they have some great, funky retro music that is just a lot of fun to listen to – I’m After Time is really fantastic and definitely one of my favorite songs of 2016. They’re a group I pay more attention to the music to than anything else, but if you’re into music like Especia or any other group with retro sound I’d check out Philosophy no Dance.

RYUTist

RYUTist is a local Niigata based group which has some great music and even better performances. They’re really a music-focused group more than anything else. I was lucky enough to see them when they came to the US in 2014 and their performances blew me away. They are an incredibly sweet group and one I feel very lucky to have met and seen in person – I definitely recommend RYUTist.

Lyrical School

‘While I’ve always been more of a Rhymeberry fan when it comes to idol rap, Lyrical School is a great group (featuring a former member of Rhymeberry!) that’s more active and tends to be a bit more polished. They did a single with Idol Renaissance (a cover of Base Ball Bear’s The Cut) that is one of my favorite things from this year so far. Run and Run is also one of my favorite recent idol songs. Lyrical School is really good at what they do, which is idol rap, so if that’s something you’re interested in then you should follow Lyrical School.

Wa-suta

The World Standard is the platonic ideal of cutesy idol pop. Their music is upbeat, cheerful, but also often strange and bizarre. They really lean into the cutesy side of being idols. If you’re into that sort of thing, you will like Wasuta. Part of Avex’s Idol Street, they have well produced music and videos, and specialize in cute but strange things. They are a bit off the wall at times which is why they are a great group.

While this is a bit of an abridged list, these are the groups I would definitely try to make time to see if I was lucky enough to be going to TIF. Apologies if your favorite group isn’t on this list – there are plenty of groups I thought about putting on (LinQ, HR, i*Ris, etc) that I chose not to. There are a lot of other groups that I just don’t know about, so if you’re at TIF I urge you to explore the indie idols and groups that are present. If you’re into alt/anti-idols, I’d recommend checking out Gang Parade and BiSH, though Gang Parade and BiS have gotten kicked out of TIF before so these audiences can get a bit rowdy. There are a ton of great groups that I didn’t mention, so let me know if there’s a group I have to know about that’s going to TIF (or one I should cover on my blog sometime).