Album review: Bright - Real


It's tough being a girl group in Japan who can actually sing. Because nobody really cares about that shit. They want to see a dance routine. They want to hear hot beats. They want to hear a catchy chorus which can be sung by anyone and make for a cool ringtone. Unfortunately for the girls of Bright, more are likely to turn their attentions to the likes of Girls' generation and Perfume for their J-Pop girl group fix. But their second LP offering Real is a welcomed addition to a seascape of fluff pop, Euro driven dance jams matching outfits and girls with the vocal talent of Jigglypuff.

Despite the girls of Bright seeming special amongst a sea of no talent tricks fresh out of school, their second effort Real is pretty run of the mill. But it's gambit is that despite this, it is well produced, well ordered and gives you more than you expect it to. Even if there isn't anything wholly distinct about the overall sound, which re-treads many of the R&B light stylings you'd have heard on any J-album which has been shoved onto a shelf at Tower records over the past 10 years. What helps elevate this album above many of their contemporaries is that that these girls can sing, and manage to work an art which seems long forgotten amongst many of Japan's girl groups: Sing in key and harmonize.

Real opens on a familiar note with "I like that". A set of 80's chords with twinkles, whizzes and precise vocals. The girls vocals feel fresh and the whole thing does a great job of really drawing you into the album. Not giving you a great deal, but enough to warrant you to continue listening. "Kirai... demo suki ~Aishiteru~" is an instantly familiar affair, playing out much like the hyper popular sound Stargate dominated charts with on songs such as Ne-Yo's "So sick", "Sexy love" and Jordin Sparks' "One step at a time". The song doesn't set itself apart a great deal, as about every woman with a record deal and their ear burning to mainstream top 10 radio has put out a song with this sound. But it is a really nice song, which will service those who like their J-Pop jams with a US edge.

Bright throw down the gauntlet and show they can do up-tempo with the rest of 'em a third of the way into the album and they do not hold back with "Shining Butterfly". Off the starting blocks with a tyraid of blips, kicks, 808's and electric guitars, you're roped in before you even know shit has begun. Off the chain production, slick vocals, a catchy hook, a bit of Engrish for some charm, and dashings of auto-tune just to keep it current and compete with those Antares reliant bitches. These hoes even cat Janet Jackson's "Feedback" for the bridge. I'm also certain they drop an N-bomb. ♪ Butterfly. Fly so high. Gonna make a n***a wanna cry ♪. I hope it's just me mishearing a Japanese word, otherwise these girls can go jump under a Nozomi bullet train. But I'll still be playing this shit on my iPod as they do so. Because the song is that much of a banger. Middle-of-the-album jam "Dance with us" is a carbon copy Meisa Kuroki's "Are you ready?", with producer U-Key zone clearly recycling elements between both songs. But the hotness is undeniable. And unlike Meisa's effort, Bright can actually sing and run through the song without having every digital effect placed on their vocals to mask their inability to sing in tune. "Secret" follows in the same vein of "Dance with us" by being packed to the wall with every digital blip, whizz and woosh to make you feel like you've stepped into an ENCOM game grid. Maybe it's just me, but the song feels very BoA-ish. "Secret" is not a terrible song, but it feels very by numbers, and lacks the vocal warmth which all of the other songs on the albums have. Where-as the other uptempo's on the album feature an edge and have a universally worldwide appeal to them, "Feelin' you" is straight up Japanesey. As with "Secret", it feels very much like something BoA has done (more specifically for her The face album). The verses are nice, bubbly and evoke such a mood of sickly happiness; but the middle-eight section is God awful and an absolute wreckage of hell. Happy go lucky J-Pop and ragga go together about as well as Aretha Franklin and spanx.

As well as Bright can hold their corner in up-tempo's, it's when they slow things down that they truly shine. "Kotoba ni dekinakute" starts off as your typical J-Pop ballad: a twinkly piano playing through a melody which probably infringes on some other J-bitches ballad. But things take a decidedly R&B turn once the arrangement of harps, glockenspiels, woodblocks and basslines step into the mix. Producer of the song U-Key zone takes what would be an otherwise standard affair and gives it a real R&B stamp. One of the albums strongest songs and the one where Bright begin to shine and emerge as something other than just another J-girl group trying to do 'the R&B thing'. "Bito to yajuu" takes the arrangements of a typical Japanese ballad and obnoxiously underlies it with an aggressive set of drums to form one of the album's most beautiful songs. The girls of Bright show throughout the album that they sound great together, and that vocally they can snatch the hair pieces from near enough every other female group in the J-game. But it's on this song in particular where the cohesiveness of their vocals are highlighted. Meg does not mess around with those high notes towards the end. She pretty much tells 2011 Mariah to sit her arse down. "Promise you ~Sotsugyou~" is your 150% typical J-Pop ballad, which probably acted as a theme song to some existing J-drama out there. One of Real's low points. And a completely skippable song.

Bright have a nice set of voices amongst them, but they aren't as well showcased on this album as they could be. This isn't something I'll knock the girls for, as its evident they can sing and that their voices mesh well together. And at a time in music where an emphasis is being placed on how good a beat drops in a song and how catchy the hook is as opposed to the vocals, it's hardly surprising than their vocals talents came secondary on the itinerary when this album was coming together. But it would be nice if the songs were produced around the Bright's vocals and not the other way around. Four girls in a group should come through more on a song than they do for more than half of this album. And with four girls who can all hold a song and hold a note, their vocals shouldn't have been supressed behind the music so much. It seems to be a rite of passage with girls groups, that their vocal abilities in unison never show until the later releases. So hopefully this will be a thing on a future album.

Real is a rather nice album. I was throughly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, which was probably due to me having no expectations of it what-so-ever. This album is nothing amazing. But it has enough going for it that you will want to see where these girls go with their future releases. Real presents a nice listen for those wanting accessible Pop with a generous R&B gloss. And it is always refreshing to hear a Japanese group who can actually sing and harmonize.


Album highlights:
■ I like that
■ Kirai... demo suki ~Aishiteru~
■ Shining Butterfly
■ Kotoba ni dekinakute ★ J's fave
■ Dance with us
■ Bito to yajuu

2 comments:

  1. You should do more of BRIGHT! I just started listening to them around the end of May. They are awesome! Their first EP's, "Brightest e.p. 01" & "Brightest e.p. 02", are just awesome. "In Harmony" is their best album so far to me, although a lot of their songs do remind me of an old Crystal Kay. (I miss that era). They can dance also. I think besides Perfume, they are one of the main groups who have actual talent. They are just completely mind-blowing live, and they do sing live. I wish they had their live performance tours on Youtube though...

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  2. I used to be such a big fan of Bright but Avex Trax seems to have zero interest in promoting the group thus their music quality has become stale for me :(.

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