I wasn’t planning on even listening to this album, much less reviewing it. While Juice=Juice started off strong with songs like “Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne” and “Romance no Tochuu,” their quality took a bit a of a dip (which, frankly, happens to a lot of Hello!Project groups when they get their major debut).
Juice=Juice is also a group I haven’t paid too much attention to – while I like all the members of Juice=Juice, none of them are idols I consider to be one of my particular favorites that can carry a group even if the music is a little subpar.
So, it was a huge surprise when a friend recommended First Squeeze and told me I had to listen to it. I got the album on iTunes (all the songs I didn’t already have, anyway) and it was an almost revelatory experience. It was almost like a cheesy movie, where I had this realization that maybe, just maybe, Juice=Juice is the strongest group in Hello!Project right now, at least musically. I’ve liked quite a bit of their previous output, but it took First Squeeze to really make me appreciate how strong Juice=Juice is as a group.
Disc 1 – The Best Juice
1. Ten Made Nobore
I always forget this song is considered to be a Juice = Juice single – the Hello!Project Kenshuusei version is more memorable. And for good reason – this type of upbeat anthem song really fits a large group singing it over a group of five girls. That’s not to say the Juice=Juice version is bad – it does fit as the opening track. It’s light-hearted, happy, and a pleasant song. It’s just even less memorable with a smaller group of girls singing it. I enjoy the brass instrumentation, and in general it’s a pleasant listen, but it’s not Juice=Juice’s best. 6/10
2. Romance no Tochuu
Recent H!P groups have had some really strong major debuts, and Juice=Juice’s Romance no Tochuu is quite a great major debut. It has a lot of punch to it – it has a catchy melody but a really funky feel to it. The song has a great back and forth between all the members, and works really well for the group. The sound mixing in particular sounds superb in the chorus – the starting lines of the choruses, “Aishiteru wa to yue!” sounds particularly good. My biggest complaint is that occasionally the instrumentation of the verses sounds a little bit empty. There are some great horn sounds and the outstanding bass solo and those could have been utilized a tad better in the verses – the bass is still there, for example, but not doing much of anything interesting. That’s only a small complaint, though, because ultimately Romance no Tochuu is an excellent pop song and one I’ve come back to again and again. 9/10
3. Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya Ne (Memorial Edit)
Oh man, what a way to start a group. It’s hard to put into words just how much I love this song.
First off, the saxophone. This is surprisingly divisive as I know people who just hate the solo sax here. However, I absolutely love the saxophone in this song. It’s such a catchy and fun riff that adds a fun flavor to this song.
This is a surprisingly mature song for a group to debut with, but the Juice=Juice girls all manage to pull it off. There’s a bit of darkness to this song in the backing track but somehow they make it work.
As for the memorial edit it mostly just messes around with the instrumentation a bit and removes Otsuka Aina’s vocals. However, it still works just as well as the original song.
This is pretty much a perfect Hello!Project song.
4. Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru
Confession – I can’t really compare this to the original song because I barely listened to it when it came out. However that was a mistake because Samidare Bijo ga Samidareru is a great song with a ton of energy and a lot of flair to it. It’s also one of the more catchy Juice=Juice songs – after getting this album I know I’ve sat around my apartment belting out the chorus because it’s just in my head again. The verses aren’t quite as strong as the chorus, but they do a great job of building tension before the chorus comes in.
This is another song with a lot of great brass sound to it, especially the brass that starts out the song. This is the sound that defined most of early Ju=Ju, and rightly so – it sounds fantastic.
Samidare Bijo’s biggest weakness is its placement in the Juice=Juice discography. It’s an excellent song in its own right, but doesn’t quite hold up to Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya Ne or Romance no Tochuu. That shouldn’t be the thing to hold against it, but that does unfortunately mean that it’s not quite as fondly remembered of a song as the others. 8/10
5. Ijiwaru Shinaide Dakishimete Yo
Other than Ten Made Nobore, every Juice=Juice song so far has had a little quirk to its instrumentation that has endeared the song to me. This time it’s the piano that immediately begins the song and pops up occasionally throughout. It’s a great little hook that sets apart this song.
In general the instrumentation for this is pretty great – there’s quite a bit of bass that makes for a great beat, and the brass and background vocals add a lot to the energy of the song. The members add a lot to this as well – I particularly enjoy Kanazawa Tomoko’s emphasis on “watashi wa rose quartz” and they all shine in the bridge before the last chorus.
This song has a lot of energy and is a consistently fun song to listen to. One of Juice=Juice’s greats, and a song I don’t have any complaints on. 10/10
6. Hajimete wo Keikenchuu
This song is weird – I enjoy the melody line as well as the instrumentation and arrangement, but as a whole I’m not sure how I feel about it. The guitar-heavy instrumentation sounds great, and the melody is cute and feminine, but together they feel out of sorts. It’s almost like this is a weird mashup, where the vocals are from a different song and they put it over a karaoke track that almost fit but doesn’t really.
I do really like both parts of this, which is why it’s hard to justify this. And I don’t think these sounds have to be at odds with each other. I feel like a song about experiencing love for the first time can have a big, brassy sound – it’s why Watanabe Mayu’s Rappa Renshuuchuu works so well. However, the melody and vocal performance reminds me more of S/Mileage’s Asu wa Date na no ni Ima Sugu Koe ga Kikitai, and I don’t think it quite fits with the arrangement.
It is a shame because I like all the individual elements of the song, and I think it could have worked, but it just doesn’t. 6/10
7. Hadaka no Hadaka no Hadaka no Kiss
I love the flamenco feel of this song – it’s so unlike other idol group sounds. I also love the acoustic guitar and it works very well here.
Above all, this has a very catchy melody and the members of the group do a great job of emoting during this song – while the vocal performance of Juice=Juice has always been pretty solid, this is one of the early songs where they really make you feel the emotion of the piece.
While this isn’t quite as good as Ijiwaru Shinaide Dakishimete yo or Romance no Tochuu, I don’t know if I can quite describe why. On a completely subjective level this is just not quite as memorable as those two. Also, while the heavy acoustic guitar is great, the times that the song relies on electronic instrumentation is where the song struggles.
Still, this is yet another Juice=Juice song that doesn’t sound like other idol groups, and that combines a great melody with some great instrumentation, so any complaints I have are mostly nitpicking. 8/10
8. Are Kore Shitai
It feels strange to be praising a Juice=Juice song that’s relatively generic after praising the more interesting and unusual songs, but Are Kore Shitai is generic, cutesy and one of my favorite Juice=Juice songs.
For the most part when listening to idol music I ignore the lyrics. My Japanese skill is a little bit rough, so while I can pick out phrases and concepts I can’t quite get everything. Even if I do understand everything or I read translated lyrics, for the most part idol songs, especially ones written by Tsunku, leave a lot to be desired. Even when they seem relatable, as an adult they aren’t completely, mostly because I’m older than most idols.
However, Are Kore Shitai in parts almost perfectly reflects the perspective of someone like me – a single woman in my early 20s. Granted there are things that don’t line up perfectly, but it feels like a song that has a lot of maturity in its lyrics, a maturity that not a lot of idol songs carry.
In addition to some of my favorite idol lyrics, Are Kore Shitai is a catchy song. One of the reasons that I love idol music so much is because the generic idol pop is really appealing to me – I love well-written pop tunes. Are Kore Shitai is a very upbeat, happy song that’s pretty generic but does it well, and happens to have some great lyrics. 8/10
9. Black Butterfly
Recently, a Hello!Project Facebook group I’m a member of had a thread about our favorite and least favorite singles by the current H!P groups. Black Butterfly was a popular choice for least favorite for Juice=Juice, and it was my choice as well. Here’s why.
The thing is, the recipe for Black Butterfly isn’t a bad one. Tango/Latin sound? Great! The repeating part of the chorus going “Black Butterfly” is a great section. The melody is pretty uninspiring but not bad at all.
However, my biggest issues stem with the arrangement and instrumentation. Every instrument in this sounds completely fake. I don’t mind idol groups using some fake instruments here or there – if I did, I would probably hate most idol music. But they are not at all trying to hide it here. Additionally, the instrumentation just sounds empty most of the time, like some of the instruments were added in later. At points it reminds me of the backing track you’d hear while singing karaoke. It’s technically a backing track but by no means a good one.
The biggest misstep of Black Butterfly is that it sounds lifeless, empty. The tango is a sensual, passionate dance, but none of that is reflected in Black Butterfly. Juice=Juice has the ability to sell a song – some of the energy that they used in Ijiwaru Shinaide Dakishimete yo or even Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya ne would really work here. Instead, everything about Black Butterfly sounds empty. It was the seed of a good idea, but it did not pan out. 3/10
10. Kaze ni Fukarete
Listening to Kaze ni Fukarete, there is immediately oodles more passion in this song than in Black Butterfly. It’s also an example of how to correctly use artificial instruments – there is an artificial bagpipe sound throughout this doing things that I don’t believe a real set of bagpipes could actually do, but it adds a lot of flavor here.
The song itself is pretty typical H!P-at-its-best. There is a lot of energy, the melody is great, and it’s paced well. However, the synthesized bagpipes add a really unique feel to the song. The opening of the song is a pretty perfect section – the almost melodramatic delivery, the strings, and how the song unfolds to the bagpipes. The rest of the song is quite good, but it doesn’t quite live up to that perfect 35 seconds. 9/10
This is another song I see get quite a bit of dislike in the Hello!Project fan community. However, unlike black Butterfly, I just don’t get it. Senobi isn’t the best Juice=Juice song by any means, but it’s certainly not bad. The back and forth in the chorus between the sung sections and the “woah woah woah”s is a great idea, and I particularly enjoy the loud “Aitai!” at the end of the chorus – it sounds nice.
This is a pretty middle of the road Hello!Project song for me. The melody is pretty solid, and while the arrangement is uninspiring it is just fine. I don’t quite get the inclusion of the dubstep break, but it isn’t terrible. Senobi is pretty much just harmless. 5/10
12. Date Janai yo Uchi no Jinsei wa
Speaking of middle of the road H!P! This is pretty typical H!P – there’s a bit of a light funk sound to this that makes it more interesting to me, but otherwise this is very typical. To the point where, when writing this review, I’ve been sitting listening to this song and just not writing anything down.
There are some good ideas in the melody – the “yes” part in the chorus is quite good, and I like the artificial horn sound at points (though it does sound really fake). And all of Juice=Juice sounds great doing this. However, there’s not much that’s actually remarkable about this song – I just can’t remark on it. It’s good. 6/10
Disc 2 – The Brand New Juice
Disc 2 is Juice=Juice’s most recent single in addition to 9 new songs. So not entirely new for the album, but H!P probably just went “eh, close enough.”
1. Wonderful World
I’ve seen a fair amount of negative reaction to this song, which makes me ask the H!P fandom: How do you enjoy being wrong on this?
I kid, but seriously I find Wonderful World to be very charming. The opening is very broad and almost theatrical in how much they are overselling the song, but I feel like that’s almost the point. How else do you sing a song about how wonderful the world is because you’re in love without belting it out and overselling it?
However, the song won me over in the verses. Suddenly the song was transformed into a great classic idol song – the pizzicato strings, the phrasing, the melody. It’s the type of song where, if you told me “this is a cover of a Matsuda Seiko song” I would not be too shocked, because that’s exactly what it is. While the vocal performance is different, I could picture someone from that era performing this song.
I understand if you don’t enjoy classic idol music and therefore don’t like this song. However, framed in this light, I can’t help but enjoy Wonderful World a lot. 9/10
2. Choice & Chance
This is a pretty fun rock song. The real strength of Choice & Chance is the chorus because the melody is great and it shows off Juice=Juice’s vocals – every member sounds fantastic throughout this song, but especially within the chorus. While this is a pretty guitar-heavy rock song, it doesn’t sound too much like standard idol rock, which I appreciated. There is some electronic/dubstep elements and interesting things thrown into the instrumentation.
However, while I do appreciate all the elements, Choice & Chance doesn’t do too much for me personally. While the chorus sounds great, it’s not entirely memorable and doesn’t hit Juice=Juice’s heights. It does do a good job of showing off the members and their vocal prowess, which I like. 7/10
3. Ai Ai Gasa
When I first listened to First Squeeze this was the song my friend directed to me, and when I listened to it I immediately understood why – this is 100% old-school H!P, and I love old-school idol pop. This has an 80s/early 90s vibe that reminds me a bit of a light Especia. Just laid-back, funky idol pop. All of the members sound great together, and the arrangement is pretty perfect. This is a mellow, pleasant song to listen to and it drew me into this album. 9/10
4. Umaretate no Baby Love
OK, so look at the title of my blog. It is called “Happy Disco.” So, in looking at this title, you’d assume I like happy disco music, right? That is correct. And so, I like Umaretate no Baby Love. And like is VERY much an understatement.
Basically I love every single thing about this song. The melody is cute and fun. The arrangement is undeniably very disco-inspired, with tons of electronic horns, keyboard and strings. The lyrics are delightful, focusing on an innocent, first love work REALLY well. The lyrics even go “Boogie Woogie Baby.” This song was written for me.
Right down to the ending of the song (which ends PERFECTLY), this song works perfectly. I’m getting started on selecting my favorite idol songs of the year for my year-end blog posts, and this is the first song I immediately wrote down.
I could go on and on about how much I love this song, but I’ll just end this here – this is the perfect “happy disco” song. 10/10
5. Erabareshi Watashitachi
Coming off my high from Umaretate no Baby Love, it’d be hard to beat that. And to be fair, Erabareshi Watashitachi doesn’t try – it goes from the happy, upbeat disco to dark, guitar-heavy rock sound. Juice=Juice pulls this off, and I enjoy all the guitar here. But, even listened to separately, this doesn’t quite live up to the rest of this disc of the album. The melody doesn’t quite energize me, and while it’s clearly intended to be a high energy song the melody and performance don’t do that for me. So while it’s guitar-heavy and fun in that regard, some parts of the melody feel a bit sluggish. It’s another song where the original songwriting and the arrangement don’t quite match – it’s not a bad song, but doesn’t hit everything I think it’s trying to. 6/10
6. Ca Va Ca Va
And just as I’m not entirely digging Erabareshi Watashitachi comes Ca Va Ca Va, a song I already loved. While I’ve seen a lot of people compare the initial “Daabada” melody to Buono’s Rottara Rottara, the rest of the song reminds me of the French song “Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son” by France Gall, which is great because I love that song. This song is such classic French pop, and I love it. Juice=Juice sell the vocals completely. The song builds very nicely to the chorus, and the whole song works very well in that regard. The accordion (??) sounds great in the background, and I like how the instrumentation backs off so that one of the members of Juice=Juice are just singing alone. This doesn’t quite pack the punch of some of the earlier songs but it is just as nice. 9/10
7. Girls be Ambitious
Don’t they mean “boys and girls be ambitious?” (bad Hello!Project joke, please ignore). This is a great rock-lite upbeat of a song that I’ve seen has been performed at some H!P concerts already, and for good reason – this seems like a song that would be perfect for a concert. It’s upbeat, and the repeating section of “girls be ambitous” works really well, as does the rest of the chorus. It’s the type of song that I’d love to belt out in karaoke, and has a fun vibe to it.
The only thing I’d really wish they’d improve is that during the chorus a lot of the instruments drop out so it sounds a bit empty. However, for the most part the song is bright and upbeat enough that it’s hard to think about that sort of thing. That’s just the type of criticism I thought of after several listens of this song. 8/10
8. Ai no Diving
Another song that gives me those classic H!P vibes – this honestly wouldn’t sound too out of place as an early Morning Musume B-side or album song. At first, this isn’t the easiest song to like – the melody is kind of weird and not the most pleasant. However, this is the type of song to just grow on you, and I think part of this is just how well produced the song is. The vocals are mixed to perfection, especially in the chorus, and I love how featured the solo instruments are – there’s a fantastic electric guitar solo, as well as a small bass solo and drum solo at the end. However, despite those this song is one that is greater than the sum of its parts. While I especially appreciate how much it feels like H!P’s early days, I think this is one to appreciate in general. 9/10
9. Chikutaku Watashi no Shun
This is such a cute song, which I’m glad that Juice=Juice got to sing. Since their start bypassed any sort of cute younger idol stage and went straight for Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya Ne, there aren’t a ton of straight up cute songs for Juice=Juice.
One of the things I like about this song is that it trades raw vocal skill in favor for performance. The vocal performance focuses more on emoting in almost an exaggerated way that’s pretty fun.
This is one of the more addicting melodies of this album – it’s one of the songs that gets stuck in my head the most. I also like the (artificial) horn throughout the song as well as the instrumental break – it works really well here.
This is such an almost silly song and I really like that. This song in particular works great for Juice=Juice. 8/10
10. Mirai e, Saa Hashiridase!
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot since this album came out is that most Hello!Project songs don’t actively focus on the groups themselves – they instead try for more relateable songs. What I mean is that most H!P songs don’t tend to say the name of the group they’re in or be focused on the actual members of the group – there’s not much room for songs like Momoiro Clover’s Ikuze Kaitou Shoujo or AKB48’s Pioneer, for example. There might be some exceptions, like Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari or some of the Mini Moni songs, but those are in short supply.
Those types of songs are a bit of a double edged sword, really. Unless you retool the song (like a Joshi Kashimashi) it’s not going to work for multiple groups or sets of members. SKE48’s song Omatase Setlist is not going to have the same punch for any group that isn’t SKE48 Team KII, because the song is literally about Team KII wanting their own stage. Also, it’s the type of song that can’t be about the person listening to it. I can feel a personal connection to Are Kore Shitai because of the ways I feel it reflects me as a person, but I don’t have that same personal connection to Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari.
At the same time, though, I like songs that are about a specific group, and I think they are effective in getting you to follow a group. Hearing a song about a group’s struggles like Pioneer makes me want to support them (even if that group is wildly popuar).
This is all a long rambly review to say that I like the fact they sing “Juice=Juice” in the song. It’s a small thing, but it makes this song much more personal to them. Instead of being a generic “let’s work towards our future” song it’s more about “let’s run to our future, us, Juice=Juice.” It’s a very nice touch
Aside from me liking the lyrics and message of this song, I like the musicality of it as well. While the song has a steady beat and is by no means slow, I like how Mirai e Saa Hashiridase builds up in sound throughout the entire song, adding new instrumentation and punctuating the growth with a small drum roll. It could have worked a bit better, as some of the instrumentation does get cut out during the chorus, but for the most part this is great.
Honestly, my biggest complaint is that this isn’t the last song. This song would work so well as the ending song – the lyrical focus on heading to the future/a new era as Juice=Juice and even the build up works great. But still, that’s a small complaint to have. 9/10
11. Tsuzuiteiku Story
I mean, I get why this is the last song. It has a lot of the thematic elements of the last song, only it’s about a continuing story. I get it. It just feels like H!P had two songs they liked that would work for the last song of the album and went “eh, let’s throw both on there. I think this would have worked a bit better before Mirai e, Saa Hashiridase! but I think that’s more of a matter of personal opinion.
This is not a bad song by any means. I’m not a big ballad person, so this isn’t a song I choose to listen to on my own very much. It’s very pretty – all the vocals sound great, the strings in the background are great, and the melody is pretty. However, for a ballad to be a song I actively like or listen to it has to do something interesting or be somehow extraordinary in a way. For example, Matsuura Aya’s perfect vocals maker her ballads work for me, and Momoiro Clover Z’s Hai to Diamond has a great melody and interesting instrumentation. This is purely personal preference though.
There’s a lot to like about Tsuzuiteiku Story, but it’s just not really my thing. At the end of the day, while this is pretty, it doesn’t hit my marks for being an interesting ballad. 7/10
I’m not going to review the third disc of this album as it is all covers. However, I think it’s worth mentioning that all of the songs they chose for this are excellent. Taiyou to Ciscomoon’s Magic of Love is one of the all time great H!P songs, Narihajimeta Koi no Bell is fantastic, as are all the others. I think the choices of songs is very telling – it’s mostly some of the great, classic H!P songs with one newer song thrown in I’m assuming because it’s more disco-y (Narihajimeta). If that’s the vibe they’re going for with this album, they nailed it.
Overall: I did not expect to be blown away by this album. I’ve gotten used to not caring about H!P album releases, and I hadn’t paid that much attention to Juice=Juice in the past. However, after listening to this album I’ve realized that Juice=Juice is trying for some interesting things musically, and focusing on a sound that I personally enjoy a lot. While there are some tracks that are stronger than others (Umaretate no Baby Love for one), this is overall an incredibly solid album that I’ve been listening to regularly. If you tuned out of Juice=Juice at any point I urge you to give this a listen, at least the second disc. It is well worth your time.