By Paris365 on December 05, 2012No comments
I feel like I should begin this review by proclaiming that AKB48 is back, but, seriously, do they ever go away? Nope. Never. They're like the cockroaches of J-pop. OK, I'm kidding about cockroaches, but you get the idea -- try and try as some of their detractors might like to keep them down, they just keep on coming back, fighting harder and harder, and conquering the J-pop charts. And, hey, if their fans love them and buy their records, that's all that matters. You might call them bubblegum, but if millions and millions of people love it then maybe there's a little something more to it? Otherwise, well, what's the McDonald's sign say -- 55 Billion People Served? So, I might loathe McDonald's, but 55 Billion People can't be wrong. It might be crap with little nutritional value, but obviously the masses think it tastes good. Thus, AKB48 might be a case of style over substance, but the masses think they sound good. And, you know what? So do I. You can dismiss us if you'd like, but we're entitled to our opinions. And when there are so many of us it's hard to say that we're the ones who are wrong. If anyone's wrong, it looks more like it's the detractors than the fans. OK, now that I've gotten that out of the way, onto the review...
For the third consecutive year, the dozens and dozens of AKB48 members gathered in Nippon's Budokan for an extremely suspenseful rock/paper/scissors contest to determine which 16 members would appear on their holiday single. Then there was another rock/paper/scissors game to determine who among the 16 would take the center spot on the single. The big winner this time around was Haruka Shimazaki, who takes the lead for the first time on "Eien Pressure," otherwise known as "Pressure Forever," according to Google translate.
"Eien Pressure" starts off with some mellow piano and a bit of light-hearted singing before it gets as insanely fast as your typical AKB48 single. This time the rapid dance beats are accompanied by keyboards, electric guitars, bass guitar, strings and horns. And, possibly, other instruments that are buried too far in the mix for me to name them. Suffice to say that the song builds an unstoppable wall of sound. I suppose you could argue that the writers and producers have taken the approach of throwing everything at the wall to simply see what sticks, but there's nothing random or haphazard about this song. It's extremely well-produced, its layers and layers of instruments and sunshiny girly vocals all working to compliment each other, resulting in something immensely catchy. If you're an anxious person who can't handle fast songs, you'll want to avoid this one, but if you like pop music explosions that seem to have the volume turned all the way up to 11 at all times then you should find this delightful. As for Haruka, her vocals sound both solid and sweet to my ears. In fact, I found myself wishing that there were less background vocals so that I could better appreciate her voice.
The first B-side here is "とっておきクリスマス," which Google translates as "Prized Christmas Possession." I suppose that makes it an ode to whatever you want the most this Christmas? In any case, it starts with some festive holiday bells before laying on some fast, up-tempo beats and strings. It actually begins with the girls singing the chorus ensemble before one of the girls -- I'm assuming it's Haruka again -- takes the lead, her voice accompanied by fast, modern beats and old school drum machines as well as synthesized bass, electric guitar and the occasional sleigh bells. If I didn't know this was a Christmas song before listening to it, it might have taken me a few listens to realize that because "Christmas" is the only word in the lyrics that I understood, not knowing Japanese, though the abundance of bells might have otherwise clued me in. In any case, I actually liked this song more than "Eien Pressure" and have already added it to a couple of my holiday playlists.
The second B-side, "強がり時計" (Google: "Clock Rising Strength"), is performed by AKB48's sub-unit SKE48," and I dare say it's the most infectious song on hand. The beats are a little bit slower, which is still insanely fast, but somehow that made me able to appreciate the song from the first time I listened to it, whereas the previous two tracks each took me a few listens to start liking them. I also feel like the harmonizing here is even more impressive. All of the girls seem to be equally loud during the mix of the chorus, rather than having one of them take the lead, and it's the sort of rich production you'd expect to get out of Mutt Lange if he ever produced J-pop. The song also has a couple of red hot, blazing rock guitar solos that sound like Santana overdosing on caffeine, which I mean as a compliment. (This single also includes instrumental "off vocal" versions of all three tracks.) -Michael McCarthy
(There are at least four different versions of this single available. Some come with DVDs featuring music videos, meanwhile others include unique B-sides. Just look them up on Yesasia if you need such details. Keeping tabs on all of these different versions of things gets pretty exhausting, ya know?)