Let’s travel back to 2006… I was literally graduating junior high school. Can you believe it’s been 15 years since then?! I’m old. Old enough to know when Koda Kumi hit the peak of her career, a time of fashion choices that were deemed cool and sexy (that I can safely say are now questionable, lol), and a time when J-pop music felt so fresh, so fun, so free (no, it really did!).
Having just finished promoting the hell out of her 12 singles of Christmas between the tail end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 and managing to set some records for that project’s best album, all eyes were on Princess Kumi from the Kingdom of the Clouds (heeeeello Candy feat. Mr.Blistah). It wouldn’t be very long for Kuu to whip up a new release following all the hype, and this time, she decided to go big… 4 A-sides. You heard correctly! Not like it hadn’t been done before, but Kuu was gifting us, feeding the hungry and the gays. The release was in the form of a quadruple A-side single, all fitting the theme of summer, which would eventually become a staple way for her to release anything summer (and thank the goddesses for that, because a Kumi summer is HAWT).
That said, this was the first of many, but was “4 hot wave” worth the hype? Was it indeed as hot as “hot waves” can get? Or was this just a lukewarm wave? I mean, you gotta love Engrish, but I don’t know for sure until we get to the review, so read on!
Let’s kick things off with more Kumi staples: introductions, interludes, and outroductions!
Each segue is a short interpretation of each A-side, though I’m a little dumbfounded… why is it so out of order? Why is “INTRODUCTION ~I’ll be there~” before “Ningyo-hime”? I don’t really know… I don’t think I’ve ever been given a real reason or explanation for it. Whatever. These aren’t Chromatica II quality anyway, but they sure are interesting to listen to. The introduction is a soft take on “I’ll be there”, which I’ll get to shortly, incorporating its instrumental but this time with some ethereal sounds. It’s very short but it was pretty. It, uh… doesn’t quite blend into the next song, but I’ll be generous and give it a nice score. I’ll be there with it. ⬛
Translation: Mermaid Princess
Alright, so let’s finally kick things off, and boy, do we really kick into high gear!
Kuu is no stranger to the hard rock genre, having already used it in “Selfish”, though with some dance elements involved. That said, those dance elements are absolutely gone in “Ningyo-hime“, which frankly is my favorite of the four A-sides over the last 15 years (though, you’ll see that that’s slight over the other three). The focus here is now on Kuu’s vocals, where she must now take that sultry tinge and turn it into anger, and uh… she slays! There’s some slight vocal distortion at some parts, but it adds to the vibe of the song. The hard-hitting guitar/drum instrumental itself is very reminiscent of some of Ayumi Hamasaki’s harder rock songs a la “About You” (which is also top tier), where it never holds up, going hard in every inch of its being. You’d think after 15 years, this song would get tired, but no… “Ningyo-hime” is NOT tired. ⬛
Second up is “I’ll be there“, which… if we’re talking cohesion for this single, should have been FIRST, but I digress. It’s still a fabulous song. The rock elements from “Ningyo-hime” are now significantly toned down to contemporary-pop-rock category, opting for a mid-tempo guitar-and-piano-driven melody that will have you wishing it wasn’t COVID-19 so you can enjoy a sunset with your friends. Alas, 2006 is a time we can remember fondly. That aside, it’s a very beautiful song, one that I like to revisit on really sunny days or just on a nice drive through town. It’s a real easy-to-digest track; it doesn’t feel like its forcing its feel-good vibe all over, and Kuu’s sensual but pretty vocal in this track… it just doesn’t compare. I’ll be there for this track for many more years to come. ⬛
Cut to a segue!
Here, in “INTERLUDE ~JUICY・Ningyo-hime~“, “Ningyo-hime” is merged into a hip-hop sound that has 2006 written all over it. “Ningyo-hime” is then cut short to transition itself into the ad-libs found in “JUICY”. It’s an interesting mix. Does it blend nicely into “JUICY”? Kinda.
I don’t really have much to say for these segues, but I suppose I can be nice and give it an OK rating… I mean… considering the next track, there’s little room to be ‘nice’… ⬛
Because we’re getting NAUGHTY!
This is quintessential Koda Kumi. Everything you expected AND HOPED for is here in “JUICY“, a masterpiece in the art of being sexual in the mid-2000s. She showcased it in “SHAKE IT”, she did it in a lot of other tracks, and she puts it in full force here. Considering this release is summer-related, it was only a matter of time before all the sweat dripped down to have Kuu moan all throughout the track, telling you that you’re making her hot (and *whispers* wet). “JUICY” is a hip-hop dance track that makes the Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons” sound like teen pop. When you break it down, there’s some hawt beeps, some whistles, some huffs, some puffs, but it’s that booming beat and Kuu’s incredibly sexy vocal (and moans, frankly) that has you as hard as that man right at the 2:55 mark. I might be gay, but Kuu, love me now…
Also, 1:55. You’re welcome, lol. ⬛
The final A-side has Koda Kumi, pop princess, going back to her pop roots with “With your smile“. It’s fabulous, and it just feels so remarkably joyful. I can’t help but smile along. Filled with horns, twinkles, and a fabulous piano sound that amplifies the chorus, “With your smile” has the fun of summer written all over it. Did I also mention that there’s a small electric guitar break? Holy, am I a sucker for that very-much-mid-2000s-J-pop trope. This has a fitting feel for the appropriately last track, as it ends the single on a fun and positive note, which is really how summer should be. I can forgive the Engrish of the track, because I’m smiling with Kuu, as she says. ⬛
The single ends on a twinkly note with “OUTRODUCTION ~With your smile~“, which is appropriate considering the track prior was “With your smile”… and it actually sounds really fitting as an ender… if it wasn’t for what comes after. There’s a very long break before we get a strange retrospective of “Ningyo-hime” that um… has no business being there??? I mean, I guess whatever Kuu was going for, but what was it meant for? Is it to loop us back? Is it to give “Ningyo-hime” another flavor? I don’t know… I uh… I don’t know. Again, this ain’t no Chromatica II, and I’ll be nice, with a smile. ⬛
I highly recommend this. Hands down.
It is one of my favorite Koda Kumi singles; the nerve the woman has to give us four different flavors of songs that are all 5-star levels… I applaud her. I live.
I could do without all the segues, but again, if it’s just there to sauce up the release, who am I to really say they shouldn’t? There could very well be a meaning behind how it was set up and what purpose they even serve. But, damn, do they sure hinder the quality of the release? Lady Gaga should give Kuu some pointers (I apologize for beating the Chromatica II to 911 joke horse here…). Anyway, every A-side has something for everyone, and if you’re a PV enthusiast, you should definitely watch the PVs for each A-side as there’s a story interwoven between each (top notch PV quality from the queen… ugh! Love it.). This wave is HOT, and wet; I need a cool-down…
MUST-LISTEN: 人魚姫, JUICY, With your smile, I’ll be there
For more Koda Kumi reviews, visit the archive!