How the mighty have fallen… or so I think.
Miss Koda Kumi, J-pop’s somewhat Britney Spears (maybe now-so Christina Aguilera), returns with new material. All of Kuu’s 2019 songs were initially released as digital releases, all with basically the same cover (in various ‘edits’ have you) and with no effort in terms of promoting maybe about half of them. Kuu then pulls a ‘second session’ by stringing all the songs into one long re(CORD) in the form of an album. Having already heard the songs as the year went on, you’re probably wondering how coherent this is; is it a flop, or is it finally Kuu’s most well-thought-out record since JAPONESQUE?
Hitting the album off is a heavy-hitting synth-and-bassy auto-tuney track that’s called “DO ME” but has none of the real attraction to follow through (ha). It’s a song that I don’t mind, but man is it ever noisy and the lyrics really leave nothing to imagination. Her rap attempts here are admirable, at best, but it’s just a giant hot mess. Kuu’s trying way too hard here to act like she’s all-that and maybe that’s fine considering she’s a queen (and still number one, my undying love), but girl! This ain’t badass, at all!
Anyway, all seriousness aside, I might get into this if I really tried hard enough, but I’ve forced myself enough when I listened to DNA… DO ME, more like do something else, girl!
Here’s another one of the ‘bops’ on the album, continuing the slew of hard-hitting hip-hop party jams that Kuu has pumped out year after year. Here’s the catch: this one’s actually not so bad. “GET NAKED” is a vast improvement from the trash that was on AND and DNA. Perhaps its her most screechy since ‘LOL’ as she screams throughout the song, but it’s also bearable. It also harks back to her Black Cherry days in a nice little shout out. The song itself is bass-heavy (as established with the intro of the album), and my house is ready to fall apart as I blast this through my speakers. I could get into this, might take a few listens. I might get naked. Who knows?
You might think I’m joking, but this is the BEST song on the album, hands down, chicken dollar bills.
Now, don’t get me wrong. “STRIP” is DREADFUL. It has absolutely no substance in terms of sound, lyricism, and meaning. It’s a far-cry from any of her pre-2010 stuff. It’s also a damn BANGER, and yes, sue me for thinking there should any form of seriousness in this (sarcasm is not my forte) and sue me for loving this. We’ve already established that this literal mama is going for all-or-nothing in her music, trying to appeal to the kids, but here it’s a ‘oh, ok, I can definitely get into this’. It is a song that gets stuck in you with its dark hot mess of sounds, and Kuu raps like none other. It’s so bad, it’s so good. STRIP me mama and make my booty DIP.
Actually, “k,” not bad EITHER! It’s a little flashback to a lot of her fun stuff, perhaps the closest being ‘Wicked Girls’ from W FACE ~outside~. Here, she’s a little toned down from the wackiness she’s somehow seeming to get in recent days, and I guess it’s okay to not take yourself too seriously (come on guys, I’m just playing). In this track, Kuu sings on top of a funky trap/trumpet beat in positive fashion, with the catchiest parts being in the chorus as she indicates things are “k!”. Add in a little rap part here and there, and you have a fun little jam. This one’s probably more than just ‘k’, and might give this one an ‘OK!’.
Kuu joins forces AGAIN with well-known dancehall artist Sean Paul, and chances are that “Rich & Famous (feat. Sean Paul)” is not bad, and well, it isn’t bad! It’s much better than their initial collaboration. Still, this track is built like a total hot mess as there’s a break in here that really has no business being here, turning this song into two really disjointed tracks. However, each side has its appeal, with one being a really fun R&B track, and the other being a hard-hitting hip-hop banger. Perhaps that’s what it’s like to be rich and famous, one being rolling in money and one basking in the bright lights.
Here the album completely swerves so Kuu can have a mandatory ballad to her release, this time with a reminiscing track known as “again“. The video is a nice little throwback to a 2005-2007 Koda Kumi, when she didn’t make crack comments of amniotic fluid and was pumping out quality tracks (guys, I can’t stop, I’m sorry). The song itself is WAY better in quality than her previous ballad efforts, as it gives me pre-WALK OF MY LIFE ballad vibes, and her vocals continue to be as beautiful as ever (queen). Entirely piano driven, I could listen to this again and again.
Keeping up with the mellower vibe shown in ‘again’, “Merry Go Round” is a guitar-driven mid-tempo reggae song. Perhaps the most boring of the newer tracks on the album, it feels entirely like a filler song, and it doesn’t have quite the Koda-Kumi-catch that some of the more-ridiculous songs on the album have. It’s a safe sing-along song, at best, reminiscent of some of her summer B-sides a la Once Again (which is much better than this), and it might be a song I’d enjoy a little bit more if there was some oomph. Not quite the fun merry-go-round I’d want to be on.
“Eh Yo -re(CORD) edit-” is Koda Kumi’s version of ‘We Will Rock You’ as it has a heavy-rock vibe that begs for the listener to jam along to the chants of the song. Let me tell you, I was immediately put off by this upon first listen. It’s just another anthem track that follows the usual anthem formula, with an uplifting vocal performance break somewhere in between to really get the kids going. After a few listens, I don’t totally hate this song, which is a slight reworking of the original digital release. It doesn’t seem like anything has changed, but I could probably enjoy this at a random point and jam along with its aggressive beats, chants, and riffs, but it’s a ‘meh’ yo.
We’ll touch on ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ later, but Kuu goes Color the Cover with a remake of the Japanese version of Ricky Martin’s late-90s/early-00s debut hit, “GOLDFINGER 2019“, and let me tell you, at first I was like ‘what’ and now I’m like ‘alright’.
The cover itself is a heavy-bass cover that still maintains the original (in this case, Go Hiromi’s version) brassy sound, giving the older song a modern twist. Then, suddenly, there’s a dance break. Why? I don’t know, but honestly, when hasn’t Koda Kumi done that (SHAKE IT, anyone?) in her songs? It’s a weird touch, but oddly enough, I don’t hate it. The song itself is really fun and catchy. I guess that’s all I have to say??? Do I have anything witty or funny to say about the word GOLDFINGER??? Meh.
This song is just… not impressing me at all. It’s supposed to be a fun track, but “Put Your Hands Up!!!” is incredibly disjointed and all over the place. Is this song supposed to be offbeat, and are the instrumentals not supposed to match up? It sounds like there’s five different songs in one, and I can’t get into that kind of drama. Also, the auto-tune is too much… Kuu, you can do better! I’ll give it to the song, though. It’s a catchy summer-feeling tune, but I don’t see myself enjoying this, at all. Leaving my hands down for this one.
I guess this half is where the album just starts really waning because this song, “Summer Time“, is also boring. It feels incredibly filler and really should have just stayed as a digital song. It’s your typical summer jam, and there really doesn’t seem to be any power or fun from the song at all. I might enjoy this more come summer (even though it was released as a digital single in the summer, lol), but it’s a skippable song, and even her ridiculous talk-singing is not enough to make this ‘so bad, it’s good’. Sorry, Kuu, it’s almost winter time, and this needs to freeze over.
Suddenly, the album picks up with “OMG“, perhaps one of the better songs on the album. Built around a trumpet-like electro beat before picking itself into a total dance track, this song is reminiscent of her dance-bangers like ‘Driving’. It then goes into overdrive, turning itself into ‘Dreaming Now!’ but better, as it picks up the beat for a catchy turn. It’s a song that actually feels very David Guetta in 2012, and it is a nice change of pace from the prior boring tracks. I will say the air-horny break near the end is a little off-putting, but the rest of the song trumps it. It is very heavy on the synthesizing of Kuu’s vocals, but here, it’s not completely unbearable. OMG, Koda Kumi’s back!
“SHUTOUT” is the last new song on the album, having not been released as a digital single. It’s not bad. It’s not amazing by any means, either. Built entirely on hip-hop trap beats but given a J-hip-pop vibe, this song has a very ‘Bassline’ feel, except for the fact that ‘Bassline’ had done it ten times better. The chorus goes all in with a distorted electronic noise with Kuu going swervy with her vocals, but it’s not quite appealing. The song feels like it’s all over the place (which seems to be a common thread in the album, even career, I’m sorry). Maybe I might like this after a few more listens, but this one is kind of a shutout right now, even for someone who likes ‘STRIP’, lol.
So the last track on the album is really just an English version cover, except for the fact that the original song, “Livin’ La Vida Loca“, is in English and her Japanese cover is a cover of a Japanese cover version of the Ricky Martin original… did you get that?
Anyway, it maintains pretty much the same instrumental as ‘GOLDFINGER 2019’, but this time, Kuu’s vocals are INCREDIBLY auto-tuned, which I’m assuming is to cover up any indication that she’s singing this song entirely in Engrish. I will give her props, though, as her English pronunciation has gotten leagues better since her ‘That Ain’t Cool’ days. It still has the same feel as the Japanese cover from before, so I don’t really have much to say other than that there could have been better send-off songs for an album??? C’est la vie. Live la vida loca.
This album does no favors for Queen Kumi. Perhaps it really is just time to pull a Namie and hang it up while the going is still good.
Anyway, all jokes aside, the album is all filler and no substance, with a slightly strong head-start before really waning in the middle. Then, it doesn’t even pick up by the end. I was really excited to hear the new tracks as I already had some of my pre-conceived impressions of the album prior with the digital singles, and to be frank, they’re just not the same Koda Kumi. Starting with (maybe) W FACE ~outside~, she just really stopped taking things seriously and is perhaps really going for the jugular in terms of her fans’ interests. I miss the old Koda Kumi a lot. “re(CORD)” is a mediocre effort, at best, to try and pull a ‘second session’ on her fans, but even then, we’re never gonna get something like that again.
It’s all maybe from here, but I might enjoy this album after a few more listens, but how much does a fan have to force themselves to if this re(CORD) can’t even get you hooked after a first few listens? Maybe next release, Kuu.
MUST-LISTEN: STRIP, k,, GET NAKED