I consider myself normal. “Normal” in the sense that I’m a grown woman with a career, relationships, a diverse food pallet and great taste in music. But, dear reader, under this facade I harbour a deep, dark secret.
I love boy bands. Completely understandable – I grew up in The Era of The Mass-Produced Boy/Girl Band, after all – and my poison of choice was the English lad group 5ive, especially the somewhat talented quiet one, Sean. Even to this day, I count their concert as a highlight in my live music annals, and could probably perform the dance to If Ya Getting Down after a bottle or two of champers. Wiggy, wiggy, I’m getting jiggy indeed.
But through this enjoyably bumpy ride through Asian pop culture, I’d managed to avoid boy bands as the whole – sure, I like Big Bang, have waved at CN Blue and SMAP and various other acronym’d four-to-seven-to-(how many are in Super Junior again?) posses of well-dressed man candy with better makeup application than me – but then along came Arashi. And all I can say is, fuck you Arashi for being fun and actually somewhat talented and having your music to a standard that doesn’t make me want to claw my eyes out. Fuck you, because I’m mumblemumble years old and goddamn I’m enjoying your awful faces and terrible clothing choices and you can’t prove I looked up tickets to the concert that’s happening in Tokyo when I arrive on Yahoo!Auctions JP (nor can you prove I briefly considered $1400AU for the pleasure - nope).
So, to prove that, yes, a lady doth protest too much – here’s a review of their latest album, Popcorn. I’ve dragged my good friend Zoe, whom you’ll recognise from our ranting about SOUSUKE while talking about jdrama Last Friends - because I’ll be damned if I go down on this poppin’ lockin’ sparkly ship by myself.
Yes, they’re dressed as popcorn. No, I don’t have an explanation. Yes, we do attempt one after the cut. No, I can’t guarantee there actually is a cohesive explanation, but I do guarantee threats of violence, blatant awkward fangirling and Zoe and I reviewing this shit like it’s first year university and our final grade depends on it.
Zoe’s thought-provoking analysis is in blue, my tirades are in green. All images are sourced from around the net, let me know if you’d like credit – none of the gifs or videos are Omo!s. Let’s do it.
1. WELCOME TO OUR PARTY
Hilariously, my first thought about this song was that it would be really difficult to do at karaoke. Apparently Sho wrote the rap himself.
Of course he did. Of course. I think it’s a good opening track, if only because it lays out the rest of the album as the big ol’ fun party CD it is. As a whole, it’s probably the only track on the album that’s very un-Arashi – it feels almost like a stereotypical American party song, but that’s not a bad thing.
Right? I feel like it’s something you’d play at a keg party at an American college or something. I really like it though – I was reading a translated interview with Nino and he commented that their goal was just to make a cheerful pop record – this is a great opener for that.
I really love this song, I can’t lie. It sneaks up on you – yeah, okay, this’ll be a vaguely 1970s-guitar-solo-and-horn section filler, then that chorus starts. Stadium-worthy, easy. You can tell just how much fun they’re having, with this album and with their careers at the moment.
That disco opening slays me every time, I have a pretty strong visual of them doing it on rollerskates in a concert, haha. It’s just so FUN. I agree, this song is like, a big blast of joy.
It reminds me a lot of ‘ハダシの未来‘, which wasn’t a big hit but you can see how much fun they have performing it. Especially Jun, what with his epic loving of the microphone stand whenever they perform it live. Bless. I look forward to seeing this one in concert, fo’ sure.
I just paused ‘Kakenukero’ to have a listen, and you’re right, there’s a similar sort of feeling (Arashi, derivative? NEVER) but it’s also clear that their voices have improved a bit since then too. I think the arrangement on ‘Kakenukero’ is superb, actually – the backing instrumentation and the handclaps are excellent.
Yep, it grows really nicely. From 3:31 onwards is just great pop music.
3. WILD AT HEART
The theme song from the most heterosexual drama of this year, Lucky Seven! I love this song – it’s grown on me a lot, and I think mainly from the video clip. Aiba-esque short pants for all? Disco glitter jackets? Suitcase orgy? Okay!
We really need to get back and finish Lucky Seven. But I loved ‘Wild At Heart’ the second I heard it, it’s such a great melody, and just so dang cheery. The PV really seals the deal though, although Jun’s bowler hat is not his finest moment (sorry bb, it’s true).
I am so pro-bowler hat. I admire the delicate arrangement of his hair under it. Good work, Hairstylist Person. Back to the song, but the harmonies they manage to pull of are glorious.
BUT HAT HAIR. (Whatever, as if Matsujun would ever have hat hair). The harmonies are spectacular, but it’s nice they all have a little solo line or two as well.
And no painful Sakurap! It’s a miracle of a song!
4. FACE DOWN
Ah, ‘Face Down’. Where do we even begin with ‘Face Down’? By cranking it up, that’s where.
‘Face Down’ is flawless? ‘Face Down’ has two Fendi purses and a silver Lexus? I don’t even know – I think ‘Face Down’ is officially to blame for our current Arashi stanning, to be honest.
‘Face Down’ punched us in the face, once – it was awesome. It’s literally just a good damn song.
ACCURATE. Fantastic hook, great melody, catchy as fuck. AND THAT VIDEO.
DAT VIDEO. Who’da thought five men in black lounging on chairs mixed with ABBA-esque cutaways and scenes where they look like they robbed a vintage store in Los Angeles could be so damn good?
This video has brought us Aiba angrily tying his shoes, Matsujun doing an awkward wave, I can’t even remember what other ridiculous shenanigans they get up to. Is it Aiba who plays his scarf like a guitar? Whichever way you spin it, the combo of video and song is basically perfection. I had it as my ringtone for about six months, that’s how much I like it (also, loud enough to use as an alarm).
And this Sakurap, I have to say, is probably one of his best. Okay, I admit it, I fucking love the Sakurap. It takes the song to this whole other level – a lot more adult and – may I say it – gritty, and a helluva lot more interesting. Also. Leather pants. (Yes I have opened the video am and now watching it okay)
For research and great justice, naturally. It is a great Sakurap though. GOOD JOB SHO. Basically I just love this song, and I plan to make it my karaoke standard.
It’s like a supanova next to a door!
5. WE WANNA FUNK, WE NEED A FUNK (Matsumoto Jun Solo)
I have a theory that, whenever Arashi release a new album, you can tell who pissed Johnny off the most that year by their solo. The winner: Matsumoto Jun!
OH JUN. This song. It’s telling that I had no idea it was mostly in English until I looked up the lyrics. Not even autotuning the crap out of his voice can save how… weird? Terrible? Fantastic? this song is.
Why is he mixing blues and soul in a vampire bar?
Why not? THEY HAVE TO FUNK, THEY NEED TO FUNK. I feel kind of bad for Matsujun, I’d argue that this is probably his worst solo outing, and it’s really not his fault.
I blame whoever thought it was good to have an entire verse filled with words that rhyme with “funk”. Sad they didn’t include “sunk” or “chunk” or “thunk”, which is the noise my palm made when it hit my forehead.
On the other hand, I bet the choreography for this is going to be hilarious.
6. TWO (Ohno Satoshi Solo)
This sounds like a forgotten Justin Bieber song. Sorry, Riida – your voice is top-notch as normal, but god this track is boring.
It is a bit of a snooze, which is a disappointment given that I actually really liked his solo ‘Hung Up On‘ from Beautiful World, the previous release. But yeah, his vocal is stellar, no disagreement there. I wish he was given something a bit more interesting than a boring-ass ballad.
I do like the keytar solo at about 2:45. I feel like I’m in a video game! Then I go back to napping.
7. WAITING FOR YOU
Can I talk about how much I love this song? I REALLY DO AND I DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW WHY.
I honestly couldn’t remember it until I listened to it – but I really liked cleaning the kitchen to it today! And I love the Baywatch piano scale and Spanish guitar in the opener, neither of which ever shows up again in the song.
I think there’s something in the BPM that just fits. I feel similarly about ‘To Be Free‘ from Beautiful World. I mean, it’s open secret that I love over-produced pop music, and that’s what this is, really.
I can see the film clip as if it were in front of my eyes – kind of like Madonna’s ‘Don’t Tell Me’, with the boys in front of a giant screen projecting…shit on to it. Hire me, Johnny! I’m available for Arashi videos, punching SMAP in the face and marriages of convenience!
Actually, dancing in front of a screen with shit projected onto it will probably be the concert performance, so you’re more hireable than you think?
…TOKYO, I’M COMING!
8. GAKUEN (Aiba Masaki Solo)
AIBA SOLO~ I think I said to you in an email that I liked this probably the best of his solos? Aiba’s not a particularly strong vocalist, but this arrangement works for him.
I LOVE THIS. I don’t know why exactly – it’s just so damn happy, and just so damn Aiba. I could dance the night away to this baby, with a big ol’ grin on my dial.
RIGHT?! Great melody, big smiles, perfect for waving a glostick around, or just getting down and boogieing.
9. TABI WAS TSUZUKO YO
At first: “what is this ragtime bullshit?” Now: “1920S ARASHI FOREVER~” It’s so ridiculous. It really is.
That little marching band opener, then the ridiculous ragtime, then this bonkers song. I can’t. I mean, I like it well enough, I guess, but I don’t really have a strong feeling on it one way or the other. Maybe it’ll grow on me?
I think it’s one of the weakest songs on the album because it’s just so…silly.
It makes me think of silly 1970s British comedy, for some reason. Like, the visual in my head is of the five of them falling off bicycles or something. It’s also sandwiched between (spoiler) two pretty excellent solos, so thematically it doesn’t seem to fit.
It can redeem itself if there’s a hilarious PV set in a speakeasy, but until then? Feel free to skip it.
10. SORE WA YAPPARI KIMI DESHITA (Ninomiya Kazunari Solo)
I want to preface this bit by saying that Nino’s solo on Beautiful World, “A Song You Can Find Just About Anywhere (どこにでもある唄)” is possibly in my Top Five Arashi Songs, if I were to compile such a list. Nino’s without a doubt the strongest member musically – his solos belie the strong belief that if you’re in a massively successful boy band, you can’t write music that can affect, create emotion and move those not necessarily into “traditional” pop music. He’s going to have a wonderful solo career if it ever comes to that, and this song just solidifies that fact. From 3:16 onwards, the strength of his song arrangement is obvious.
Nino’s solo from Beautiful World I can barely listen to without getting sniffly, and the live concert performance is easily one of the best things I’ve seen in Arashi’s entire oeuvre. Ohno might have the strongest voice, in terms of sheer power and clarity, but I’d argue that Nino has the strongest ability to actually imbue a song with feeling. And when you look up the lyrics for both どこにでもある唄 and this one, there’s a clear link between them. I really hope Nino does do a solo album, or at least does more composition for Arashi, because he’s clearly very talented.
We may tease him about being a baby hipster, but I just adore Nino and like Zoe said, I do hope he gets more of a chance to write songs for the group as a whole. I’d love to see what they all did with one of his compositions. And because we fangirled over it majorily, here’s Nino holding a stadium of 70,000 people captive as he performs ”どこにでもある唄” during their Beautiful World Tour this year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9CJaUEU21U. You’re welcome.
Nota bene: get tissues prepared in advance.
11. MEIKYUU LOVE SONG
I kind of love this song by default, because it’s the theme song for a little drama that took over the majority of my life at the start of the year – Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de (aka: Heiress/Butler). It could be a country ditty about Ohno’s love for fly fishing and I wouldn’t give a crap – I’d have to love it.
Fortunately, it’s a sweet little pop song (not about fly-fishing, although now I kind of want Ohno’s next solo to be a self-penned ode to his hobby). I’ve resisted watching Nazodi for now, but I’m thoroughly familiar with it thanks to Marti’s insistence in emailing me gifs from the show.
This is probably where I begin ranting about why I have no idea why I love this damn drama so much because it’s just ten episodes and one special episode where they do nothing and I want to punch Kageyama in the face because he’s a jerk (a handsome jerk but nevertheless) and Reiko needs to be more confident in her skills as a detective and why aren’t they making out and why WHY-
ANYWAY THIS SONG THOUGH. This PV is adorable-
Ahem. I didn’t mention how awesome Shiina Kippei is in Nazodi, which is very important. Now you may continue.
Thank you. As I was saying, the PV is adorable, the board game concept is really well realised. I JUST LIKE IT A LOT. In terms of the actual song, it’s kind of forgettable, to be honest, except for the association with Nazodi and the great PV.
The song is also used really well as a running joke in the Nazodi SP, but I won’t spoil anything. Other than that, I don’t know if it would be all that memorable without the drama association, but y’know. HEIRESS BUTLER FO’ LYFE~
12. YOUR EYES
I have to admit, when I first listened to the CD all the way through, I actually thought this was the closing track at first. The opening 30 seconds are super epic, and then… fizzle back to an ordinary pop song? IDK.
It’s ‘To Be Free – Version 2.0′. We didn’t need another one, guys – although it is a nice theme for Aiba’s drama Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri. And I do enjoy Matsujun’s North Korean school uniform he’s sporting on the single cover and in the PV. Efficient!
(he’s the stoic one second from the right, natch)
I’m so ambivalent about this song that I haven’t even watched the PV; I’m surprised this got a single release, though. I think the arrangement is quite sloppy – there’s no build, it’s just kind of flat. “To Be Free” is the superior version of the ‘epic harmonised pop song’, so I’d skip this one and give that another listen.
13. FLY ON FRIDAY (Sakurai Sho Solo)
Continuing in my theory of Who Ever Pissed Johnny Off Got the Shit Solo – Mr. Sakurai! It sounds like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “PonPonPon” almost a little too much in places. Also his vocals are appalling.
I wish, I WISH they’d stop giving Sho cheery little pop songs for his solos. He should be doing dirty raps or something. More G-Dragon, less… bland, fuck, I don’t know. This isn’t quite as dreadful as ‘Kono Mama Motto‘, his solo outing from Beautiful World, but it’s still pretty bad. The Sakurap in the middle isn’t enough to save this mediocre song. His vocals are pretty appalling, this kind of song isn’t his forte at all. (Yes, I am being super judgy, *hairflip*)
Is there a particular solo you would like to bring up, and thus send me flouncing out of the room, Zoe? Perhaps something violently and ridiculously sexual?
It’s not my fault that that song happens to be his best solo, I’m just sayin’.
Okay, let’s be honest – ‘T.A.B.O.O.’ is a pretty great song. I still want to punch him in the face for writing the damn lyrics and/or existing whenever I hear it. He always works better when he’s singing within his range – and sadly, for me, his range is rather low and of the “raspy tough sexy guy” variety. FML.
He’s definitely at his best when he stays within his dirty ‘n low range, that’s for sure, and ‘Fly On Friday’ is just not playing to his strengths. Regarding ‘T.A.B.O.O’ – I’m genuinely a bit stunned that he was permitted to record it, given Arashi’s fairly squeaky clean image, but I’m glad that he did, since its existence means Marti is forever flailing and that is deeply amusing to me. :3
WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THAT DAMN SONG WE WERE TALKING ABOUT FLY ON FRIDAY OR WHATEVER OKAY
OKAY THEN, ‘FLY ON FRIDAY’ BASICALLY SUCKS, GO LISTEN TO ‘T.A.B.O.O’ INSTEAD. THERE.
I hate everything, including this song. And Sakurai Sho. Let’s move the damn on before I start writing something that would implicate me further.
MOVING ON. This song! THIS KIND OF AMAZING SONG?
I’ll quote my BFF Liz: “Why are you listening to Gloria Estefan?” Because if Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin had a Cup-of-Life-Conga baby, ‘Cosmos’ would be the result. This shit is going to bring the stadium down come Popcorn Tour time.
I think I would legit lose my shit if I saw this performed live. It’s a perfect stadium song, the arrangement is spot-on, the key change 2:02ish is fabulous, and the drop to just drums and vocals at 3:55 is going to be a perfect concert moment.
I also have to give them kudos for shoving an Irish fiddle into the mix. B*Witched would be proud.
Irish fiddle, why the fuck not? GLOBAL SONG STYLIN’.
I believe that this was the theme for the NHK 2012 Olympics coverage, so I bet Sho is mighty sick of it, haha.
Oh, really? I bet he heard it in his sleep. But…god this song is boring. It sounds like eleven other songs smished into one. In other news, we’ve located the random Baywatch clinky-clanky piano scale that went missing from ‘Waiting For You’.
It’s pretty bland. I haven’t looked up a lyric translation, but I’m sure it’s super ~inspiring~ or whatever, given the Olympic connection. Boring harmony, boring melody, boring arrangement. Not even the stirring strings can save this one. Yawn.
The upside – you could play this to your kids if you’re having trouble getting them to sleep!
16. UP TO YOU
Goddamn they love their Seventies guitar riffs. But you know they recorded this song purely to open the Popcorn Tour, or at the very least, be a raging stadium epic. Dunno if it accomplishes that, but the “hey!”s are fun.
It’s right there in the opening lyrics, “put your hands together”. It’s definitely designed for performance in front of a crowd of thousands. I really like the chorus and bridge, but the verse structure is a bit meh. Seventies guitars all over the place is hella fun though. Gotta say though, it’s an odd choice for a closer, in my opinion. I think it would fit better higher up in the track order, and something Meikyuu Love Song would be a better ending. IDK. Maybe I’m just ambivalent about the song.
Yeah, absolutely – it’s not a strong closer at all. It could even work as an opener, but ‘Welcome To Our Party’ is filling that spot fine. It’s just – there, really. The Sakurap is boring, too.
The interview that I mentioned earlier, the one with Nino in, hm, TV Pia, I think, where he mentions that their goal was just to make a pop record – unfortunately, it kind of shows. There’s not a strong theme running through this album, and having ‘Up To You’ as a closer really just lets it fizzle out a bit, rather than ending on a peppy high note to match the opening.
I actually suspect ‘Tabi wa tsuzuko yo’ was the closer, as it ends with that fifteen minutes of popcorn popping. Maybe something got mixed up on the way to the publishers?
Perhaps. I mean, we also don’t know much creative control Arashi has over stuff like what songs get included, and the track list order. I know that Nino wrote his own lyrics and did the arrangement for his solo, although he did work with a specific composer for the music itself, and he mentioned that he tried not to overlap with the others. I think that the inclusion of a solo for each member is always going to make cohesiveness an issue for Arashi, since they do tend to each do a fairly different style, but Popcorn is more weighed down by the group songs than the solos, ‘Fly On Friday’ and ‘We Wanna Funk, We Need A Funk’ notwithstanding.
I personally think ‘We Wanna Funk…’ will stand the test of time, and eventually, Japan will adopt it as their national anthem. But the album as whole, as strong as it is, the spine is the drama themes (Face Down, Meikyuu, Wild at Heart) and the true party songs. There are a few moments that are basically forgettable, but I don’t think that is a detriment to Popcorn in the slightest. It’s their most grown up record – if you can gauge such a thing without taking in the fact they’re 13 years old (two days ago, in fact) – and their strongest in terms of structure. Beautiful World is probably a more audibly pleasing album, but Popcorn is a good sign of things to come, I think.
Definitely. The drama themes are all essentially perfect pop songs and I won’t hear a word against any of them.
So I’m right to crank ‘We Wanna Funk…’ everytime I see you?
… you know I’m going to start rickrolling you with ‘T.A.B.O.O.’
Back to Popcorn – I think it’s definitely stronger in the first half, and 16 tracks is pretty long for a single album these days, but it holds up well, and it’s certainly a little bit riskier than Beautiful World (which I agree is probably more pleasing to the ear overall). I think they’re at their strongest vocally, and there are some stellar harmonies kicking around, which I’m always a sucker for.
Their vocals are en pointe. A good album for us to christen our new fangirlness, really – can you tell we have a lot of feelings about this stupid group of boys already?
Why has this come to us, Marti. WHY. I JUST HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS.
Two words: ‘Face Down’. Two faces: Junphora and Jerkarai. Three other little faces, a whole lotta campy fun times via 2483983 variety shows, the fact they’re all obviously BFFs and a bunch of pop songs that actually are good – we were doomed from the the moment that supanova was put inexplicably next to that damn door. Forever Arashians~
I guess we have officially set sail on the Good Ship Arashi. NO REGRETS, FOREVER SHO TWIRLING TO INFINITY.
Final thoughts on Popcorn? How many Rolling Coin Tower coins out of five?
I’m feeling four Rolling Coin Towers out of five. This one’s a keeper, pop perfection. And that cover art on the Limited Edition is worth at least one Rolling Coin Tower all on its own.
If the fact they’re dressed as popcorn in popcorn vendor outfits and little white Converse didn’t get you at hello, then I don’t actually know what else would. Four outta five coins from me, too. All ten pointers!
Stay tuned, since I’m pretty sure it’s inevitable that we will eventually end up reviewing Arashi’s entire back catalogue, right?
It’s inevitable. This is our life now. And don’t worry, we feel awkward about this post, too.
You can buy Popcorn from all the regular sources, including CDJapan.