Album review: Kumi Koda - W Face

Album review: Kumi Koda - W Face -inside- / -outside- | Random J Pop

Kumi Koda's 13th studio album of original material W Face (or Double face) takes a cue from the scriptures of the Amazonian empress from the kingdom of lost wigs (otherwise known as Beyonce), by being split into 2 discs: One dedicated to ratchetness, the other dedicated to slow nonsense and mid-tempo mediocrity. And as you listen to each disc, you quickly realise that you are descending into the depths of what is Kumi Koda's worst material to date.

W Face -Outside- feels contrived right from the offset, with the album title track opening with Kumi saying 'Yes bitch. Yes bitch. Yes bitch. Slay'. Every urban, 'hood' trope is adhered to on this disc in spades. If Kumi's intention with this disc was to poke fun at herself, then she succeeded. Because I found it difficult to take much of the material on this disc seriously when it all sounded like a joke. As you move down the track order, things become a bit more tolerable. At least that's what you're led to believe for the first 30 - 40 seconds of each song. Most of them feature a pretty inoffensive sets of verses, but are then hit with a shit storm for a chorus.

When "Damn real" started, I called out 'THANK YOU! A song on this disc which isn't some God awful hood knock off banger wannabe'. But then the chorus came in and fucked it all up.

"Bassline" reeled me in with a horn sample which sounded strange, but piqued my interest into how it's utilisation would pan out. Surprisingly, the song went from what could have been a take on of Jennifer Lopez "Get right" to something slick and seductive. 'Oh, okay. So we've got a slow jam here'. Then the chorus came in and fucked it all up.

"Shhh!" goes right in with a 60s swing stomp flanked by the odd electric guitar and a GameBoy. It doesn't really work, but I'm going with it, because the 60s swing stomp is persistent and it has me hooked. Then the chorus came in and fucked it all up.

"Wicked girls" had me for a 1 minute (literally a minute) as it was giving me Namie Amuro vibes. 'She's trying it' I thought to myself as I listened, but I was okay with it if meant we good a good. Then the chorus came in and...you get the picture.

The telling thing here is that every hook is marred by the instance to go 'hood' each time. Killing a good melody and rhythm for the sake of 808s and finger snaps. The only good song on this disc which tows a nice line from start to finish is "Bangerang", which feels like the song that Kumi was trying to do for the past 7 songs until she got it right here. It's a hot song, even if the vocals are severely under-produced and the middle-8 is shitty.

W face -Inside- is the better of the two discs for the plain reason that the songs don't make you want to cringe and the arrangements are inoffensive. What kills -Inside- however, is that every song just melds into this monotony of strings, guitars and Kumi Koda's warbling. "Only you" and "What's up" stand out, purely because they are the only uptempo tracks on the album. Their inclusion of which makes -Outside- seem even more contrived, because it makes it abundantly clear that -Outside- is purely the 'Urban' disc.

There are a couple of niceties here amongst the steaming hot mess. "Yorokobinokakera" is a typical J-ballad, but it's nice. I wouldn't say "Kimiomoi" is another diamond in the dirt. More like cubic zirconia. It's no "You" or "Hands", but it is one of the better slow songs on -Inside- because it at least, on some level, attempts to dial into Kumi's more memorable balladry palette. "Promise you" would make a great sing-a-long song at Kumi's concerts. Although it never quite reaches the heights that it should. There should have been choirs, strings and massive climax at the end of the song, but it all just teeters off. Still, she at least tried here. A bitch tried.

When "Ultraviolet" dropped, Beyoncé immediately came to mind. Kumi seems to be trying to do her own take on Hoodyoncé, clearly inspired by her Formation world tour and the "Formation" song itself. But to a greater extent, I am...Sasha Fierce, which saw Beyoncé release a 2 disc album with the material divided in the same way as Kumi has done here: a disc of hood ratchet anthems and a disc of slow burning ballads. This wasn't one of Beyoncé's best albums and the disc splitting was completely unnecessary. Yet Kumi seems to have chosen to do the same thing.

The biggest issue that I have had with Kumi Koda's music since day one is that it's always felt like it's been produced straight off of the back of a song that Kumi has heard from the US. She's always been so busy chasing the sound and the image of US contemporaries, and Ayumi Hamasaki to an extent, that she's never really thought about what she wants her own brand to be in the long run, and W Face highlights this. Kumi Koda's sound and image is so fractured that she's getting lost in herself. W Face should not have been a 2 disc album. It should have been a concise 12 track album. And the one Kumi album that should have been looked to was Color the cover, which for me is one of her best albums. Despite it being an album of cover songs, it was a nice distillation of Kumi and it made you realise that she does in-fact have a sound that's hers.

Splitting the discs with this album was a huge mistake, because all it does is highlight the cracks in Kumi's sound. Kumi sells herself completely short with this album by abandoning the songs and styles which actually do work for her in favour of those which don't and then drawing a line between them. There is nothing that sizzles like "Physical thing". Nothing as candyflossed as "Driving". Nothing as sassy as "D.D.D". Nothing that bumps like "At the weekend". Nothing as seductively smooth as "Ko-so-ko-so". Nothing as sadly beautiful as "Passing by". If there's a Kumi Koda song in her discography pre Japonesque that you had liked, you'll probably find no decent equivalent of it here.

I'm losing the genuineness of Kumi Koda and am losing all sense of who she truly is, because in my eyes she's become a caricature of a pop star after reaching a level where she was finally was one. The -Outside- disc feels like Kumi is playing Western tropes and appropriating where-as -Inside- feels like Kumi conforming to Japan and all of its isms. There is no in-between. Just polarisation, which does nothing for her. Kumi needs to find a way to make her image and sound meet in the middle, because this Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde mess is getting old and she can't do it forever and expect to maintain fans and steady sales. If she wants proof that she's on a ticking clock where she ain't got it together, then she can check out Ayu's new office the the Avex supply closet and ask her how her shit is doing.

W Face is one of Kumi Koda's worst albums. To retail the 2 discs completely separately just makes it worse considering there is no better disc that I could recommend that somebody picks up over the other. They are both garbage.

Kumi Koda is better than this. So much better.

RATING: 1 / 10

Album highlight:
■ Bangerang

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