Station To Station: Music Station For February 25, 2011 Featuring Arashi, Aiko And Keisuke Kuwata

This week’s episode of Music Station a.k.a. “the show where we hear the newest Johnny’s singles” comes in a slightly abbreviated form. Whereas the typical weekly showcase features five or sometimes six performers, the February 25 edition boasts only four. Bad news to rabid J-Pop fans and the army of teenage girls who tune in for this hour of TV every Friday, woot-inducing news to my Thursday afternoon. Let’s get into this slightly shorter lineup.

Aiko “カブトムシ”

Watch a live performance here.

This shortened episode of Music Station couldn’t even amass all new songs – Aiko’s “カブトムシ” came out several years ago and I’m not entirely sure why it’s back in the limelight. It really doesn’t matter when this came out though because the song sounds like it could easily have been released last week. It’s a relatively standard-issue ballad, unfolding at a lazy pace and featuring a vocal-chord-straining chorus. To Aiko’s credit this number doesn’t come burdened with the usual melodramatic flourishes more worthy of a Disney Store interior, as the actual instrumentation restrains itself and just allows her admittedly strong voice do all the emotional pulling. It’s not terribly exciting, but at least also smart enough to not shove soap-opera tripe down the listener’s throat.

Arashi “Lotus”

After a string of singles finding the mega-popular Arashi forfeiting any dashes of “personality” in favor of bland balladry, they return to performing something with a pulse with “Lotus” and…what a welcome change of pace. Though it lacks the goofy touches that made last year’s “Monster” and “Troublemaker” huggable chunks of cheese, “Lotus” manages to be a completely serviceable J-Pop single with a few interesting wrinkles on top. Though it’s never really explored, some Euro-house synths ripple off in the background at various points during “Lotus,” teasing the possibility Japanese music might finally catch up with one of the trends dominating American pop. I also like the breakdown after the second chorus where all involved get sorta hectic and even the keyboards shout out for a second.

To be fair, “Lotus” pretty much meets all the requirements needed to be called typical Johnny’s junk, but peppy Johnny’s always beats the slowed down version. And after hearing a pretty good fast J-Pop group like Arashi saddled with buzzkilling singles for the past few months, “Lotus” feels like a great comeback from a boy band that never went anywhere in the first place.

Keisuke Kuwata “スペシャルメドレー”

Uhhhhh another old song? OK.

Keisuke Kuwata’s voice is a hell of tool. The Southern All-Stars’ lead singer isn’t blessed with a technically beautiful warble but dude knows how to make it work. Yet this comes with one small hitch – Kuwata’s singing works best when complimenting good music, the singer able to bend with whatever he gets presented with. This track features very little outside instrumentation – some Deep-Purple electric guitar and handclaps popping up later on – which means the main focus falls on Kuwata’s singing meaning, well, this isn’t a very pretty number. It’s charming yeah, but hearing him do amateur enka before diving into something a little more bouncy (but not much!) doesn’t earn many replays. A nice experiment but nothing more.

ゆず “HAMO”

Features an OK stomp of a beat, but everything else about “HAMO” might as well have been a copy of a hundred other copied prints done by a bunch of J-Pop artists before and probably these two as well. Bland, dull, boring – pick your preferred term. At least Keisuke Kuwata made things interesting with the song above.

Winner Of The Week – Not exactly a loaded field, but Arashi takes it.

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