Album review: Kumi Koda - Dejavu

Dejavu is an incredibly fitting title for Kumi Koda's 9th studio album. Because out number one J-Pop ho is back doing the same thing she's been doing since 2002. As has continued to be a trend with Kumi's releases, this album is evenly divided between synthed out club bangers, mid-tempo's, an attempt at a winter ballad and sickly sweet typically Japanese pop numbers thrown in-between to show that underneath all of the skanknicity lies some form of innocence. And whilst Kumi manages to lock each style down nicely, she fails to give the album a defined style as a result of spreading herself so thinly across genre's.

So let's start with the albums loudest and most high energy tracks. No Kumi Koda album would be complete without some club bangers, and Dejavu features four. We've all heard "Lollipop". And if you feel how I did about the song, then you'll find it a disappointment. Dodgy Engrish, outdated production and a veil of lacklusterness (I made that word up) which hangs over this track drive this into the pits. This song would have been hot...about 5 years ago. "Pop diva" isn't quite on a level with "Physical thing", which I loved and still love. But it's certainly one of Kumi's better bangers. The production is on point and gives the song a lot of mileage. The production being so on the money is a bloody good thing too, because Kumi crashes and burns on the starting grid with her vocal game. When she's not shrilling like a Banshee, she's shouting. And if she's not shouting, she's speaking nonsense Engrish. Great beat. Whack vocals from Kumi. Japan's number 1 J-Pop ho does manage to redeem herself greatly with "At the weekend", which is an absolute smash. As soon as the meat of the beat kicks in at the 15 second mark you're ready to pop, lock, drop and worm it across the floor. Whilst "Pop diva" hits with an early 90's vibe, "At the weekend" throws it back another decade by being steeped in an 80's sound. "Hey baby!" sits at the bottom of the pile alongside "Lollipop" for being awful. Although I expect Kumi fans to prefer this over "Pop diva" and "At the weekend", because it sounds a lot more like the uptempo's fans loved from her in the past and it is distinctly Japanesey in it's approach.

In-between singing about how she has dodged bullets (shot from penises?) and wants somebody to lick her lollipop (quite possibly a euphemism), Kumi goes all pig tails and candy floss on our arses. "Melting" is the typical overly-saturated-with-sweetness-jam you can expect from every Kumi release - where she gets all jolly as though butter wouldn't melt and she wasn't singing about being a skank 2 songs before. "Melting" is cut from the same template as "Lick me ♥" - sweet on the surface, but smatterings of smut underneath it all. When Kumi sings ♪ Muh-muh-muh melting chocolate! ♪ We all know the bitch ain't talking about innocently eating ice cream in her sweats whilst watching an episode of Jersey shore. More like whole snickers bars in her mouth without chewing. "Choi tashi life" continues on with Kumi laying it on like butter wouldn't melt anywhere but in-between her legs. The song sounds like it should be a closing credit roll theme for a Pokémon game or a new intro theme song for a Final Fantasy X-3 game. End of the album cut "Bambi" is a funked up sugar coated jam which comes courtesy of the Nervo twins (Kelly Rowland "When love takes over", Kylie Minogue "Put your hands up (if you feel love)", Rachel Stevens "Negotiate with love"). The song has a really sweet charm about it and is really catchy. But it leaves a horrible taste in your mouth; because you find yourself not hating the song, even though something's telling you that you should.

Kumi Koda does love herself some mid-tempo slow jams. They were sorely absent from Universe in favour of her trying out 'that rock shit'. But they're back for Dejavu. Tricky Stewart seems to be the new muse for many of Japan's R&B producers. First Daisuke Imai jacked him on Beni's Bitter & sweet album, and now Hiro rips him off for Kumi's latest set. Kumi needs to send Tricky Stewart a strawberry shortcake and an expensive watermelon on Hiro's behalf in shame, because the whole of "Okay" sounds like a Tricky Stewart production intended for Ciara's Basic instinct. In fact, it's pretty much a re-working of Ciara's "Ride". Hiro has consistently shown he has his finger on the pulse of what's hot in the US. But this is too much. Dude downright stole Tricky Stewart's production style. I'd hate on Hiro for it if he didn't do such a good job with the production. The beat is hot. That I cannot deny. It's a bit strange to hear Kumi on a song like "Okay", because even though she's always ridden the urban train and f**ked herself with it over the years - I don't think she's ever done a song this undeniably R&B. It's a shame Kumi didn't shoot a video for the song. It lends itself well to slow grinding and pussy popping in a low lit minimalistic Diane Martel style video. Top of the album mid-tempo "Aitakute" is plain boring. But album closer "I don't love you!?" is a great slice of 80's synth pop, sounding a heck of a lot like a song intended for Crystal Kay.

From Black cherry onwards, Kumi's albums have begun to feature more and more westernized sounding slow jams and mid-tempo's replacing spots which were once reserved for the ballads. Kumi's ballads have fallen off BIG time over the years. Universe disappointingly only featured one in the form of "Alive", which was more like "Dead" given how awful the song was. But our J-Pop ho brings it back nicely with "Suki de, suki de, suki de". The song is not on the same level of greatness as "Hands" and "You". But it is a really nice song and a nice return to form. "Anata dake ga" sits in-between being an R&B sprinkled mid-tempo and a ballad, and it tows the line nicely. "Passing by" is a huge departure from your regular Kumi Koda ballad, because the whole style and tone of the song is different from anything she's ever done before. Kumi dipped her toe in these waters on Universe's "No way", but she dives head first with it in "Passing by"; resulting in what just might be one of Kumi's best ballad-esque songs in a long while. The Michael Jackson / Akon impersonated vocals which are prominent throughout add a nice layer to the song, and gives it that further Western feel. Fans in the West who weren't sold on Kumi before, may take a bit more notice of her as a result of this song. A brilliant song. I'd even go as far as to say it's one of her best.

Dejavu is one of Kumi's most western influenced releases. The R&B smatterings and US production style is more more prevalent on this album than any of Kumi's past releases. And whilst this is no bad thing, it does strike an odd balance. Because even though Kumi can sing, she doesn't have that Western twang as to how she sings. So you have this symbiotic mix of really Western sounding production and distinctly Japanese style singing, which doesn't render the songs awful, but does initially sound strange at first. Each of these songs are bloody good. In fact, they are sometimes brilliant! But the problem is that they aren't wholly memorable, because the likes of Beni, Crystal Kay and Hiromi have all released albums with similar sounding songs, and owned them better. Hiromi's "Unforgettable" trumps Kumi's "Passing by". Beni's "Loving you" smacks the shit out of Kumi's "Okay". And Crystal's "Goodbye" snatches the wig off of "Aitakute".

Dejavu is a good album from Kumi. The sound is much more consistent and less divided than Universe, and the track order is greatly improved; giving the album a nice sense of flow. But Kumi still has an album here which will be forgotten by the time she releases a new one in a years' time. As much as I couldn't stand Black cherry, Kingdom or Trick - they featured songs which helped define the albums and unify them as a body of work, and have it stick in your mind. Dejavu features some really good songs, but nothing you could use as a point of reference to remember the album years from now. "Pop diva" is probably the most stand out song, simply because it's the loudest and it has itself a music video. But you won't remember this by 2012 in the same why you'll still remember "Taboo", "Last angel" and "Cherry girl".

Kumi seems to be so complacent and comfortable with the place she's been stuck in musically for the past 4 albums, that it's affecting her growth as an artist. There is little evolution here. Vocally Kumi is serving up nothing new. Lyrically it's the same crap. It's just Kumi pretty much doing what she's always done, only with much better production. This is fine if you're a Kumi fan who will lap up anything this woman does, but a little disheartening if you are somebody who wants her to push the boundaries of her music a little more. Kumi shows she has it on her to try something new to great effect on "Passing by". It's just a shame she wasn't brave enough to take it all the way for more of the album.

It's also a shame that certain songs got left of this release, as their inclusion would have stepped this album up a few notches. It took me a while to warm to it, but I soon grew to love the 80's bubblegum, day glo socks and lace gloved charm of "Inside fishbowl". I stupidly assumed it would feature on this album, but does not. I can understand why, as it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. But it's still a shame for it to get left off and not so much as have its video feature on the special edition release of this album. "Be my baby" and "Megumi no hito" from Kumi's Eternity: Love & songs should have been set aside for Dejavu as they would have fit in nicely in the place of some of the filler that occupies slots on this album. Especially "Be my baby", which I actually prefer to the likes of "Pop diva".

Kumi needs to start trying to be conceptual with her sound and step out of her comfort zone, because she'll never grow as an artist otherwise. Kumi's decision to go rock for a bulk of Universe was questionable. But it was a bold move, and in fact was a large part as to why I thought highly of that album - because Kumi took a risk on it. Dejavu does a better job of having every song tie together than the bulk of Kumi's previous albums. But you still feel as though you're listening to a random collection of singles thrown together, as opposed to a bunch of songs recorded for the intents and purposes of sitting alongside one another for an album.

I can't speak on behalf of Kumi fans as to how much they may like this album, because it definitely sounds more subdued and a heck of a lot more westernized than her previous releases (something which may or may not go down well with Kumi-fans). But she's served up enough here to be liked and played for the time being. Just don't expect to remember half of the songs on this album in a years' time.

Album highlights:
■ Pop diva
■ Okay
■ Passing by ★ J's fave
■ At the weekend
■ I don't love you!?


  1. Another great album review J! I love 'Passing By' too (the male artist featured is named B.Howard apparently) and the PV for it has nice elements but again a tad boring.

  2. great review j.. This album is ok its my first kumi koda album so i realy dont know wat to expect, melting is so far my fav. so cant wait for the album

  3. You forgot to mention she wrote the bulk of her album. She get point for that I guess.

    For me the album was a very typical Kumi album albeit better than her most. I liked it however and did what it was supposed to do for each song.

  4. When I heard this album I went "What the hell happened to Kumi"

    No club bangers you can unnecessarily wine to
    No smoltzy J-Pop-esque ballad's

    Basically everything that made her distinguishable

    This album is the pits.

    *Goes and jams to Kingdom*

  5. I must be one of the people who lap up anything kumi does. because I HATE Bambi and pop diva, but I absolutely adore lollipop, hey baby!, and the kingdom, black cherry, and TRICK albums. I'm also a gay teenage Floridian boy.


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