Album review: BoA - Identity

BoA - Identity | Random J Pop

After 10 years of pretty much being a manufactured slave of Slave Monger entertainment, BoA figured it was about time that she crafted herself out an identity which is all her own. She got cut off her long locks, demanded some control over her music, wrote a couple of songs all by herself and POW! We have Identity. It's taken the girl 10 years, but it's better late than never. But is this new found identity comes as a package deal with some hot new music? And is anything really new with BoA at all?

After a string with samey sounding albums Identity breaks the trend and hits you with a slightly more mellow side to BoA. There is no easing into the new direction, as the first track hits you with it instantly. A jazzy, laid back ditty of a song, complete with lyrics BoA wrote herself. It is an odd choice of song to have the album open up with. But it does a great job of throwing you head first into some of what you can expect from Identity. The vocals on this song aren't the best, and BoA sounds as though somebody is throttling her neck for money towards the end of the song. But it's still nice. A glorified intro to the album more than anything, clocking in at 2 and a half minutes. Following up this new style is "Is this love" - which is incredibly smooth, and sounds a great deal like Takeuchi Mariya's "Shiawase no monosashi". The song is a great showcase of just how good BoA can sound when her vocals are produced to a tee. Her harmonizing on the chorus is perfect, and the song suits her tone brilliantly. A really nice song, which would make a good theme to a J-drama.

No BoA album would be complete without some up tempo's and Identity features a solid 3. "Bump bump!" is not a song I find to be particularly amazing, but I really do like it. The vibe, the music, the funky hook, the chemistry between BoA and Verbal: it all comes together to form a song you can just bounce to. "Bump bump!" is very Rich Harrison-esque; which in turn makes it comparable to Namie Amuro's "Can't eat, can't sleep, I'm sick", which was pretty much a hot rip-off of Jennifer Lopez's "Get right". Every BoA album (regardless of how bad it is) will usually have at least one song which gets serious plays outta me, and this time around that song is "Lazer". The song is BANGIN'. This definitely should have been a single. In fact, it should have been her debut single in the US! The production is slick, with its hard knocking kicks, sharp snares, a frenetic chip-tuned backdrop, a catchy chorus and just enough English for non-Japanese speakers to sing-a-long to. Whenever BoA usually does these kinds of songs, the sound goes overboard and comes off super clichĂ©d. But "Lazer" strikes a perfect balance. Her US debut really could have done with a song like this. I had no idea Verbal had such production skills. If this is what he is able to bring to a table, then I think every chick in J-Pop needs to be reaching out to him. Yes Kuri-chan, I'm looking at'chooo! "Neko rabu" has BoA on that old school bounce. Lovers of BoA's previous uptempo's will love this song, as it could have sat on Outgrow, Made in twenty (20) or The face and fit right in nicely. Japan's currently on the rise J-R&B producer U-Key zone laces BoA with a cool beat for her to work with. But what bogs the song down however, is BoA spelling her name constantly throughout the song and chanting ♪ People know my name ♪. Perhaps she could have released this song in the US. There's a whole load of people who don't know her name over there.

Identity features the obligatory ballads and mid-tempo's that no J-Pop album is truly complete without. And whilst none of them are flat out terrible, they aren't all that great neither. "Mamoritai: White wishes" is the exception. A beautiful song, with a really nice uplifting sound and a strong vocal performance from BoA. But "The end soshite and..." goes on for too long and has you wishing it would just end (a shame considering how nice the music is), "Possibilities" just feels like it's coasting along with no real punch to it, and "My all" goes on for too long and closes the album in the most boring fashion ever.

The production on Identity is top notch. The music flows nicely and provides a nice cohesive listening experience from the first track to the last. But BoA's vocal limitations are highlighted on one too many of the songs. On some of the songs, her vocals feel hoarse to the point where you could easily mistake her for a saxophone. It's a shame the same level of vocal production that is evident on "Is this love" and "Lazer" wasn't spread throughout the album. Because on tracks such as "This is who I am" she sounds plain awful trying to riff notes that she just can't. And here-in lies the one major fault with Identity: BoA's vocals. First off is the fact that BoA's vocals haven't really grown all that much. She barely sounds better now than she did 6 years ago on Love & honesty. Sure, she sounds okay. But where is the vocal growth? I was never expecting BoA to transform into a vocalist with Crystal Kay's melismatic soul, Kumi Koda's power, or Hikaru Utada's feeling. But some sign that her vocals are evolving would be nice. You don't have to be the best vocalist. You just need to know how to work your vocals to the best effect; and BoA does not do so for half of his album. Secondly is BoA's vocal delivery. As well produced as every song is, BoA's lack of vocal conviction brings on the monotony in waves. She doesn't sing as though she's into what she's singing about, or trying to convey the feeling of the songs in any way. On a couple of occasions she gets it right. But for the most part BoA is singing as though she just doesn't give a rat's arse. That eager fire, sass and determination she had in her voice on albums like Outgrow (and even on her English language songs "Did ya" and "Crazy about") it just isn't here.

Identity isn't a bad album. It has a much more focused sound that any of BoA's past efforts. But the laid back vibe of the songs, matched with BoA's phoned in vocal performances provide a pretty boring listening experience as a whole. This is not to say Identity is a horrendous album. If you play it from start to finish and really listen to it, you'll find the album has a certain charm about it, and an air of maturity and growth which was not evident in any of BoA's past albums. But overall Identity doesn't leave any real lasting impression except that perhaps BoA just isn't enjoying her career any more. It's pretty sad really.

BoA did a solid job presenting herself as an artist capable of taking some control of her music. The songs she had a hand in are good songs. Nice lyrics, catchy in the right places, and melodic - ruined only by the fact that BoA sounds so fed up on all of them. I admire BoA for taking control of her music. But she needs to tap into whatever gave her that energy and hunger back in the day, because whatever spark she had back then appears to be burning out and dimming from the sounds of this album.

Identity is worth a listen, because it exhibits a nice change of pace for BoA. And the consistency her previous albums have often lacked is present here. But it may not be the BoA album you were hoping for if you became accustomed to the wholly loud and up-tempo sounds of her last couple of releases. And whilst this album gives us a nice insight into BoA: the song writer and executive producer, she seemed to have left all energy and threads of fun at the studio door.


Album highlights:
■ This is who I am
■ Bump bump!
■ Lazer ★ J's fave
■ Is this love
■ Mamoritai: White wishes
■ Neko rabu
■ Fallin'

2 comments:

  1. Nice review! All the other fan ones I've read for this album have been purely negative, so it's nice to read an indepth one.

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  2. The thing with this album, is that all of the songs are good from a production stand point. But BoA sounds so fed up on the majority of them, that it makes them difficult to really like. It's a real shame.

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