Album review: Beni - Bitter & sweet

Album review: Beni - Bitter & sweet
Bitter & sweet marks the first album from Crystal's BFF Beni after leaving AvexTrax for the green pastures of Universal music Japan and the freedom to write her own songs as she chooses. (Go Beni!!)

Beni is a lover of R&B, so this is what you can expect from Beni. R&B has come a long way in Japan. Sure, they still bite off of what is hot in the US. But as of late, Japanese producers have been finding their own niche with the R&B and delivering some solid cuts. Sadly, Beni's album falls into that trap of trying to sound US and mimicking songs you may have heard before. But fortunately for her, the production is good. Really good. And having a nice voice helps too.

Even though Beni doesn't have that vocal rawness of Kumi Koda, the emotiveness of Hikaru Utada or the soulfulness of Crystal Kay: she does have a sweet sounding voice. It's light, smooth and layers nicely over the music. Her singing voice sounds much tighter on Bitter & sweet that it has done on previous albums.

The biggest mistake made with this album is on the shoulders of whoever chose the order of the songs. The mid-tempo's are all plonked at the start of the album. A good song is a good song. But sometimes it's nice to have an album ease into the mid-tempo's rather than throw them at you from the start. "Kiss kiss kiss", "Zutto futari de...", "Koi kogarete" and "Dakishimete" are all nice, and will get you snappin' fangas and leaning from side to side. But they could have done with being shunted to to the middle of the album. As a result of all the mid-tempo's being thrown at you from the word go, nothing really creeps up on you, jumps out and demands to be cranked up loud or rewound.

It's only from the middle of the album that Bitter & sweet begins to pick up. "Stardust" is the album first hot to death uptempo, utilizing a drum pattern which was popularized like crazy with Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack". The song is catchy. Beni's vocals are sharp and slick during the hook. The song is fire. A great song with a nice laid back Summer vibe about it. "Kira☆Kira☆" once again is a Summer jam. The song just makes you wanna grind it out and 2 step. Okay, so maybe that's just me. But the hook is infectious and the beat knocks real nice. "Go on" is the song that got away as a single. The song had me hooked and reeled in from the piano did it's thing, but once the bounce reared itself and the chorus swept in, I was sold like a bottle of Jack and a rock of crack to Amy Winehouse.

The bounce doesn't last long however, as the albums reverts right back into mid-tempo territory, with the introduction of some slow jams. All of the albums' latter slow numbers are nice, but they feel like they are adhering too closely to a template or trying to copy an existing Mariah Carey or Usher song. Amongst "Shinjisasete", "Nice & slow", "Stay" and "Beautiful world" you will immediately think of a song you've heard before on a Mariah or Usher album. I guarantee it.

The production on Bitter & sweet is primarily handled by Japanese R&B producer Daisuke Imai. He has always been a producer with his finger on the pulse of popular US sounds, way more than any other J-producer in the game. So with this, Beni's album sounds very current; with a good selection of songs that could be flipped into English and wouldn't sound out of place on US radio. The main problem with Daisuke Imai is that his own style gets lost in his bid to mimic the popular US sound, and as a result some of the songs begin to sound like unashamed bites instead of inspired pieces. "Kira☆Kira☆" sounds like The Dream and Mariah's "My love" with a slight variation on the melody, "Shinjisasete" sounds like a slower version of Mariah Carey's "Touch my body", "Nice and slow" sounds like Keri Hilson's "Slow dance" mixed with a bit of Justin Timberlake's "My love", "Stay" sounds like J.Holiday's "Bed" meets Usher's "Trading places" and "Beautiful world" sounds like Usher's "Moving mountains" meets Jordin Sparks' "No air" with The Dream guest featuring on vocals. Most of the later half of the album generally sounds like it's mimicking Tricky Stewart and The Dream's style. So, it's probably safe to say Daisuke Imai clearly loves The Dream. Perhaps a little too much. But for all of the beat and style biting, the songs aren't bad. In fact they're really good. I give the Daisuke credit for being able to mimic the sound so well. But he could've eased up on it a little. He's talented enough to come with something more original. And after more than 5 years in the J-game as a producer he needs to start finding his own sound. He also needs to find a way to ensure Beni is kept at the forefront of the songs, because his productions often overshadow her - especially during Bitter & sweet's slower moments.

Bitter & sweet isn't an album you'll remember or play years from now. The songs are not that memorable. And despite the niceness of Beni's vocals, they do not leave much of a lasting impression. But the album is nice, and is one you can play from start to finish without skipping. It provides a nice listening experience when you're in the car on a long drive at night, or you're just chillin' at home on an evening.

A nice album from Beni. But if you're looking for an album that'll hit you with big songs, big choruses and hard hitting beats, you won't find them with this. Still a good 'un though, and a nice J-R&B effort with some pretty great songs. Even if they sound like other people's.

7 out of 10
Album highlights:
■ Kiss kiss kiss
■ Zutto futari de...
■ Koi kogarete
■ Anything goes!!
■ Stardust
■ Kira☆Kira☆ J's fave
■ Go on
■ Beautiful world

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