Like many Arashi fans, I didn’t know what to expect from the new album. With such a title or the lack of it, it sounded like another all-in-good-fun troll from the five bakas or as one fan put it, Nino might have taken charge of their 16th album and came up with… this:「untitled」
But like most fans too, I was curious especially when they said they were challenging new things they haven’t tried before, i.e. a fusion of genres and a suite.
I have been an Arashi fan since 2005 and the first album I bought upon release was Arashic, which gave us such epic pop songs as Wish, Kitto Daijoubu, I Want Somebody and Carnival Night 2, but also Cool & Soul, a wonderful mix of pop, hip-hop and jazz.
Through the years, one thing I learned quick is that, as an Arashi fan, you cannot stick to one genre and expect them to come up with the same pop ad nauseam.
Even if they don’t compose all their songs, their collaborators have given them a wealth of materials to dabble into genres that idols like them won’t be inclined to do especially if they want to maintain their top sales status.
Of course, JStorm also deserves a shoutout for allowing them to experiment and not box them into one type of sound in order not to isolate fans. But I guess Arashi has reached that certain stature in Jpop to be able to enjoy that elbow room of pushing the envelope and not be scared of the risks. I am proud to see how they have developed ownership over their works, especially their music, to be able to dictate the kind of albums they release.
「untitled」is such a joy to listen to because it showcases their growth. It bears to note how they have emphasized many times that listening to this album will show fans the kind of Arashi they are now and the place that they are in.
That is not to say there are no pop songs in this album and the backing of previously released singles such as Tsunagu (theme of Ohno’s ninja movie Shinobi no Kuni), I’ll Be There (theme of Aiba’s drama Kizoku Tantei) and Power of the Paradise (network NTV’s theme song for Rio Olympics 2016).
But it is in such music experiments–like the 11:29-minute suite Song for You, a fitting song for fans retelling their ongoing journey as a group; the genre-breaking fusion and lead track Mikan that incorporates notes from their debut single A.Ra.Shi and throws Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor right in the middle; and Kanpai Song that sees them returning to earlier sounds like Fight Song but still offers something different–that make 「untitled」stand out and make non-fans stand up and notice, and maybe, end up becoming fans too.
It was in their 9th studio album, Boku no Miteiru Fūkei (released in 2010), that Arashi’s fandom increased and they noticeably had more male fans; that album remains to be their second best-selling album based on first week sales next to Japonism (we have yet to see how 「untitled」will fare but based on early figures, it is not far behind from Japonism).
Fans would generally like the works that they put out–that is not to say that those who don’t are less of a fan; music after all is a matter of personal taste–but it is the views of non-fans that I find very interesting because they obviously see things from a different perspective.
As this non-Arashi fan writes in a music blog, it would have been a no-brainer for Arashi to stick to the all-tested pop formula if they were only concerned with sales numbers and are going for another year as Artist of the Year; they had their third consecutive win and fifth time to win the distinction in 2016. (Read the partial translation of the music blog by @kerrrrupuk.)
Despite the absence of solo songs, the unit songs also offer something different. I find Bazuri Night (Ohno, Sho and Aiba) a headache-inducing mess, Yoru no Kage nicely takes advantage of the individual musical skills of Ohno, Nino and Jun to come up with this delightfully chill little R&B piece, and Come Back is a special treat for Sho and Jun fans (like me), but it is UB that is my all-time favorite not only among the unit songs but in the entire album (yes, even more than Song for You). What makes UB even precious is that it deceptively sounds like a love song; well, to a certain extent, it is a love song between a shower and a toilet, but maybe, also the story of friendship between Aiba and Nino.
The thing with Arashi songs, they don’t sing about love all the time (everyone’s “favorite” Love So Sweet notwithstanding) and even if they do and the music sounds happy, reading the lyrics would make you realize that it is actually a sad song (think Still, among many examples).
And that’s part of the reason why their body of work is interesting and deceptive, in the same way that their idol title can also easily mislead anyone into thinking that they’re your typical “idol group” that sings and dances on cue like wind-up dolls, full stop.
「untitled」proves that they’re more than that and, as a fan, I am proud to see them go beyond titles, including that of being “idols”.
Heck, they could have called this album 「unidol」.
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