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.
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
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
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
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.