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いざっ, Now is not the time for excuses

In addition to being a bad AAA fan, I am also apparently a bad Arashi fan.

Because I know I will eventually have to review them for this blog, I have put off listening to the albums I have yet to review, both past and recent. Even though I do listen to the new singles as they come out, I don’t pay nearly as much attention as I should – after I have learned the melody for the A-sides so I can sing them at karaoke when necessary, I am easily satisfied. I have also put off listening to Believe and Kumori nochi, Kaisei – but that’s less of a “bad Arashi fan” and more of a “Kimi hates previews with a passion” thing, even though the full single will have already been leaked by the time this posts. (Hurray for scheduled posting!)

Because I was once ambitious enough to start writing fairly in-depth Episode Guides for Himitsu no Arashi-chan!, G no Arashi, and Arashi no Shukudai-kun, I have put off watching the variety shows until I can translate the related blurb on the official site (or in Himitsu-chan’s case, gather the mental capacity required to translate many spoken informative lines at the same time). Unfortunately, as a side effect, VS Arashi has also been thrown to the wayside, though the translation effort required isn’t nearly as great. Playing catchup on their older shows (such as Mago Mago Arashi) has also temporarily been abandoned.

Because I am afraid of wanting to make another photoshoot post, and because I am afraid of losing yet more money to magazines that I can’t exactly afford at the moment (well, perhaps I could, but I honestly find my snack and gaming budgets more important), I have avoided checking out most of their new magazine appearances since Nino in Cut around the beginning of Ryusei no Kizuna. To be honest, though, I think it might take me another two months to get over that photoshoot.

Because there’s just so many other shows and activities (read: games) taking up my time, I have barely begun the first episode of Ohno’s drama this season, Uta no Onii-san. (Oh, but everything else has been given more than a cursory glance. Curse your addictiveness, TRIANGLE and Mei-chan no Shitsuji!) I shudder to think of how long it will take for me to get around to watching Nino’s tanpatsu, DOOR TO DOOR.

Ruri, who I accidentally (okay, perhaps not) converted to the Arashi fandom and now spends at least 2 hours a week messing with Arashi-related things instead of getting sleep or doing homework, tells me that I am a bad Arashi fan. Ruri is also the one who insists I get around to learning the new Arashi songs, too. And Ruri is now the one who spazzes over Arashi shows to me whereas previously I would insist on her watching various things.

By the way, Ruri also has some very painful ideas of stimuli to get other people to get work done.

So somehow I’ve managed to overcome all of the above and finally bust out a review for いざっ, Now. Okay, I lie, I haven’t really overcome any of it yet – and definitely not the Ruri part, since she could care less about this. But here is an Arashi review for you anyways. The 7 of you who came here only for my Arashi posts can come back now – I like having my readership levels above the “10” mark.

The album opens with 言葉より大切なもの [Kotoba yori Taisetsu na Mono], their last single prior to the release of this album. As previously reviewed on my coverage of their 5×5 compilation album, Kotoba is an upbeat, energetic pop-rock track with the appropriate vocal input from Arashi themselves. Sho’s rap prior to the final chorus helps break up the fast beat of the song, because even at 4 minutes, this is a song that will zoom by you if you’re not paying attention. It’s been nearly a full year since that original review and the song has gone down from 5 to 4 stars in iTunes, but that’s only because the newness of it has clearly had plenty of time in which to wear off and so allow the more uninspired aspects to show. This still remains an uplifting motivational song for the (teen)ages, though, with some great guitar attitude, and serves as an decent first track for this album.

Back in 2004, J-Storm apparently hadn’t mastered the use of the segue yet, because the next track, JAM, could be an opener in its own right. (Instead, if memory serves correctly, it served as the concert opener.) Unlike Kotoba, it’s a half-jazzy, half-futuristic, all-late-night talk show track (I firmly believe this is a genre that can only belong to my Arashi reviews, and always in the same area), firmly cementing its role as the WAVE, Raise Your Hands, and Romance of this album. (I realize that’s chronologically incorrect, but who’s writing the blog again, me or you?) Opening with a lazy tempo (the effect is emphasized with the strings in the background) and soon jumping into the beat of a Soul Train headliner, this is pretty much the perfect preview for the track. We’ll be jumping back and forth for the next 4 minutes, folks, “do you wanna JA~A~A~AM?” Amusingly, J-Storm had indeed understood the concept of giving solo lines by this point; oddly, Sho doesn’t have a single one. Everyone nailed their solo lines with relative seductiveness (Aiba sounds pretty thick, to the point of being a jarring contrast to the other three even, but he’s really the last person in Arashi I expect to sound sexy), though, so perhaps Sho was still too chipmunk-cheeked to get it out without coming off as macho as he is in the raps. Ohno, as is representative of the songs of this time, still leads whenever applicable, and overall the song is a fun boogie piece that really should’ve stuck with Arashi instead of the eventual appearance of WAVE.

Following this up is The Bubble, a lazy (in more than one way) attempt at slow R&B that opens with I can only assume is Arashi’s half-hearted attempt at falsetto as they sing “Boku ni chikara wo” – along with being the chorus preview. So let’s get one thing out of the way first – Arashi was much better staying in their range of comfort. Ohno goes back to leading the boys in singing, while Sho throws in his rap interjections – and it is these two things that make the song okay. I really would have preferred to hear this as a duet between the two, as Aiba, Nino, and Jun make no real contribution to the song at all. The high chorus/hook make the song fairly uncomfortable to listen to – though I can appreciate the attempt to try something different. This was perhaps too different.

Thank you for my days is another one to toss into the slower category, though it’s really more mid-tempo than slow. Perhaps I should just call it the lazy category, then? Between the piano, an unobtrusive bass, and light percussion, this just needs a video of the 5 boys floating down the river on a wooden raft a la Huckleberry Finn and fishing on a summer evening. The pace of the song isn’t the only thing that got carried over from the previous track, though, as we have what sounds like all 5 members joining in the higher parts now, and Ohno’s got some high notes in his solo lines as well. Again, though, this is used to Arashi’s advantage rather than against, as their weaker singing doesn’t subtract from the mood. It’s not entirely idol-like, but it is a nice bit of listening for the 5 minutes it takes up.

Another of the problems with going backwards in a discography (other than the obvious declines in quality and ability) is having pre-established favorites thanks to best-of album reviews written nearly a year before. And so we come to my dilemma with PIKA★★NCHI DOUBLE. If you read that review or clicked it just now, you might understand. If not, let me summarize it for you: generic upbeat pop-rock that will grow on you if you let it have the chance to, with vocal melody playing contrast to the rising guitars in the music and a slightly nostalgic air. But my favorite part of this song lies in the second half, where Sho’s “rap” takes place, followed by soft solo lines, a rousing rendition of the chorus, and a sad (as in the emotion) ending rap that really brings the song together. I don’t hate the song, but I can’t sit through the first half completely either when I can just skip ahead to the second half.

Next is the fast dance track keep a peaK. I can only assume the naming convention is because it’d be a palindrome but for the fact that they chose “peak” instead of “peek.” At just under 2 minutes, though, this song isn’t a song so much as it is an interlude. It starts out like a jazzy track on a broken gramophone, and then the beats bring us into the speedier breakdance synth that comprises most of the track. There’s nothing especially stunning about this, but it is a fun break. And if Arashi were to do dance solos in concerts, this would undeniably be the music to which Sho would demonstrate his inability to backflip.

EYES WITH DELIGHT continues with the upbeat and brings in some eletronic that sounds like it belongs back in the 80’s. It sounds as though it belongs with the visual of a midnight drive, and the mellow vocals especially add to the effect, because even at parts meant to be energetic it comes off as not so strong. Perhaps the most ear-catching part will be Sho’s rap (“A to the R to A-S-H-I”) and it’s resulting response, whether or not you like it, because it sticks out. My favorite bit of the vocals lies more in the bridge, where their swaying whimsical vocals are backed by some equally whimsical strings. Overall it’s a nice track, but it’s not going to be anything that especially stands out in my mind.

Somehow, I just keep on coming RIGHT BACK TO YOU. Cheesy puns involving song titles aside, I honestly do. In the year since I have first listened to this (and subsequently reviewed it), this has found its way back into my listening habits multiple times. I originally opened my description of this song with, “No, that scratching opening isn’t a mistake. It’s a warning. This is a song with attitude.” – and I’m tempted to say, it’s that same attitude that makes this hip-hop dance piece so much fun to listen to. Even if I can’t quite get over Sho’s macho “freaky freaky freaky night dance baby” rap that ensures I’ll never pop this in at karaoke.

RAINBOW, unfortunately, is not the happy gay rainbow pop song that has become synonymous with Arashi following Kitto Daijoubu. It’s more jazzy, but still fairly gay if the Engrish line is any indication – “Together together oh Happy on the rainbow!” and all. To my great amazement, Jun opens the song and gets a pretty strong amount of solo lines and does… okay with it? I think my “hate the Matsumoto” function is broken beyond repair. His nasality still hurts, but it’s nothing to take away from the track’s listenability, especially considering this is still the case with singles for his dramas. In keeping with EYES WITH DELIGHT, the vocals are upbeat, but it’s not a very high-energy track. This is fine, though, because…

Here comes the waves of trombones and surfing guitars, and ハダシの未来 [HADASHI no Mirai] along with it. There is no denying what this is supposed to be – a happy pop track. Quoting once more from my prior review of the song, “The paired A-side to Kotoba yori Taisetsu na Mono, we’re still going upbeat pop-rock, but there’s a touch of the chaotic 80’s pop whine in the vocals and lots of trombones to throw in some flair now. Again done completely as a group, the vocals and music tend to fight for volume dominance, but there’s a refreshingly fun and quirky atmosphere that isn’t found in their more recent tracks.” I think it’s safe to say I still stand by it.

I’m almost a bit reluctant to leave the above track for fear of another “energetic jazzy pop but not really” song (really, J-STORM, would it have killed you to give some more energetic tracks to Arashi as young’uns when they did have the energy to match?), but 優しくって少しバカ [Yasashikutte Sukoshi BAKA] is here and insists on being heard. And hey, look, it’s not jazz! No, this is another guitar-infused rock-inspired pop song, and this is the song where Aiba gets the solo lines – and pulls it off much better than back in JAM. It’s sort of interesting to hear the contrast in the calmness of his voice against the fading guitars that start out so strong. The drums easily overpower the guitar as far as noticeability by the time of the chorus, but the vocals also fight for center stage, causing a sort of displacement. I’m not entirely sure whether this is the fault of the mixer or the weaker voices of the boys at this point, but it’s still a fairly enjoyable song based on the vocal melody alone.

Dear My Friend brings us an acoustic-styled, well, friendly song. This is the one where you expect them to be sitting in a circle in some bright coffeehouse, snapping to Nino on guitar, and swaying back and forth as they sing. It’s soothing and marks the beginning of the end of the album. I honestly wish I could say more, but it’s perfect as it is.

Just in case you thought we were done with the jazzy tracks, 君だけを想ってる [Kimi Dake wo Omotteru] is here to prove you wrong. There’s a festive atmosphere, reminiscent of CARNIVAL NIGHT part 2 (chronologically it’s wrong, but I’m going backwards in Arashi’s discography, remember), with various horns and synth melodies playing around in the background to Arashi’s uplifting vocals. Even with several days’ break between songs in reviewing this album, though, it’s a formula that’s been a bit tired out by previous tracks and none too amazing on its own. At least this time they have the energy right, so that Arashi doesn’t fade against the background music.

I can’t snap. Just so you know. (I can’t whistle, burp on command, or blow bubbles in bubblegum either.) So チェックのマフラー [CHECK no MUFFLER] gets a bit exasperating to listen to as it the slow opening gives way to snaps and a keyboard melody. The snaps are soon replaced with short bursts of guitar, but the urge to snap along remains. This is snap discrimination! I ought to sue. My fixation aside, this is a sweet love song and par for the course considering Arashi is a boyband – there’s nothing horrible about it and the vocals are spot on, but there’s nothing amazing about it either.

Our last track of the night, 途中下車 [Tochuugesha], was also on the previously reviewed 5×5 and so I can cop out on doing a proper review again. Have a quote! “If there’s one thing about this song that will stand out, it’s the repeating two-note piano melody. A bit ironic, given that it’s clearly meant to be in the background, supporting both the building guitars and Arashi’s strong group vocals, but it sets both the decent-paced tempo and light mood that makes this song work. It’s as though the entire song was built around that same piano bit, and the end result is a sweet track that’s somewhat stereotypical of a Japanese boyband, but still a pleasure to listen to.”

Overall, knowing that I was heading backwards, I was expecting this to not be as good as the later releases, and in that aspect, my expectations were definitely met. However, it’s certainly not a bad album in its own right, and there’s a number of standout non-single tracks that will certainly stick with me. This does beg the question, though – will the further I go back in Arashi’s discography be about equivalent to a growing disappointment with their older selves? It’ll be something to ponder as I stall on How It Going?… ah! Wait! Come back, readers, come back! Okay, okay, no more excuses.

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