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
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
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
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
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.