Mika Nakashima – REAL

February 2, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Posted in Mika Nakashima | Leave a comment

ALBUM REVIEW
Mika Nakashima – REAL

1. Hatsukoi
2. DEAR
3. Ashita Sekai ga Owaru Nara
4. PASSION
5. You Knocked Me Out
6. LOVE IS ECSTASY
7. BE REAL
8. SUPER WOMAN
9. SUPREME
10. Pierce
11. Kioku
12. Epilogue
13. LETTER

♦ ♦ ♦

REAL is the seventh studio album by Japanese singer Mika Nakashima, released on January 30, 2013. The album debuted at #1 on the Oricon Charts.

Almost the entire first half of the album is either A-side or B-side songs we already know from the single she released in this era, but there are some new songs as well. The first song on the album is the latest A-side Hatsukoi, which I think has breathtaking piano music and a very good long introduction. Even though it’s tricky to start an album with a ballad, it’s not a bad one if you look past the slightly pitchy vocals in the chorus. Most of the song is all verses, and those are the best parts (where Mika controls her vocals very well). Once I got used to this song, I started to like it a little bit more.

Next is the first A-side of the era, DEAR, which had one of the most original arrangements of all the songs in the REAL era. The acoustic guitar and saxophone actually work well together in a song and it’s exactly what made this A-side more memorable for me (and also a bit more enjoyable). Mika’s vocals are actually good here, especially when compared to her vocals in Hatsukoi for example.

Third  ballad in a row, hmm, that’s a minor issue. Ashita Sekai ga Owaru Nara wasn’t exactly my favorite ballad A-side either, so to me personally this is a bit bigger of an issue. I like the fact that the music fits the Resident Evil branch with its dark and mysterious sound, but Mika overuses her vobrato in almost every line and that’s already getting on my nerves at the end of the first verse. Don’t get me started on the chorus. If this song featured better vocals, I would have been stunned by its epic ambience.

Ahh, the first uptempo song and it’s a rock song as well. PASSION caught my attention from the introduction with the loud electric guitars, brass instruments and the chants by Mika and her background chorus.  This song has everything the previous songs didn’t have: tempo, good vocals and catchy melodies. Not to burn track 1 through 3 though, but this one just totally caught me off guard and I found myself liking it very much. This is some edgy stuff.

You Knocked Me Out continues the uptempo part of the first half, and although this B-side to LOVE IS ECSTASY was a little less impressive than said song and Mika’s English isn’t that good, this track really is catchy and has Mika explore rock in a funky style. Although some may disagree, this song is the perfect example of Mika being more in her comfort zone when it comes to the vocals. Simple track, but very effective.

Immediately moving on to the A-side of the previous song, LOVE IS ECSTASY. I’m already convinced that this is the best song on the entire album and maybe even the most impressive Mika song I’ve ever heard (makes me think about trying her NANA albums sometime). This song is very heavy and fierce when compared to everything else on this album, one reason for me to love it so much. The ‘lalalala‘ chants in the chorus are actually very catchy so this is THE standout song for me.

So, Mika can do some dance/pop songs as well? BE REAL surprised me by having a distinct disco sound with a drum machine, lots of synths and a regular clubbing song tempo. The little piano/keyboard notes in the hooks are a little unexpected but they made this track a nice experience altogether. If this was a song by any other artist it would’ve been a regular song, but coming from Mika it impressed me.

The B-side to Ashita Sekai ga Owaru Nara, SUPER WOMAN, is a complete 180 from everything that came before it on the tracklist, including its A-side. Still, this showgirl tune is quite a funny track that can easily remind you of songs like ‘EYES SMOKE MAGIC’ (Ayumi Hamasaki)  and ‘show girl’ (Koda Kumi). The vocals could’ve been a bit more dosed, but still I enjoy the fun and quircky ambience of this track.

The background melody in SUPREME reminds me sooo much of ‘Stand By Me’, so it instantly caught my attention. The song is  like a combination of BE REAL and SUPER WOMAN, combining tempo and just a hint of dance/pop with quircky jazz elements and brass instruments. It’s nothing you must take too seriously, like the previous song, you just gotta enjoy this and everything that comes with it (and that includes most of the vocals too).

I was afraid of encountering a ballad here, but Pierce is more of a midtempo song with some soft tribal drums, an acoustic guitar and piano contrasting with the loud saxophone notes in the background. Original, I admit it, but maybe they needed to tone down the saxophone a little. Even though it’s the frst midtempo song after some ballads and a lot of different types of uptempo song, the chorus of this song reminded me a bit too much of songs like Hatsukoi (because of some pitchy notes). Still, not bad.

The ‘Christmas song that accompanied Hatsukoi on its single’ is next: Kioku. I only call this a ‘Christmas song’ because of its piano music and bells accompanying it in the background, but other than that it’s just a normal ballad. My opinion on this song is that it kicks Hatuskoi‘s ass any day, but now compared to the rest of the tracks on this album this track comes out a bit iffy. It’s cute and not your everyday ballad, but it’s also not a big standout song to get attached to or anything.

Now Epilogue has a nice twist on the original ballad concepts on this album; it’s more of a blues ballad that instantly distances itsself from all the other musical styles I’ve encountered until now. The typical blues tempo and brass instruments work perfectly with the funky notes from a soft electric guitar and even a gospel background choir to really mix things up. For a simple blues ballad, it’s very effective and it’s one of the better tracks on the album.

As the last track on the album, we have LETTER, another ballad. It’s the simplest one on the album with just a piano and acoustic guitar accompanying Mika’s soft, high pitched vocals. As long as she doesn’t sing ‘killer high notes’, everything is fine. Besides the very good vocals most of the time, this song doesn’t leave a big impression on me because there are a lot of other songs that offer a bit more excitement. Still she gave it a very good try.

I was so reluctant to review this album, just look at the comments I gave the singles. And let’s be honest, it’s a well known fatc that I’m not exactly in love with Mika’s vocals either. What surprised me was that, as soon as the first three ballad tracks were over, tracks 4 through 9 were all uptempo and I instantly bombed them as album favorites (all of my album favorites are uptempo tracks for that matter). Mika needs to do songs like that a bit more often, it suits her more than those emotional ballads in which she has such pitchy vocals. If she can also balance the tracklisting a bit more, I’m gonna have my hopes up for next time.

Favorite tracks: DEAR | PASSION | You Knocked Me Out | LOVE IS ECSTASY | BE REAL | SUPER WOMAN | SUPREME | Epilogue

OVERALL RATING
starstarstarhalfstarblankstar
3½ stars

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