Friday, February 15, 2013

[Album Review] Mika Nakashima - REAL

"I wanna sleep why am I being forced to squat"

For the first time in Mika Nakashima's career she only released 4 singles, not 5, before an album! What blasphemy! But knowing that 3 of the 4 singles released for this album's era were more or less ordinary ballads, I really didn't want to put my expectations too high for this album. After all, Mika hasn't really been an artist who strays to the extremes for experimentation. For a comeback album after 2+ years, while it has its own gems here and there, it unfortunately isn't as impressive as I hoped it would be.

Mika pulls a HEART STATION in the first three songs of the album by farting out the three ballad a-sides from her singles in this era: Hatsukoi, Dear, and Ashita bla bla bla. Of course, this is nothing new as she's also started albums with ballads many times before. Somehow I've always felt like these decisions are made because Mika's all like "I know I be all badass and shit but ma muzic fo realz yoz, my muzic for da hart!" either that or "I know you bitches love ballads so here you go"

Hatsukoi starts off great with a long piano introduction and she handles the verses really well. But chorus after chorus her high notes just start to piss the shit out of everyone. Somehow in the studio recording the notes come off rather... flat. It's almost as if bitch doesn't try anymore. Or she does, but fails at it. Not a very good first impression! Sure, overall it's a pretty ballad, but that's about it.

Dear, on the other hand, starts off with an acoustic guitar which leaves the entire arrangement of the song somewhat bittersweet, with some hints of saxophone here and there. I enjoy this ballad more than Hatsukoi, but also nothing out of the ordinary. Ashita Sekai ga Owaru Nara is another piano-driven song that just bores the crap out of me so I shan't elaborate anymore.

The album finally starts picking up with PASSION, a very edgy rock track with a really catchy arrangement and melody. The utilisation of brass instrumentation (which is dominant in most of the album tracks) injects an element of funk into the track which makes for a rather interesting combination.

It then segues smoothly into the next track, You Knocked Me Out, the b-side to LOVE IS ECSTASY which brings over the funk from the previous track. It somewhat reminds me of SMILEY which I like a lot. But nothing knocks the world out than her horrendous engrish. Sorry gurl, it just ain't gonna work. Not unless you learn to pronounce your words properly gurl. Plus, while I enjoy the funkiness I just don't think it garners a spot on an album and should have stayed as a b-side.

Up next is a full-on rock track, LOVE IS ECSTASY, which has a really good arrangement. However, I don't know why, but Mika sounds like shit. Sure, she sounds alright in the "la la la"s and rather decent in the chorus, but her vocals in the verses are terrible. It's such a pity because instead of turning out great it ends up being something that I can barely tolerate. Maybe someday I'll get used to that, but I highly doubt so.

"I smoke 10 packs of cigs a day but let's BE REAL, your fave
can never have skin this flawless"
The tempo goes up for the title track, BE REAL. Let's be real here, Mika never disappoints with her titular tracks. I loved TRUST YOUR VOICE on VOICE, and LONELY STAR on STAR was amazeballs. Right off the bat when BE REAL started playing I was in love already. I'm such a sucker for songs with disco influences and synth beats. It's one of those songs that are so outstanding yet authentically Mika in some way. If it was another artist singing it, it would probably be shit. Mika should do more songs like this imo, because I feel she can pull them off really well.

If you loved GAME on NO MORE RULES., then SUPER WOMAN may be your cup of tea as well. It's a song that sounds so deliberately dated that it sounds something that comes from the 70s and 80s. I can imagine Seiko Matsuda singing it. Well, actually, I can't, but you know what I mean. While it's an interesting genre that Mika has gone into, just like You Knocked Me Out, it should have just stayed on its single as a b-side because it doesn't really stand out when it has the potential to.

SUPREME immediately caught my attention because it opens with brass instrumentation sampling Stand By Me which everyone should be familiar with. This brings on the retro feel from SUPER WOMAN, except this shit is annoying as hell because of all the AIYAIYAIYAIYAIYAIYIAIYAIYIAYIAIYAIAYI. I do appreciate its quirkiness and this track sounds like it must have been really fun for Mika to record!

The mood immediately solemn down for Pierce, a midtempo track with an interesting mix of instruments - soft bongo drums, the piano and the saxophone. Sounds like something that would be great for relaxing to. Lavvit. Kioku is another ballad that was the b-side to Hatsukoi which is just another ballad like the first three tracks so yup.

The Mika from the YES era makes a comeback with the Epilogue, a blues / jazz track which I love, and I admit I love it only because of the genre. I guess it's those songs that you either love or hate because you either love blues or you don't. To some it may come off as rather droning but it's alright for me. The gospel choir in the background only adds on to the effectiveness of this track.

And then it would have come to a nice end to the album... except LETTER comes on. Heck, an extra song, why should I complain? Well, it's another ballad. But unlike all the other ballads she's offered on this album, this is undeniably more toned down, especially vocal-wise where you can already imagine her not singing it with a constipated face. Very calm and soothing, but should have come before Epilogue. Only then would it make sense. Not just title-lically but also musically.

REAL is a mixed bag. There are some true gems here like BE REAL, to name one, and I appreciate the liberal use of brass instruments and revisiting her jazzy sound by adding these elements in subtle hints all over the album tracks. That's what I really like about this album, and these actually tie the songs up together to make the album more cohesive. 

Unfortunately the b-sides should have been excluded from this album. "Mika does it all the time", you might say, but Mika doesn't do shitty b-sides all the time. Her past albums' single b-sides delivered some pretty amazing b-sides, and FOCUS is one that comes to mind easily. But here? Sorry but I just don't see effort in those. One listen is all you need to know it's a b-side. Nonetheless, this is one album that would surely satisfy Mika fans as she's finally back into the scene with an album that doesn't sound extremely different from her previous works.

Listen to previews here.


Album highlights: Dear, LOVE IS ECSTASY, BE REAL, Pierce, Epilogue

1 comment:

  1. Nice review, I agree that this album sounds very similar to Voice & Star. She's played it safe ever since the NANA album imo.


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