Album review: Angela Aki - Songbook

Album review: Angela Aki - Songbook | Random J Pop

Unknown to me, Angela's cover of "Tsugaru kaikyou fuyu keshiki" being the only song on White which I liked (and also ranked as one of my favourite songs of 2011) was the sign that I was always going to think highly of Songbook, even if I was skeptical about what Songbook was. It's that age old stigma you have as a music fan when you hear that an artist is going to drop a cover album. You want new material. Not covers of existing songs. It's one thing to have an artist flop their own shit, but to flop another artists' and for there to be a margin of your classics being dragged through stinging nettles, it's too much. We just can't go there.

When I first saw the track list for Songbook, I honestly didn't know what to expect. Some choices made sense to me. I was cool with them. After all, Angela had performed some of them before and a couple had made appearances on other releases and they sounded really good. In fact, they sounded amazing. But Madgina's "Material girl". Bitch, really!? But I was pleasantly surprised. Not only does Angela Aki honour the originals with stunning renditions, but she pours so much of herself into the songs that she makes them their own. To simply class this as a cover album feels like a slight discredit to the sage that is Angela. Because what she delivers from track to track feels more than just a cover. Something along the lines of a re-imagining. A yanking of wigs so to speak.

Angela does something remarkable with Songbook, which is give her fans enough for them to love without feeling as though they're being cheated with no original material. Masterfully showcase that she can cover a classic and sing the absolute shit out of it. Slap those who live on a pop diet of J-Pop gloss that not every woman in the J-music game is an extension wearing skank who opens her legs and squats over win bottles to sell records.

Because Angela is so sweet and so coy, if a wig flew off of a bitches head as a result of her singing, she'd gracefully pick that shit up off of the floor and hand it back. This is pretty much what Angela Aki does from start to finish on Songbook; yank wigs unknowingly, only realizing she's knee deep in wigs when she gets up off her piano stool to bow.

Every song on this album is a masterful re-imagining of a classic. Some work better than others, but they all work. And of course, there are stand outs. Notably the songs the majority of Western audiences are familiar with having heard them before as a result of chart successes...or Singstar...or Rock band.

Boz Scaggs must be mad at Angela for taking one of his songs and having that shit sound like it's hers. It's easy to hear why she chose to cover Scaggs' "We're not alone", as it's absolutely the type of song you'd expect Angela to sing. The same goes for "Still fighting it". If Ben Folds wasn't such good friends with Angela, he'd probably want a bitch to have her head slammed into a Steinway.

Sass isn't something you often hear from Angela's songs if ever, so it's a new found thing you find in her cover of "Material girl" when she hangs, ends and cuts notes with a sass you never knew Angela had. Angela takes the Madonna classic and makes it mo' classic, sounding more like the perfect backdrop to the Gentleman prefer blondes inspired (ripped off) music video than the original song itself. Angela Aki's version of "Material girl" farts in the face of the original, because Angela sings it and doesn't screech through it like a Fox in heat. Angela even works in some new lyrics here and there. I'm 95% certain during the chorus that Angela mentions an Onsen. I don't remember Madonna singing about no Onsen. Oh well. Bye Madonna.

"Without you" was originally performed by Badfinger. But it's Harry Nillsen's version which became widely known worldwide and would be the version which Mariah Carey would have a gargantuan smash hit with in 1994, which is also the version Angela Aki covers here. Mariah sang the shit out of her version, Harry also sang the shit out of his version and Angela sings the shit out of hers. I had no idea Angela had such range and vocal control. She belts this song with absolute ease. Angela channels the same sense of sorrow which many praised Harry's version for inflecting over the less sombre Badfinger original. If you were ever in doubt of Angela Aki's vocal ability, listen to this shit and then go commit seppuku. Bye Mariah.

"Kiss from a rose" is one of Seal biggest hits. Defining Batman forever in song and being loved by many. So for Angela to touch this could have been seen as risky business. But by this point in Songbook, Mariah Carey and Madonna have already been left crippled, so Seal is not a damn thing. Seal is bald. A result of Angela reaching into the past and snatching his hair before he even wrote this shit. Bye Seal.

Angela Aki's cover of Radiohead's "Creep" almost brings me to tears every time I listen to it. "Creep" is a beautiful song as it is, but the fragility and strength in Angela's vocals cut through this song and go straight for your heart. The note Angela holds during the second run of chorus leaves me cold. F**king stunning.

You'd think by this point I'd have kicked doubt to the curb. But when I heard the final song begin, I'd thought 'Oh Lawd. She's covering a Boys II Men song' and prepared for the worst. But Angela held it down. Covering a song by four n***a's whose harmony game is on POINT is not easy. But Angela does not give a shit. She does it any way and walks it in the park.

The beauty of Angela's covers is that they all feel substantial and wholly satisfying. It would have been very easy for Angela to have floundered on songs such as "Honesty", "Material girl", "True colors" and "Kiss from a rose" - songs which were all so big and relied on full instrumentation's and bold production to make them larger than life. But Angela runs circles around every song and wings it with nothing but her sheet music, her ivories and her vocals. This is talent. And as a long time fan of Angela, I'm also ashamed it took this long and a cover album to truly realize that.

I always frown upon cover albums and side eye them with utter disdain. But after being deeply disappointed with Angela Aki's past two albums, I desperately sought out Songbook in the vain hope that Angela would give me something to stan for and Angela delivered. I'm glad, because I was hanging onto that Answer album with my finger tips.

Angela shows complete and utter fearlessness on this album. By covering well known English language songs in Japanese with no lavish production or backing vocalists she strips everything down to its bare essence and really puts herself out there. You get more from Angela on this album than anything she's done before because of it. Angela tried to go this route with White, but because of the songs being a bit crap (really crap) it felt like there was a barrier preventing you from enjoying Angela on that level you wanted to. But with the instant familiarity coming from songs which are a part of musical pop culture, you feel a connection to the songs which is easy to establish.

Not only did Angela Aki manage to curb my scepticism of cover albums, but she delivered a long player which takes a steaming hot shit on Life, White and even a few of the albums of the artists she covers here.

RATING: 8.5 / 10

Album highlights:
■ We're all alone
■ Material girl
■ True colors
■ Without you
■ Kiss from a rose
■ Creep ★ J's fave
■ Still fighting it
■ It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday


  1. I've been waiting for your review of Songbook! and I absolutely agree with everything you wrote! (as usual)

    I stan for Angela, she's up there with my fav J-pop hoes (only behind Utada and Crystal). Hearing her debut These Words as well as some of her earlier versions of the songs on Songbook, it is evident that there has been a dramatic improvement in her vocals from then to now. And Bitches in the J game, as well as the west, can't touch her live game; it's consistent, and she always sings the shit out of her songs as well as plays the shit out of her piano. She makes me wish I had musical talent...ugh. lol (Every time I hear "Tsugaru Kaikyo..." I contemplate enrolling into piano lesson lol)

    I have also been disappointed with her past few albums. I liked less than half of [Makes Me Want to End My] Life, and White had a handful of good songs on it (that took a while for me to warm up to). I heard White was supposed to be a mini-album and I wished she would have left it that way, I feel it would have been much stronger as such. White's track-listing was so short, and some of the songs seemed tacked on and unnecessary ( like the re-workings of revival and home).

    As for Songbook, I must admit that at first I was skeptical. I thought it was a ploy to fund her hiatus, which judging by her album sales it def wont be funding anything besides being used as door stops at Sony Studios. ( what is going on with the treatment of their artists? don't even get me started on michi...ugh)Anyway,
    I loved practically every song on the album, and I'm glad she left her fans with some decent material before going on a hiatus. She really put her stamp on every song, and it didn't even occur to me to compare her versions to the originals. Every song seems to be so undeniably her, and I can tell she put in a lot of effort to make it so. I remember seeing an interview where she said that she re-wrote the lyrics for "Honesty" several times because she couldn't get the message across quite right. I think it worked in her favor because her Japanese cover shits on the English version of her cover. It's a perfect indication of how much of a difference an artist having an emotional connection to song makes in terms of "selling the song". "Creep" is my favorite as well. I thought I was in denial about how good it was after reading reviews of the song on other blogs. Other reviewers kept saying that they felt she lacked an emotional connection with the song and that her version paled in comparison to Radiohead's version. I had to question whether or not we were listening to the same song because, in my opinion, it was one of her best vocal performances to date. As you stated, she has so much power in her voice throughout the song, yet so much fragility. I think many people are biased because the original is a classic, and they're in denial about Angela Aki scalping Thom Yorke. It's definitely one of my favorite songs from her, and I'm glad to see that I'm not that only one that thinks she did a great job with it. I can always count on you to speak the truth, which is why I keep coming back to your blog lol.

    1. "I think many people are biased because the original is a classic, and they're in denial about Angela Aki scalping Thom Yorke."


  2. I was pleasantly surprised with Monday Michiru's cover album last year, so I'm hoping this one's as good as you say. It'd be nice to have another J-lady doing it well. Last time I checked for Angela, I wasn't happy with what I heard.

    1. Well if you checked out Life or white then I'm not surprised. Her debut Home and her album Answer are he best albums. I suggest you check out those two if you're looking for good music from Angela.

    2. Yup! What Mel said.

      Angela fell RIGHT off with 'Life' and 'White'. 'Songbook' is the return to form she needed before I gave up on a hoe. I was not prepared to like this album as much as I did / still do.


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