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.
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
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.