This week has been all “Lana Del Rey this” and “Lana Del Rey that” and really great reviews about her new album that make you excited for the critics to write about albums they actually like. Frankly, I am sick of having to hear anything else about this album. Why don’t we turn our sights to another Western artist who once dominated conversations about “authenticity” and is pretty much unloved by most writers nowadays?
Avril Lavigne “Smile”
Avril Lavigne! Despite slipping to a position well below her “S8ter Boi” days in the West, she’s still one of the biggest Western acts in Japan today for reasons I am still not entirely sure about. “Smile” finds Lavigne continuing to show off her new found “edgy freedom” persona introduced on “Girlfriend” – the opening line of this single is “you know that I’m a crazy bitch/I do what I want when I feel like it.” Plus she says swears! Yet despite all this 3D-Doritos cool (and, uhhhh, a line maybe about date rape? Yikes), “Smile” is a “look at me now” anthem pointed at, presumably, an ex-lover in the mold of…Lily Allen’s “Smile.” Which, uh oh, Lavigne actually does sort of bite with the lyrical content and big bright chorus, though Allen’s breakthrough is way better than this mall-punk middle finger. “What The Hell” and best-Avril-song-EVER “Girlfriend” embraced this wicked new side and felt fun…”Smile” feels a little too uplifting. Lavigne can pull off bratty wildness which, despite her best efforts, just isn’t here.
Ayaka “Hajimari no Toki”
You know, Ayaka does OK at first. The verses are minimal enough, almost chilly in the space they provide. Her voice gets a chance to stand out, and it sounds great. Then the chorus comes around and the strings shoot up predictably, “Hajimari no Toki” turning into a standard J-Pop ballad with all the trimmings. Ayaka almost hit on a good ballad, but gave into pressure and thus we are left with this.
A.B.C.-Z “Za ABC～5stars～”
A little sniffing around the Internet reveals two facts about this group that make me feel comfortable in moving right along and ignoring them. First, they are a Johnny’s Jr. group, meaning they aren’t even a full-fledged act on the Johnny’s label but just a gaggle of pop urchins making music that sounds exactly like NYC or Sexy Zone or [insert your punchline here]. Second, the title of this “song” (if it even is one) is also the title of a DVD they recently released, which makes me think this is either a medley or an extended trailer. For all of our souls, let us hope it is the second.
This week’s winner was probably a foregone conclusion, because compared to Avril Lavigne and some teenager-full Johnny’s group, Chatmonchy can’t really be stopped. They are about as solid as a J-Rock band capable of topping the Oricon Charts can be – they don’t do anything amazing, but they also sound better than the majority of goofy groups playing guitars you see in stores. “満月に吠えろ” bounces ahead on straight-ahead guitar playing and uncomplicated drum pounding, yet the duo do enough to spice up this single, mostly through good vocal touches like the shouts in the background. Plus, that chorus is the sort of short-but-sweet business that is hard not to bob along with. Here’s a J-Rock group I would be perfectly happy with sticking around and popping up on TV every once in awhile to remind me “hey, these two are still pretty good!”
YUKI “Wonder Line”
Sales for YUKI’s music have been trending downwards over the past few years, her singles and albums still selling pretty well but a far cry from what the former Judy And Mary member used to be able to push in the mid Oughts. Which might explain why she’s wheeling out 2007 single “Wonder Line” for this week’s Music Station – faced with an (inevitable) decline, YUKI’s management attempts to remind people of how much they used to like her by showing them this song they might have listened to a few years ago.
Not a terrible strategy, since “Wonder Line” is a bouncy bit of pop that allows YUKI to show off her vocal ability. It’s a catchy song that easily could have been turned into a sappy ballad with a little tinkering – the string section is already in place – but someone said “screw it” and just went with a nice (not amazing) pop number. Never too soon to look back at 2007, right?
Winner Of The Week – Chatmonchy