Album review: RiRi - Neo

Album review: RiRi - Neo | Random J Pop

Japanese R&B is choking and gasping for new wigs, because the game hasn't been snatching any for a good while. But earlier in the year we got Riri.

As many OG J-R&B artists started to either fall off completely or abandon the sound in favour of Pop and EDM, Riri's arrival was very much welcomed. I'll be frank. I didn't love her debut. It felt too heavily templated on Ariana Grande's first album for my liking. But Riri showed promise. Something I'm glad is being realised and shown in a better light on her second album Neo. But even so, Neo isn't the most giving of albums.

Neo takes the sound of Riri's debut and gives it more of a global twist, with elements of Tropipop and cuts that sound like they came straight off of one of Diplo's USB key drives. The sound is derivative as hell. I know. J-Pop and K-Pop have been running it into the ground. But thankfull these songs are the exception. And on the other tracks that Neo serves up, Riri gives us something new that already has me seeing a great deal of potential in where her third album could take her.

Starting with the familiar, the first two cuts on Neo "Honey" and "Maybe one day" are the types of songs that we've all heard a million times by this point. The songs aren't terrible. But Riri doesn't offer up anything new on either of these songs that we've not had from the likes of Ariana Grande or Hailee Steinfeld, and they're not so hot that I can just give them a pass because they slap. Third track "Sugar free" is the point in Neo where shit starts to get good and Riri really starts to shine. Every chick has to have that feel good 'Bitch, I'm unfazed' type song, and "Sugar free" is Riri's. It's catchy. Issa bop. It slaps. Why Sony didn't give a bitch an advance to shoot a cute little video for this, I have no idea. Between this not being a single and giving her a 7 track album, I'm wondering if Sony want Riri to pop off. I mean, we saw how they did Crystal Kay in the end. The song is nothing outside of Riri's wheelhouse by any means. Yes, there are tracks with the same vibe on her debut, but this is the best of them. The album title cut "Neo" goes in on the popularised DJ Mustard sound and fuses it with Tropipop. A homie was really sat at his drum machine and keyboard in the studio checking boxes in Google keep for a US top 20 radio smash. I should hate this song, but Gah-damn-it, it's a good song.

Riri's MO with her debut and the opening of Neo is hip bobs and make a shoulder bounce. But she completely switches this up with "Love", which is my favourite song on this album. "Love" still makes the shoulders bounce, but it has a vibe unlike anything else on this album or Riri's first. The production is sparse and centred around a pounding 80, giving it a Noah "40" Shebib vibe, which by proxy gives it a Drake vibe. It's a gorgeous song and a whole entire mood and I've love for Riri to explore this more further down the line on another album. An album and discography standout for sure.

Riri gets swaggy and sassy on "Patience", which features female rapper Saweetie, who turns in a nice opening verse. When I first heard this song, I was ready to roll my eyes. I was like 'Here we go. One of THESE types of songs'. I was prepared for Riri to really try it. But she popped my wig into a box and delivered. Riri's delivery on this song is exactly what it needs to be and nothing more. She easily could have gone to 11 and tried to do the most and oversell it. But she's sounds laid back, cool, calm and collected, like an unbothered bitch would. It also completely subverts the cutsey bubblegum persona of her debut without her doing a complete 180 and alienating completely.

Riri slows things right down and strips things back for the albums' official closer "Forever", which features Japanese singer Shota Shimizu. Riri and Shota's voices sound nice together and the laid back acoustic vibe of the song makes it feel almost like a lullaby. It's probably not going to be a song that you skip straight to, but it's not a song that you'll rush to skip either. It's just a really nice song.

Album review: RiRi - Neo | Random J Pop

Riri is Japanese, but the majority of this album is sung in English; which isn't that wild these days. The songs in English are absolutely fine. But those that feature Japanese and English sound pretty raggedy, because Riri's Japanese gets lost in the songs. There are many moments where I find myself having to really focus to catch whether she's singing certain parts of songs in English or Japanese. Riri has a really nice voice, but there's not always brightness or clarity in it, so it sometimes gets lost in the music, which is pretty bassy. Therefore everything feels like its sitting in the same range and getting jumbled together. A much better effort should have been take to either direct Riri's singing in the studio, or for songs to be crafted in a way where the switch between languages is really clean and clear. Because the songs that feature back and forth's between Japanese and English sound messy. I've been spoilt on the likes of Crystal Kay and Hikaru Utada, whose language switches are clean, distinguishable and seamless. I do however, think that Riri would have been better off recording more of this album in Japanese, as opting not to could hinder its commercial success nationally. Or recorded a Japanese and English version of the album to cover all bases.

Now, I need to talk about this albums' tracklist. We've entered a phase in music where album tracklists are becoming lean as fuck. Where-as artists would once give us 16 tracks with an intro and a couple of interludes, now we straight-up get 10 full length tracks and bitch, it's a wrap. But Riri's Neo is on some Sony-saver type shit, because it gives us 7 original tracks. This 7 track deal may have worked for Coonye West and his G.O.O.D music posse, but it doesn't do Riri the biggest of favours. It's not the worst thing in the world, because the music here is decent. But 7 tracks doesn't feel like a sweet spot. It feels like this weird place that exists between an EP and an LP. Neo should have either been a tight 5 track EP or a 10 track LP. Then you have the two remixes and the English version of an album cut tacked onto the end; which throw the vibe of the album off and negate the impact of "Forever" which would have been a perfect album closer. I'm so done with albums having remixes slapped onto the end. I hope that Sony take this into account with her future albums. An album of brevity is absolutely fine if the quality is there, and with Neo, it is. I just don't think Riri's second album was the album for this call to have been made.

Riri really comes into her own with this album. Her debut was nice for what it was. But I liked it more because she was occupying a space in Japanese music that has been vacant for quite some time, as opposed to liking it on its own merits of being a genuinely really good album. With Neo I can wholeheartedly say that it's a good album. But with this being her second album, it really should have featured just a couple more tracks. Neo just about satisfies qualitatively, but also feels like it could have given just a bit more quantitatively. But regardless, Neo is a solid effort which goes to the trouble of putting Riri at the forefront and giving her more of an identity, after her debut pretty much cast her as the Japanese Ariana Grande; which isn't a negative thing, per se. But you'd like to think that an artist is more than a crafted copy of an existing one, and Neo shows that Riri is just that.

Riri's debut didn't really have me feeling any type of way as far as checking for her. But Neo has me genuinely looking forward to seeing where Riri will go from here.

RATING: 7 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Sugar free
■ Love ★ J's fave
■ Patience
■ Neo

Stream Riri's NEO on Spotify | Google Play music | Apple music & iTunes