Album review: Kumi Koda - Universe

Album review: Kumi Koda - Universe
Another year, another release from our number 1 J-Pop ho. Alongside yet another 'Best' album chronicling some of her recent single releases; she's also released an album full of some new, and some not-so-new material. So just how good is Kumi's new Universe?

Every Kumi Koda album seems to follow the rule of thumb of having one overly saturated song which throws in every single liche of US R&B club bangers. We've had "Juicy", "Bling bling bling" and now Universe gets "Step into my world". The song is garbage. "Physical thing" didn't get a great deal of love when it released. But I think the song was hot. The beat knocked nicely, Kumi sounded great. I fail to see how the song got left by the curb in some Tokyo alleyway outside the Music station studios. It's a hot song because it's just to the point. Hot beat. Kumi singing with no overly forced sexiness. Under 3 minutes. Job done. Hot song. "Universe" really got me. Not just because I expected it to be a ballad, but Because Kumi Koda has released songs like it in the past and I always hated them. But I really like this. It has a semi reggaeton bounce about it and a distinctive progressive synth pattern which sounds eerily similar to Cybotron's "Clear". I'm surprised Kumi didn't shoot a music video for this, complete with denim hot pants, open legs, p***y poppin', long weaves and overly decorated nails.

Kumi Koda has touched on rock before with songs such as "Black cherry". But she really dives head first into the sound on this album. The 'was it Kumi or Kelly Clarkson's song first' "Can we go back" surprised many, because it's pretty full on (even for Kumi) and features a lot of English (Correction. 'Engrish') The song works well in her favour because she not only has the vocal chops to really sell this song, but she doesn't over do them. It would have been easy for her to have just wailed like a Banshee being raped, but she is decidedly tame and sounds great for it. "Work it out" struts along with an 80's bounce which swings between dark 'n edgy verses and bright hooks - but the hook feels like it's lacking that killer punch. "Work it out" doesn't hit you square in the face in the same way "Can we go back" does, but it is a cool song. "Ecstasy" is a mess. I do not like the song at all. Even for the sake of watching Kumi Koda writhe around in white liquid and dance dressed like Psylocke from X-Men. The song has no consistency with its sound. It wants to be R&B, it wants to be Rock, it wants to be Pop, it wants to be Techno - it needs to be left in a dustbin. The song sucks harder than Kumi Koda after a 6-pack of Asahi beer. "It's all love!" is a woman empowering song which features none other than Kumi's younger sister, Misono. She sounds a LOT like her onee-san, only less hoarse. I didn't like the song at first, but it grew on me when I heard it sandwiched on this album. The song reminds me of Kumi and Soulhead's "D.D.D", only with overdone guitars. The rock vibe feels too O.T.T and it over powers the whole song, as well as Kumi and Misono's vocals. And it takes A LOT to overpower a vocalist like Kumi, let alone her and her sister who also has a set of pipes on her. Had the production been tamed right down, this could have been a really good song.

On the other side of the same coin; Kumi serves up fun, bubbly pop songs with a rock twang. "Superstar" and "Lick me" are both so sickly sweet, you can taste the raw mix of cool aid and demerara sugar on your tongue as you listen to them. They are both such cute and charming songs, that I find it impossible to hate them flat out. "Superstar" is fast, fun and bubbly. And "Lick me" is catchier than H1N1. It's easy to hear why it has become so popular and a crowd fave at performances. I think "Ehwe tee awwight, don be afwayd!" will be permanently imprinted into my subconscious.

I am proud to announce to Kumi fans that despite Kumi's current penchant for rock, that Universe features some mid-tempo's and that they are all great. The production style of every single one is clearly ripped off. But when the music is so good, it's hard to tear the songs down because of it. "You're so beautiful" sounds like Stargate so badly, that a n***a in Japan should be sued. From the drum patterns to the strummy style of the guitars: it's just straight up Stargate jacking. Dramatic mid-tempo synth ballad "No way" strikes a balance between the sound that US producer Tricky Stewart put down for Usher's "Moving mountains" and The Underdogs distinct old school sound. It's completely different from anything Kumi has done before and I never would have thought for a second she'd ever do a song like this. It sounds Namie Amuro-esque, and Kumi and Namie's styles have always been are poles apart. But it is a hot song with a lot going for it. My only gripe with the song is that it is a little too long (clocking in at almost 6 minutes). But other than that? Wonderful song. Speaking of Namie Amuro, we have "Comes up" which sounds like a mash-up of her song "Baby don't cry" and Crystal Kay's "One". I love both of these songs, which is why I love "Comes up" so much. It's such a great song. Damn near perfection. If you don't fall for the charm of this song, you deserve to have one of Kumi Koda's nails stuck up your arsehole.

Shockingly, the album only features one ballad. Whilst Kumi's up-tempo numbers can be questionable and cause a rabid divide of opinions. Her ballads always shine. That was until she went and recorded "Alive". It should have been renamed "Dead", because whatever is alive, it sho' ain't this song. It's boring, it's dreary, it's doo-doo. If you have a steak knife nearby, you'll feel compelled to slit a wrist. Kumi really did fall off with this song. I'll go as far as to say it is the worst ballad she's ever recorded.

Universe was a really nice surprise. Whilst not Kumi Koda's most in-your-face release despite the frequency of rock flavoured songs, it's a tight package. The quality of the songs on this album comes through in a much more slow rolling fashion. Usually I'll listen to a Kumi album and instantly single out my likes and dislikes via some quick fingered skipping. But Universe almost commanded that I listen to every song all the way through first, and it's in this form that the brilliance of certain songs reveal themselves. And for the first time in Kumi's discography, she's released a consistent sounding album. Well...kinda. Kumi still finds it difficult to stick with one style and hone it for a whole album. And the album swings between lovey dovey sappy songs and rock numbers almost too casually. But the sense of consistency is there, which is a start. And every song suits her voice and her grasp of Engrish.

Universe is a really good album. It's not perfect. But it is a damn sight better than her recent string of albums. As a stand alone album, Universe is pretty solid. If anything, the 'Best' disc is a bonus. This is the first non 'Best' Kumi Koda that I wholly like, will play from start to finish, and can say doesn't guzzle down to the balls. I always knew my J-Pop ho had it in her!


Album highlights:
■ Can we go back
■ Superstar
■ You're so beautiful
■ Lick me ♥
■ No way
■ Stay
■ Comes up ★ J's fave
■ Physical thing
■ Universe

3 comments:

  1. Nice review! I still plan to buy this album at some point, although I am surprised that the album recieved a 7 - your previous Koda Kumi reviews have been 6 or lower.

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  2. yep great review! it annoys me that theres annother compilation though.
    dont they realise the more you release the less they sell?!?
    Utada has released 1 and it sold very well and as kumi keeps releasing them one a year they just dont sell as well...
    the main album is really good though and i cant wait to get it ^_^

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  3. I just have compretery alternate views of Koda Kumi songs from you. Because I LOVE ecstasy and alive and dislike lick me, physical thang, and can we go back. But I also hate Kelly Clarkson.

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