Album review: Beni - Lovebox

Album review: Beni - Lovebox | Random J Pop

'Cliched' and 'familiar' are common threads which runs throughout Beni's fifth studio album Lovebox. Every song either sounds wholly familiar to the point of it sounding like something else or being a complete cliche of a popular sound. It should make me tie this album to the back of my car and drag it, but the results yielded here are pretty damn good. The songs don't work exclusively because of the sounds, but because they're catchy and work as an overall package.

"Yura yura" is very typical of the heavily J-Pop leaning R&B sound that many were making shots for in the mid 2000s, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it's a nice song. This type of song had somewhat become the tent pole of Beni's sound by this point. "A Million Jewels" plays on the whole sped up soul sample trend that Coonye West popularised back in 2004. As with "Yura Yura", it is cliched, tried and tested to hell and back, but it works.

Lovebox isn't much of a departure from its predecessor Bitter & Sweet, but there is a different energy about this album. Beni seems a bit surer of herself. Bitter & Sweet was a good album. But Beni's lack of confidence came through in quite a few of the songs. She was testing new waters by dipping her toe as opposed to trashing and splashing in that bitch. Here, Beni feels much more comfortable. There is still some restraint, but you can definitely hear and sense that Beni is leaning further into songs on this album far more than she did on Bitter & Sweet. Her producer partner in crime Daisuke Imai does a great job or taking the blueprint they'd set on Bitter & Sweet and building upon it. Some may find the Bitter & Sweet 1.5 approach lazy, especially coming only 6 months after said album. But I think it was a smart move, given that Bitter & Sweet was such a surface scratch and a step in the right direction.

But it's not all slight tweaks that Lovebox brings to he table. There is some newness here. Beni tries her hand at club bangers. Legitimate club bangers. Something of which she's never attempted before. Daisuke Imai's music forces Beni into a space where she has to step change. And whilst she doesn't have the vocal swagger to really push these songs as well as say Kumi Koda, Crystal Kay or AI - she makes a more than admirable effort. "Move" is a great song and you know it's about to go off when the Dancehall horns pop. The beat is seductive and enchanting (think Rihanna's "Rude Boy", but less nasty) and before you know it, you'll find your pussy 2 inches from the floor. "Break the Rules" is a much faster four on the floor club track. Beni doesn't sell this as well as "Move". The faster, aggressive pace of the song requires a faster and sharper delivery than Beni can give. But the song slaps so good that you just let it slide and you can tell that Beni's just having fun with being able to do this type of song.

Album review: Beni - Lovebox | Random J Pop

But the crux of Lovebox is its mid-tempos and this is a sweet spot for both Beni and Daisuke Imai. "Gimme Gimme ♥", "Hitomi Tojite" and "Bye Bye" are all cut from the same cloth and thereby sound HELLA similar, but are good songs regardless. They feel like the songs that define this album, because of how similar their sounds and vibes are to the album intro and the concept of Lovebox in general.

But Beni delivers with the albums slower moments too. "He is Mine", "My Friend" and "Message" are all the closest that Lovebox comes to delivering slower moments without delving into full-on J-ballad territory; more akin to slow jams. The issue with these songs is that they are all sequenced one after the other at the end of the album; so they all meld together and don't stand out as well as they would have if they were spaced out across the album or placed somewhere in the middle. When Beni tackled these types of songs on Bitter & Sweet, the production swallowed a bitch like Jabu Jabu and they felt like unashamed attempts to make Beni come off like this R&B slow jam queen, when she didn't have the chops to really pull it off. Daisuke Imai dials it back this time around and the results feel much more like Beni just doing her thing, rather than Beni trying to do somebody else's thing. And I think this sums Lovebox up generally in terms of where it sits as a Beni album and what sets it apart from Bitter & sweet. It just feels more 'her'.

Lovebox doesn't take a single risk. Not a single fucking one. But it's not something I can crucify the album for. Especially when Bitter & Sweet left a taste in my mouth that had me wanting more of the same, but in a different gear. And Lovebox delivers that, for what can probably be deemed the quintessential Beni album alongside the likes of Jewel, and for some, Fortune.

Lovebox was an album that I had to sit with for a long ass time until I was able to form an opinion on it. Initially I wasn't overly keen on it. But once Beni started falling off with her follow-up albums, I found myself coming back to this and liking it a lot more. Lovebox wasn't given the best of chances though, as it released at the completely wrong time. It came too soon after Bitter & Sweet and was followed up too quickly with Jewel, which overshadowed the shit out of Lovebox. But without Lovebox, there wouldn't have been a Jewel, so... *Shrug*

VERDICT: Gift wrap the bitch

■ Lovebox Intro 🔥
■ Yura Yura
■ Hitomi Tojite ★ J's fave
■ Gimme Gimme ♥ 🔥
■ Move 🔥
■ Break the Rules
■ He is Mine
■ My Friend