I never anticipated an Arashi album as much as Japonism, primarily because of the theme. And so I have been ready to embrace it with open arms and an open mind, hooks, flats and all.
Like any other album, there are songs you fall in love at first listen while others need a second or third chance before you get into the groove. But overall, I like Japonism. Maybe not as much as I was so in love with, well, LOVE because if we are going by the Sakumoto philosophy–is it like or love–it’s just like for me. For now.
I do love the desire to bring back the “Showa era J-pop” sound through this album, although that crashed my thinking that “Japonism” had a culturally musical reasoning behind it rather than “Johnny’s sound” and “Japan”. But it does give due importance to traditional music by incorporating Japanese instruments and sounds, and collaborating with well-known musicians such as Hotei Tomoyasu and Togi Hideki. That alone is worth noting because that as it may that Arashi is a pop idol group, and perhaps the pop idol kings at the moment, they deserve an A for effort in trying to offer something different and at the same time familiar, exploring their genre and expanding their network by collaborating with non-mainstream musicians.
But before anything else, can I just express my eternal gratitude that they finally included Furusato (Hometown) in this album? Whether it was planned or by chance, it does fit the Japonism theme considering the association that the song has developed from the time they first sang it in Kohaku in 2010. youthcase must have been most likely commissioned by NHK to compose the song for Kohaku and it’s just on a sad note that Arashi finally included it in an album when they have finished their five-year stint as Kohaku hosts, but perhaps that was one of the riders.
First, the solos. I have always been partial for Nino’s and I love Music, while Sho’s and Aiba’s are competing for the second solo favorite. Whenever I hear Mr Funk, it becomes my No. 2 favorite, then Rolling Days comes rolling in and it gets me confused which I like better. And while Jun is my ichiban, his choice of solo songs has always perplexed me; their composers surely have a different vibe for what material suits him best, or is it his personal choice? Can he do more La Familia types because that suits his voice better, and if only he’s not busy with other work, perhaps it would be best if he composes his solos like he did LF as well. Now Ohno. He is the voice of Arashi of course but I pin it down to musical taste: I have never been into his songs. I don’t hate them but I don’t love them either. His solo though has the most Japanese flavor among all five solos.
Previously released singles Sakura and AoKimi, and the lead track Kokoro no Sora aside, my easy favorites are Kimi e no Omoi and Tsutaetai Koto.
Sakura was the theme for the Oguri Shun-Ikuta Toma-Ueno Juri drama Ouroboros. It was the first time Arashi provided the theme song for a drama that doesn’t star any of the members, thus making them quip that it made them feel like a real artist. It has the element of Truth in it with the elegant strings and is a perfect shoo-in for the album, sakura being a symbolic theme for the Japanese.
Kokoro no Sora was composed by Hotei Tomoyasu. It was a long-distance collaboration between London and Tokyo but I’m glad to see how Arashi was so involved in the production of the lead track. (Read about it in Hotei-san’s blog.) My favorite part of the song is the instrumental bridge with the taiko and Hotei-san’s soulful guitar strings. While it’s a long shot to expect Hotei-san to make an appearance in the tour, it would be nice if they will have the taiko drummers. That would surely provide drama onstage and the live sound of the instruments would be awesome.
Kimi e no Omoi is a very sentimental song with a nostalgic sound. This is the song where gagaku* musician Togi Hideki-san collaborated in. Read about it in his blog; *gagaku is ancient Japanese court music. Togi-san played the hichiriki (bamboo flute) and sho (bamboo pipe) for this track. It’s one of my favorites in the album even if it pulls so painfully at the heartstrings although its lyrics are not really heartbreaking. It wishes happiness for someone who has been there right beside you all along. The lyrics are really beautiful and Arashi’s harmony makes it even more soulful.
ずっと君は 僕の夢を 願い続けてくれたから
今そっと 君の幸せだけを となりで願おう
You always prayed for my dream to come true
So now, I only want to quietly pray for your happiness by your side
Miyabi Night is my least favorite in the album. Okay, I kind of like the traditional instruments in the intro, it reminds me of entering a Japanese restaurant and that’s the piped-in music I hear. I don’t know why it reminds me of that. The song does build up and has a very catchy hook with the “tra-li-la-li-la”.
Mikazuki starts off with playful string notes and digitalized vocals, which bodes well with the rhythm. It does sound like a lazy, sleepy ballad and yarukizero noted that the song is about star-crossed lovers who can only meet once a year during Tanabata.
Bolero! comes as a surprise because of its samba sound. It is more Latin than Japanese but then J-pop wasn’t exempted from the samba sound that was famous in the 1980s (listen here for a sampler), and the Showa era J-pop sound is what Arashi is exactly trying to bring back in this album. Surprisingly, it is also Nino’s favorite track in the album, which makes me curious why. Maybe he just likes singing “Bolero!”
Aozora no Shita, Kimi no Tonari was the theme for Aiba’s drama, Yokoso Wagaya e. I love the beat and the choreography and it has a very catchy hook.
In The Room is a surprisingly nice song. I love the R&B sound that suits the sexy vibe of the song considering its adult theme.
Masquerade‘s first notes remind me of the opening of Kimura Takuya’s HERO drama. It’s another Latin sound and has a very ’70s vibe. I can imagine why this is Jun’s favorite track in the album and after watching tonight’s Shiyagare with the show girl special, I dread to think they will do something like that. But then will it surprise fans?
Tsutaetai Koto is my top favorite in the album. I have been looping it for days on end; Nino’s falsetto here is an eargasm. It does have a Christmassy feel to it and I can see this as the final song in the tour or an encore. And also that it may just resurface in future tours too because the message is so heartwarming and something I’d imagine Arashi would want to tell the fans.
“今までも そうこれからも どこまでも ずっと”
“Everything up until now And everything to come Wherever we go Forever”
Thank you for everything
Japonesque is very Japanese in the sense that it uses the four seasons for its lyrics imagery. A fleeting flower (sakura?) that blooms and turns crimson in a transient world. I love how the song builds up in the chorus.
Nihon Yoitoko Makafushigi (included in the Yoitoko edition together with Secret Talk), originally sung by Shonentai, is a very nice cover and a fitting tribute to their senpais. And one has to listen to the Secret Talk because they talk about how they sang their parts for this song. (Nino sang it as if he was the “best junior”.) While they could have chosen to put an Arashi sound into their cover, they were mindful to keep the original sound. And the editing in the rap with segueing to each of their voices is seamless and fun to listen to. They didn’t perform the rap in their Music Station performance so I am curious if they will perform this in the tour, and how they will handle the rap part.
Bokura ga Tsunaideiku (included in the regular edition together with three other tracks) is a very beautiful ballad. It’s my favorite in the RE, Furusato aside, but all four songs in the RE are all gems. The harmony in this song is just so beautiful I am also looking forward to hearing this live.
The Deep End is a gritty dance song while Make A Wish has that playful Arashi sound that’s typical of their choices for encore songs. They wrap up Japonism nicely, akin to that feeling after watching them live. You walk away with a heart full of warmth and love for these five bakas and you’d want to experience it all over again.
And finally, Furusato. I have waited for this song to be officially in an album, just like many others. We have all been contented watching them perform this on Kohaku and with them no longer hosting this year, I wonder what song they will perform and if we still get an air play of this song. It’s really a wonderful ballad and I’m glad that Arashi had the honor to sing this first and include it Japonism because it gives that feeling of home.
I am also happy to see the sales numbers of Japonism. It has already surpassed LOVE, Popcorn and Boku no Miteiru Fuukei first week sales. Having three versions of the album undoubtedly boosted the sales but if for anything, Arashi makes those three versions worth buying by having the Making of and interview (LE); the Shonentai cover and Secret Talk (Yoitoko edition); and Furusato plus three new songs (RE). Fans would know how Arashi has never marketed their albums through multi-version (Oricon even singled them out for it previously) just to hit sales target and now that they did with three versions, they made sure each will be worth your money. I’m sure Nino approves.
Looking forward to the tour!
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