Namie Amuro – Checkmate!

May 31, 2011 at 8:04 PM | Posted in Namie Amuro | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
Namie Amuro – Checkmate!

1. Wonder Woman feat. AI & Anna Tsuchiya
2. UNUSUAL feat. Tomohisa Yamashita
3. make it happen feat. AFTERSCHOOL
4. ROCK U feat. Namie Amuro / ravex
5. Do What U Gotta Do feat. AI, Namie Amuro & Mummy-D / ZEEBRA
6. Wet’N Wild feat. SUITE CHIC / Heartsdales
7. Do or Die feat. Namie Amuro / JHETT
8. FAKE feat. Namie Amuro / AI
9. #1 feat. Kaname Kawabata (CHEMISTRY)
10. BLACK OUT feat. Lil Wayne & Namie Amuro / VERBAL
11. BLACK DIAMOND / DOUBLE & Namie Amuro
12. Luvotomy / m-flo ♥ Namie Amuro
13. AFTER PARTY feat. Namie Amuro / ZEEBRA

♦ ♦ ♦

Checkmate! is the first collaboration best album by Japanese singer Namie Amuro, released on April 27, 2011 after being postponed due to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The original release date was March 23. The album was released in two versions: a regular CD+DVD edition and a regular CD-only edition and sold 404,946 copies as of May 2011.

This album topped the charts for a long time, and now it’s up to me to see if the charts were right. Wonder Woman feat. AI & Anna Tsuchiya is a very funky and uptempo song and Namie takes on the first verse and she does it very well, her voice is still progressing. Anna’s second verse is also very strong, and the music is all about power. The song has some very catchy tunes and very solid vocals by the three singers. Great way to open the album, surely a real stayer.

UNUSUAL feat. Tomohisa Yamashita is a song that could’ve easily fit on Namie’s album ‘PAST < FUTURE’ with very strong and danceable bass beats. Both singers sound great together and they are accompanied by a nice musical arrangement. The agressive synths in this song are very dominant and give the song an edgy feel. Vocally, this was very strong.

This next song is a collaboration I thought would never happen: Namie joins forces with a Korean girl group on make it happen feat. AFTERSCHOOL. I’m not a huge fan of AFTERSCHOOL’s, but they make some very nice music and I can’t wait for their first Japanese release. This song has Namie written all over with AFTERSCHOOL only taking on the adlibbings and such, but the result is very nice. The music is very uptempo with fast paced synth riffs and a nice big chorus like BOOM.

ROCK U feat. Namie Amuro / ravex is taking this album to another dimension with some hard electropop; club ready beats and dominant synths. A bit repetitive, the music, but at least Namie’s vocodized vocals sound nice as always. It’s only a bit of a pity that I don’t know Namie like this, this song is very hardcore electropop and I can already tell it’s not gonna be one of my favorites if I’m not on a dancefloor. Otherwise, it’s very danceable and appealing.

Do What U Gotta Do feat. AI, Namie Amuro & Mummy-D / ZEEBRA features four different artists. ZEEBRA and Mummy-D do some nice opening raps in the first verse and while ZEEBRA has a very raw voice, Mummy-D’s is easier on the ears. Namie takes on the chorus and AI delivers a nice vocal performance in the second verse. Everyone gave it their best shot in this funky hip-pop hybrid, and the brassy elements give it a little extra spice.

I like Heartsdales, they’re two of the few rappers I actually like and they have a lot of swag in Wet’N Wild feat. SUITE CHIC / Heartsdales. SUITE CHIC is already a while ago for Namie, but she kicked it in the chorus with her softer vocals in contrast to the raw raps in the verses done by Jewels and Rum. Namie’s vocals are softer than nowadays, but she was a nice addition to this Heartsdales track. The music sounds very appealing with a nice handclap beat, random rap adlibbings by a male (from SUITE CHIC I guess) and a soothing guitar melody.

Do Or Die feat. Namie Amuro / JHETT opens in a very mysterious way, almost like we’re on a military base. The beats in this song are incredible, very deep and hard bass and finally Namie can be heard again. The chorus is the best part with the best vocals by Namie, she puts a lot of effort into her singing performance and I love the way she sings the title words.

The opening of FAKE feat. Namie Amuro / AI, and the rest of the song after that, is very in-your-face with a lot of attitude in both the music and the vocal performances by AI and Namie. The music is made up from percussion, sometimes a little tribal drum element here and there, synths, organs and brass instruments. This is one of my favorite songs on this album, it flows very well because of the constant attitude.

I have been waiting for something like #1 feat. Kaname Kawabata (CHEMISTRY), a midtempo song with a smooth and sexy feel to it. Kaname Kawabata’s vocals are surprisingly good and his and Namie’s blend together very well. The arrangements aren’t all that some of the time, but the song has a certain quality I do like.

BLACK OUT feat. Lil’ Wayne & Namie Amuro / VERBAL is the first song I heard of this album just a few weeks ago and it’s another very uptempo and agressive song. I wouldn’t have expected Namie to ever team up with Lil’ Wayne, but here it is folks. VERBAL’s rap is decent, he does a good job, but Lil’ Wayne is the real showstopper here, amazing as ever. Namie delivers the softer vocals for the song in the chorus, and the result is a great song with very nice synths and beats.

BLACK DIAMOND / DOUBLE & Namie Amuro is a song that takes the album back to the other side of agressive: heavy danceable beats and hot synths. DOUBLE is the weaker link here in my opinion, but the two of them sound better than expected. The musical arrangement is set to be very hot and I think this is Namie’s best known collaboration here. Not the best in my opinion, but I could get used to it.

Slowing down a bit with Luvotomy / m-floNamie Amuro which concentrates a lot on Namie’s vocals in the start, and she sounds very good. The relaxing ambience of the song suddenly disappears when beats and synths drop in and the song speeds up rapidly. VERBAL did a better job on his raps here than he did on BLACK OUT with them being very hot and filled with loads of attitude. The song is positively messy, and I seem to like it quite a bit.

Hmm… the first thing that pops in my mind with the intro to AFTER PARTY feat. Namie Amuro / ZEEBRA is ‘Lion King’, seriously. It’s the most relaxing song on the album and, how funny, the last one. The song has a tropical vibe to it with the xylophonish sounds throughout the song, but it doesn’t really have a highlight. It does get a little plus for being very original, unlike everything I ever heard.

I expected little from this album, but I was wrong. It’s actually a decent album with some nice collaborations on it and I agree with those who say this doesn’t really feel like a collaboration album at all. There are many musical styles on this album, varying from hip-pop to electropop and Namie worked with some very interesting and astounding people in the music business. I wouldn’t say this is the best album I ever heard, but it has its very strong points (as well as some minor lows). Some of Namie’s better songs appear to be collaborations, and she gave it her best shot here.

Favorite tracks: Wonder Woman | Do What U Gotta Do | Wet’N Wild | FAKE | #1 | BLACK OUT

OVERALL RATING

4 stars

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Beyoncé – Run The World (Girls)

May 29, 2011 at 8:09 PM | Posted in Beyoncé | Leave a comment

SINGLE REVIEW
Beyoncé – Run The World (Girls)

1. Run The World (Girls)

Run The World (Girls) is the twentieth solo single by American recording artist Beyoncé, released on April 21, 2011 by Columbia Records. The single is the lead single for her upcoming studio album ‘4’. Because of the leaks, the single’s release was rushed. The single was relatively well received by Beyoncé’s fans, charting at #33 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

The start of the song was very mysterious with some distant percussion playing a nice drumroll, and a sweet and soft piano and bells intro open the song. Very soon after that, it is made clear that this song heavily samples “Pon De Floor” by Major Lazer and Vybz Kartel! That is, to me, a bit of a pity because the high synth arrangements in that song aren’t really suited to be featured in a song because they are very distracting. The army drumrolls, on the other hand, really give this song its empowering effect towards women.
Beyoncé herself is shouting out her lyrics rather than just singing them, and this makes this song both very strong and annoying. It’s a solid release, Beyoncé definitely drew attention with this one, but I doubt it if I will listen to it much when her new album is released. Looking forward to it though. To me, this particular song is like a chaotic and flopped remix of “Pon De Floor” (feat. Beyoncé) xD

OVERALL RATING

2½ stars

Jennifer Lopez – Love?

May 29, 2011 at 7:26 PM | Posted in Jennifer Lopez | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
Jennifer Lopez – Love?

1. On The Floor (feat. Pitbull)
2. Good Hit
3. I’m Into You (feat. Lil’ Wayne)
4. (What Is) Love?
5. Run The World
6. Papi
7. Until It Beats No More
8. One Love
9. Invading My Mind
10. Villain
11. Starting Over
12. Hypnotico

♦ ♦ ♦

Love? is the seventh studio album by American singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, released by Island Def Jam (after her breakup with Sony Music Entertainment) on April 28, 2011. The first single ‘On The Floor (feat. Pitbull)’ was very well received, while the album received mixed reviews. The album did reach the #1 spot in Switzerland and Czech.

On The Floor (feat. Pitbull) is a very hot song, and even though I might not always be in for dancy club songs, I seem to like this one very much. I immediately recognized ‘Llorando se fue’ by Los Kjarkas as the melody in the song, something that makes this song even more fun for me. The addition of Pitbull is tremendously good, he adds a lot of spice, and JLo’s vocals aren’t bad either. Really like this song.

Good Hit is a mixture of heavy bass R&amp;B music and autotuned vocals to make it a little more dancy. For the first time, JLo is actually talk-singing a bit on her albums, and she can get away with it pretty easy (take that, Ke$ha). The ‘lalalala’s in the background melody is very pleasant in the chorus, adding a little musicality to it. The start of the chorus may be a little bit too simple, but when she starts to sing the title words with those ‘lalala’s in the back, the chorus is saved.

Haven’t heard from Lil’ Wayne in a while, and I definitely wouldn’t have imagined him collaborating with Jennifer, but it’s actually happening on I’m Into You (feat. Lil’ Wayne). It’s another R&B song, a little bit island-flavored, with very interesting and catchy hooks. Lil’ Wayne throws some clever wordplay around in his lyrics, and this is another song that is a bit simple but I actually like it pretty much.

(What Is) Love? serves as the title track for the album and it’s a laid back version of a dance/pop song, it’s not dominant yet it features some nice beats and synths. JLo was right when she said this album features her best vocals to date, here she gives another performance that really nailed it. Producer D’Mile did a very good job on the musical arrangement here, very attractive melodies here. Diana Gordon and Emile Dernst II did a good job on the pretty lyrics.

No idea who opened Run The World, but that guy with the deep vocals really set the tone for this hiphop song. Jennifer always sticks to her earlier roots a bit, but now she is throwing her talk-singing skills around again instead of just singing her lyrics. Her vocals are simple yet beautiful, and I love the typical beats in this song.

Papi was the promotional song for the album, and I must say this is the sixth very catchy song in a row. I like the fact that RedOne collaborated on this one, since I’m very fond of his work. This song is dance/pop again, but it has such an addictive chorus! ‘Move your body, move your body, dance for your papi’. The melody reminds me of an older song from the 90s. JLo’s Spanish spoken lyrics in the bridges were long expected concidering the title, but the song overall was very nice.

Until It Beats No More is, as I expected, a midtempo song, and it immediately appealed to me with a nice piano melody and a R&B beat with handclaps. The lyrics are also very beautiful if you listen very closely, the songwriters certainly gave it their best shot. The one thing that surprised me the most were JLo’s impressive vocals here, she hits pretty high notes while belting out her lyrics.

I’m glad that the dance/pop songs on this album aren’t all that ubiquitous on this album, lucky for me JLo throws some nice R&B on me too, multiple times. One Love is also a very nice and simple song with very good percussion rolls now and then. Nice fun fact: this is the only song on the album Jennifer co-wrote, and she did a pretty nice job here indeed.

Invading My Mind is clearly a creation by RedOne and Lady Gaga concidering the music, great that Jennifer teamed up with them for this song. I don’t know how they did it, but together with JLo they created a very infectuous track with an outstanding chorus. This song is club ready and I like the melody very much, it tends to get stuck in your head all day long.

Villain is a good track, but not my favorite at all to be honest. It has its moments, but most of the time it’s just a bit too ‘meh’ for me. It’s more of a mysterious track for the album, and unfortunately it doesn’t really feature that certain amount of catchyness the previous songs did. The song doesn’t have a highlight, it just kinda stays right there in the middle. Apart from all of that, I definitely don’t hate this, it’s still a nice creation.

Luckily, Starting Over immediately adopts a nice feelgood ambience with even a nice viola arrangement in the back that I liked very much. I recognized Wynter Gordon as the backup vocalist, another nice fun fact here. The instruments in this song took the result to a higher level, and if you take one of those instruments out, this song would be an entire mess. Nobody can touch this, lovely song.

The last song is another creation by RedOne, Akon and Lady Gaga, among others. Hypnotico features some nice pumping beats and, ofcourse, a catchy melody in the chorus. The hook, in which Jennifer sings the title words, are also very good parts to sing for the rest of the day. It’s a worthy closure for the (standard edition of) the album, you can’t sit still to this one. At least, I didn’t.

Wow, I am so surprised by how good this album was! I wasn’t a great fan of Jennifer’s, but because of this I might give her earlier work another chance again (although her style changed a bit for this album). It was very good to hear that this album turned out better than I would’ve expected from reading the professional reviews by AllMusic and The Los Angeles Times for example, which both gave this album only two stars… To me, Jennifer has delivered her best work to date, and she was right when she said this album also features her best vocals. Almost every song featured very catchy and addictive melodies, nice lyrics and pretty arrangements, so Jennifer is very lucky to have teamed up with the bets people in the business. She can be very proud of herself, this album can become a big succes in time.

Favorite songs: On The Floor (feat. Pitbull) | I’m Into You (feat. Lil’ Wayne) | Run The World | Papi | Until It Beats No More | One Love | Starting Over | Hypnotic

OVERALL RATING

4½ stars

Lady Gaga – Born This Way

May 22, 2011 at 4:54 PM | Posted in Lady Gaga | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
Lady Gaga – Born This Way

1. Marry The Night
2. Born This Way
3. Government Hooker
4. Judas
5. Americano
6. Hair
7. Scheiße
8. Bloody Mary
9. Bad Kids
10. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
11. Heavy Metal Lover
12. Electric Chapel
13. Yoü And I
14. The Edge Of Glory

♦ ♦ ♦

Born This Way is the second full-length album (third overall) by American singer Lady Gaga, released on May 23, 2011 by Interscope Records. The album was well-received by music critics. It hasn’t charted yet, but this will surely be edited once it has.

What a damn awful cover, really, but Marry The Night is the first track to make up for that. Gaga takes us to church with the organ interlude, after which some heavy synths and beats drop in to give it a huge electropop ambience. This immediately shows her change of style for this album, but her amazing vocals haven’t changed a bit. The chorus and bridge are very catchy, they tend to stay in your head all day long. Very good opening track.

It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M“. Yeah baby, it’s Born This Way. I have really come to love this song and every little note that makes up the track. I like the rumbling synths in the background, the pumping beats and the clear vocals Gaga displays throughout the song. The message in the song is a strong one, another fact I truly like about this song. Everything about this one is right, well done.

Can Gaga sing opera? Well, aparently she can, judging to the opening of Government Hooker. The rest of the song is just like the previous two; uptempo electropop. The song doesn’t really have a message or even pretty lyrics, they’re a bit random actually, but the melody in the song has something. Gaga’s singing melody in the chorus is especially noticeable here, but the rest of the song is just something fun to listen to.

Judas is incorporating more techno elements into the music, while Gaga’s vocals adopt a more Jamaican-Patois style (half-rapping in the verses). It doesn’t really fit either her or the song, but I’m cool with it. The line ‘Judas, Juda-a-aas, Judas, Ga-ga-aa‘ will probably receive the same status as the ‘Bad Romance’ line did, but it’s very funny to say the least. This song is one of the best on the album and it was a good choice to be a single.

Then comes Americano, a bit of a mess. I don’t really like this song, it’s like ‘Alejandro’ gone chaotic with a mix of ‘We No Speak Americano’, so it doesn’t come of as original to me. I’m a bit irritated by Gaga’s vocals here and what they did to them, especially in the chorus, so this track is a bit of a misfit, unfortunately.

Hair is much better, it even takes a little bit after Gaga’s previous works with an addictive melody in the chorus and the synths are also a bit toned down when compared to some previous songs. Somewhere in the bridge, Gaga shows she can also have some very raw and grungy vocals, and if she does that with moderation it can actually give a song its spark! This is another one of the best songs yet.

Okay, I don’t know what to think about Scheiße. In the first place, I couldn’t even understand her (caution: I don’t have to speak German just because I’m Dutch, those two languages are two very different things xD), I had to look up the lyrics for her German lines… She kinda sucks at singing them but that’s what makes this song so funny at the same time! The rest of the song is based on heavy synths and beats and good vocals by Gaga, and it’s one of those songs I hate one time and love the other time. This time, I actually like it for its quirkyness.

Bloody Mary is the first song to tone things down a bit with a relatively slower tempo, so it’s more resembling her earlier work in my opinion. I like the ‘dum dum dah de dah‘  line in the middle of the song, I don’t know why, and the chorus is also very mysterious and the lyrics are a bit religious (with Gaga singing about Jesus). She actually makes a screamo note after every chorus, didn’t even know she could do that!

Bad Kids is more lighthearted while still displaying that electropop style the entire album has, but then in a less heavy way. The synth lines are very well arranged and I love how simple the chorus actually is. At first I though this song was very dull and meaningless, but when I listen to it again, I like it! One of those songs I probably had to get used to, but it’s actually a very nice track.

I like the chorus of Highway Unicorn (Road To Love), and the song is also one of the more bombastic dance songs on the album with a lot of crash percussion in it and blazing synth melodies. The bass is also more prominent here, and I love how the song ends with the organ section. It’s more of an average song after 10 uptempo songs…

Heavy Metal Lover is not a metal song at all, it’s more in the style of Born This Way actually. It has its heavier moments in the case of the synths and beats, but Gaga tones it down a bit with her sweet humming vocals in the chorus. There aren’t really highs and lows in this song, it just carries itsself along in a nice way without getting all boring. It’s a nice, decent song.

Electric Chapel opens with a nice electric guitar riff before the beats drop back in for another uptempo song. It’s funny to hear how Gaga incorporated elements of both the title words in the music, electric guitars, synths and beats for the first and the mysterious church bells for the second word. Another song that carries on its beats, but it’s nice.

Finally we get a more ballad-like song, Yoü And I, a rock ‘n’ roll track. The bass and handclaps make me think of Queen’s music (‘We Will Rock You a.o.), and I really liked the prominent electric guitar riffs in this song. This is the song I was really waiting for on this album, this is a beautiful and yet strong track, with very solid vocals. This is the best song on the album, period.

And we’re going out with a bang: The Edge Of Glory, a nice catchy dancepop song with a very nice melody in the chorus. I also liked Gaga’s vocals very much in that part, set to lovely synth riffs. To me, this song is all about fun for the ears, even though the message is sad, and the saxophones were such a unique addition to this song! This song was a good closer for the album.

Gaga delivered a good and solid album here, the only thing that was missing were one or two more ballads. The uptempo songs overrule this album, and there’s nothing wrong with that but the only thing in that case is that they have to be good to make the album a real stayer. Gaga lived up to that expectation, and even though you may not like every song the first time you hear them, you will probably like them when you give them multiple listens. In my case, that really worked. This album may not be as awesome as her debut album was, she may never release a bigger succes album than that one, but at least she gave a solid second album with a little bit of a style change, in her music as well as in her voice. More electropop, less regular pop, more raw vocals and less poppy vocals. This woman shows she has grown and has gained even more self-confidence. And she’s worth it.

Favorite tracks: Marry The Night | Born This Way | Judas | Hair | Scheiße | Yoü And I | The Edge Of Glory

OVERALL RATING

4 stars

Nicole Scherzinger – Killer Love

May 20, 2011 at 9:55 PM | Posted in Nicole Scherzinger | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
Nicole Scherzinger – Killer Love

1. Poison
2. Killer Love
3. Don’t Hold Your Breath
4. Right There
5. You Will Be Loved
6. Wet
7. Say Yes
8. Club Banger Nation
9. Power’s Out (feat. Sting)
10. Desperate
11. Everybody
12. Heartbeat (Rudi Wells’ Open Heart Remix) (Enrique Iglesias feat. Nicole Scherzinger)
13. Casualty
14. AmenJena

♦ ♦ ♦

Killer Love is the long awaited debut album by American singer Nicole Scherzinger, released on March 18, 2011 by Interscope Records. Scherzinger began recording in 2005 under the title ‘Her Name Is Nicole”, originally scheduled for 2007. However, unsuccesful singles and poor timing led to the album being pushed back numerous times. The album peaked at #8 in the UK charts.

The introduction for Poison is a bit weird (altered electric guitar chords), but yet very fierce. The song is dance-pop, a genre that is ubiquitous on this album, and the way the musical style blends with Nicole’s developed voice is very nice. It’s a club banger, very synth heavy and a very nice opener indeed for the album. It’s an immediate wake-up call to show the talent she has. I really liked the hooks in this song!

Killer Love sounds like such a club banger too, and judging from her PCD years I didn’t expect such bombastic dance songs from Nicole. But this works out very fine, the chorus has a nice addictive melody and I love how Nicole sings the title words here. The percussion isn’t always your regular dance beat, there are variations here (tribal, another pattern) to make the music more interesting.

The immediate standout track for me personally would definitely be Don’t Hold Your Breath with very modest verses and a catchy chorus. This song is more midtempo and features some Europop elements here and there, and I really like the track as a whole. Nicole’s vocals are very powerful yet she controls her voice very well, I really like this track because it’s  stuck in my head all day long.

Then we get into a more R&B-ish style for the album with Right There, a song that could’ve easily been stolen from Rihanna’s latest album. This song has a very nice Island-vibe and Nicole delivers a rather funny vocal performance with a caribbean accent, but it’s decent just the same, it doesn’t bring the song down at all. It’s just all the more fun to listen to, and I love the bass heavy beat in this song. Can’t wait to hear the newly recorded version with 50 Cent…

Funny enough, Nicole starts yodelling during the first seconds of You Will Be Loved and she can actually do it! It fits the song, which is a nice R&B ballad we’re more used to from Nicole. The chorus is a bit bland with only the title words being sung, but that makes the lovely verses all the more interesting. The song has potential, I love the entire ambience the track has.

Wet sounds like a song that could really become a hit in the States (if only they’d like Nicole’s songs more). We’re back to the dance club style again, and I love the random percussion break right before the chorus. In that chorus, Nicole’s singing in a higher pitch, one thing she can do pretty well. This is just another dance song for me, although it has someting I like and that’s a bit unique.

Another RedOne creation on this album is Say Yes, and the hook is the catchiest part of the song, better than the chorus. The music becomes a bit of the same old, same old, but Nicole fixes everything with her wonderful vocals, perfect for these kind of tracks. This is a rather simple dance song, but yet it becomes quite catchy at some point and it’s quite likeable.

I didn’t like the title of Club Banger Nation at ALL, just like the way I don’t really like those unpersonal songs about club banging. And even though this is very unpersonal indeed, I was surprised Nicole has a certain Tina Turner flavor to her voice. The chorus was actually catchier than I first thought so maybe Nicole herself made this song a real stayer.

Finally tuning it down a bit with the first collaboration, a leaked track called Power’s Out (feat. Sting). I heard it about two years ago and I loved it immediately, also because it’s such an unlikely collaboration. I love Sting and his song with The Police back in the day, and he and Nicole were both magnificent here. Perfect song!

In Desperate Nicole displayed some very deep vocals, a bit lower pitched, and that vocal technique gave her voice so much more attitude. The lyrics in this song are beautiful and yet a bit sad, but set to a bit of an uptempo beat. The creation of the song is unique, it incorporates so many different elements. I really like this, and it should’ve been recognized by me earlier…

Nicole once made a song called ‘Everything’, which I totally adored but it wouldn’t have fit on the album. Instead, there’s Everybody, a slow song with a bass heavy beat and quite a mysterious undertone. I didn’t like the cheesy lyrics in the chorus, it ruined my perception of the entire song. The verses are very well done and they sound very nice, but the chorus is just bland. Such a bummer.

Such a shame we have a remix here: Heartbeat (Rudi Wells’ Open Heart Remix) (Enrique Iglesias feat. Nicole Scherzinger). The original song was fun, but also a bit bland, and now they made a remix for Nicole’s album. Lack of creativity perhaps? But well, that’s just my personal opinion. After a couple of listens, my heart doesn’t beat for this song anymore. A Part II would’ve been better…

Then we finally get back to the more heartfelt songs, Casualty is a very beautiful and slow song and I loved the percussion in this song so much. Nicole sings some lovely lyrics here with beautiful vocals, breathtakingly beautiful to be exact. It’s a simple song, but yet it can capture you in such a way you can’t stop listening to it. Makes up after two bland songs.

AmenJena actually means ‘peaceful paradise’, and it’s the closer for this album. It seems like the song lives up to the title, it only features a piano and lovely heartfelt vocals and it’s one of the songs that stay with you for quite some time after you stopped listening to the album. It’s a worthy closer for this album, and I really needed a simple and emotional song like this here. This is what I’d like to hear from Nicole!

I had my pros and cons with this album, it has its ups and downs if you ask me. First, I loved the first five tracks, the next three songs are a bit meh until Power’s Out (feat. Sting) comes. One good song, and then the most bland songs on the entire album came up. Luckily, the last two tracks made up for that. I like what Nicole delivered here, but only half of this was actually really good and worth multiple listens. Her earlier singles might have flopped, but personally I LOVED track such as ‘Whatever You Like (feat. T.I.)’ and ‘Baby Love (feat. will.i.am)’ a lot, I wanted to see them on this album because I loved the R&B style on Nicole so much more… I’m not entirely on the fence with this album, but after 6 years of work I would like to see a bit more variation in Nicole’s musical style. And I do not mean an instant switch from R&B/Urban to Dancepop…

Favorite songs: Poison | Killer Love | Don’t Hold Your Breath | Right There | You Will Be Loved | Power’s Out (feat. Sting) | AmenJena

OVERALL RATING

3 stars

BENI – Lovebox

May 3, 2011 at 4:44 PM | Posted in BENI | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
BENI – Lovebox

1. Lovebox Intro
2. Yura Yura (ユラユラ)
3. Sign (サイン)
4. Hitomi Tojite (瞳とじて)
5. Gimme Gimme♥ (ギミギミ♥)
6. Girl’s Night feat. JAMOSA
7. a million jewels
8. Kimi Ja Nakya (君じゃなきゃ)
9. bye bye
10. MOVE
11. break the rules
12. he is mine
13. My Friend (マイ・フレンド)
14. Message
15. Zutto Futari de unplugged version (ずっと二人で)

♦ ♦ ♦

Lovebox is the fifth album by Japanese singer BENI, and the second under the Universal Music Japan label. The album was released on June 2, 2010 in two different editions: a regular CD only edition and a CD+DVD version with a DVD containing BENI’s MV’s. The album reached #1 on the Oricon weekly charts, where it charted for 14 weeks, and the album sold 57,033 copies This is BENI’s first release to ever attain the top spot on the Oricon charts.

Lovebox Intro is very cute and sweet, it has a bit of a childish ambience to it but it makes it all the more fun. I feel like I’m at a playground with a baby’s giggling, but BENI sings to a lovely melody with pretty lyrics: “‘ll take you to a place you’ve never been before, so open up your heart, it’s called the lovebox‘. Very nice introduction, just like Bitter and Sweet had.

Then the album immediately kicks off with one of my favorite A-sides of the era: Yura Yura (ユラユラ), a really nice combination of upbeat percussion and some classical instruments, such as strings and a piano. I love BENI’s vocals in this track, sometimes I get a bit jealous of her for it. The chorus is always the same, but this song has such a good quality overall that it never tends to drag. It’s happy, it’s pretty, and this is just such an enjoyable track.

Another one of my all time BENI favorites is Sign (サイン), a little more on the softer side and more like a midtempo ballad type of song. I love the piano melody in this song, and the percussion has a nice flow to it with a lot of bass (and that usually does the trick for me). Another thing that really stands out here are BENI’s vocals, she improved a lot during her career and it all comes out in this track. I especially loved her energetic performance in the bridge, can’t help but replaying this one.

Hitomi Tojite (瞳とじて) is the first new full-length track and it has a very sensual flow to it with a sort of Indian/Arabian influenced ambience. It’s a midtempo song, and I get Bitter &amp; Sweet vibes just a little bit, this song could’ve fit easily on that album. On this one, it may not stand out that much after the previous track, but it’s lovely anyway because of the Eastern sound to it.

I can’t believe how addictive Gimme Gimme♥ (ギミギミ♥) is, I can’t help but singing ‘ Gimme gimme your love sotto‘ all day long after hearing this song. Everything about this song is catchy as hell, even the chorus with the fun counting lyrics (‘1-2 shinkokyuushite, 3-4 kimi o mitsume‘). I love the sparkling effect this song seems to have with those little bells and the sound of the synths, and I can’t say much more than all this. Perfect track.

The next new song on the album is Girl’s Night feat. JAMOSA, and the only thing I knew about JAMOSA before hearing her sing is that she has huge boobs, but I don’t care because I’m a girl myself, haha. Back to the music, BENI is a lot better vocally than that JAMOSA person, her vocals are too nasal but it probably takes time to get used to her. This song is very synth heavy but another mid-tempo song, and it’s very decent. It’s just that JAMOSA almost ruined the track…

BENI is back on her own with a million jewels, a smooth song with a nice beat with handclaps and a soulful piano melody in the background. The entire arrangement is a bit different than BENI’s usual stuff, and it may come off as a little darker due to the piano and synths. I especially enjoyed BENI’s singing here, mostly in the bridge with swiftly sung lyrics and a high note right after, never thought the girl could do it! BENI can hit whistle notes, guys! Little extra point for that fact, already liked this song but now even a bit more.

Kimi Ja Nakya (君じゃなきゃ) is a bit on the ballad side of the mid-tempo stuff, an it mostly consists of strings, a piano and those typical fingersnaps in the percussion. This is the first song that didn’t really stand out all that much when compared to the rest of the album, but as an individual track, it has actually a very nice chorus. That might make it a little bit unique and different from the rest of the songs, but mostly it is a bit forgettable.

The next A-side is bye bye, and it kinda brings the spice and energy back after the previous track. The reason why I love this track, even in the context of this album, is because of the way BENI emphasizes the title words in the chorus, and just like Gimme Gimme that might be a little catchy when you’re aware of it. This song is driven by its use of the typical R&B beat, synths and sometimes even a little piano in there, and I’m always surprised how BENI can spark up an entire song with her vocals.

MOVE stunned me because it’s one of BENI’s fewer agressive songs, and uptempo as well. The only thing I miss here is a bit of a stronger bass, but the synths already give this song a certain energy. BENI’s vocals could’ve also been a little more on the agressive side at some points, sometimes they are a bit too smooth and soft, but overall she pulls it off very nicely. This track comes as such a surprise to me now, and I really like it, especially the chorus.

On the other hand, break the rules is even more agressive, so hold your horses here. Finally I get my dominant bass and blazing synths combined, and even some agressive vocals by BENI! This one has got to be the best one out of the new uptempo tracks, it’s very energetic and funky. BENI’s vocodized vocals after the chorus are very funny as well, give the song a little extra. I’m in love with this one =D

There is one thing that annoyed me about he is mine, and that is the weird voice in the background saying ‘HEY’ with a baby-like voice all the time, it’s so distracting. Apart from that, this song brings us back to the ballad stuff with a nice prominent piano melody and overall nice percussion (except for the baby). BENI’s singing is very soothing and at peace, but during the end of the song, some of her adlibbing is a bit out of place. When the song ends, I’ve overcome the sound effects and still find this a decent song.

My Friend (マイ・フレンド) features a beat that slightly reminds me of reggaeton, but the rest of the song is on the fluffy and cheerful side. It has more of an acoustic feel due to the acoustic guitar, combined with some synths and percussion for a signature BENI song. BENI’s vocals are lovely when layered, but when several BENI voices sing in the same pitch: POOF, magic. I like the sound of the line ‘I’ll be there, always be there‘, and with that the rest of the song. Nicely done.

Message is a real piano ballad drawing attention from the start with an interesting beat and even some brass instruments at some points. BENI’s overall vocal performance is very nice with good phrasing and her tone is also very nice, she tends to change the quality of her voice to fit the various parts of the song. The chorus stands out, even after 13 songs, and this was a good closer for the original tracklist of the album.

There is however a bonus track, and oh how happy I became when I saw it was <strong>Zutto Futari de unplugged version (ずっと二人で), </strong>one of my favorite songs from Bitter & Sweet and also one of my favorite BENI songs. This acoustic piano version, together with soft strings, give the song an entirely different perspective, much more emotional. BENI’s vocals are close to perfect, a stunning prestation since this is a very difficult song to sing. Still, she stands, and the result ends the album in a gorgeous way.

Overall, this album left a good impression and I will certainly listen to it more often. I think I like this one even more than I liked Bitter &amp; Sweet, because BENI improved her vocals as well as the variation in her style a bit. This makes me even more curious about her latest album, JEWEL, and I think the start of reviewing that era won’t be far off. These last few months I noticed what an artist BENI is, and now I finally got to listen carefully to her album Lovebox. The album that features my favorite BENI singles of all time, adding a little bit to the rating. I enjoyed most of the tracks here, the other tracks weren’t really bad either or I still have to get used to them a little (such as JAMOSA’s voice). Even though some may disagree, it’s just a matter of taste after all (as always), I really liked this album quite a lot and maybe I will like it even more in the future!

Favorite tracks: Yura Yura (ユラユラ) | Sign (サイン) | Gimme Gimme♥ (ギミギミ♥) | a million jewels | bye bye | break the rules | Zutto Futari de unplugged version (ずっと二人で)

OVERALL RATING

4½ stars

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