Album review: Kumi Koda - Re(CORD)

Album review: Kumi Koda / 神田 來未子 - Re(CORD) | Random J Pop

Kumi Koda's music hasn't been all that good for years. Everything we've gotten over the past 10 years with the exception of Color the cover has ranged from awful to just overwhelmingly mediocre. And I'mma just tell you now that Re(CORD) does not break the streak, and manages to be both.

From W Face onward, Kumi has become obsessed with Trap music and has featured it so prominently on her last couple of albums, that it's been what has defined them. But the issue with her still working this angle for Re(CORD) is that it causes all of these albums to bleed into one. There is very little distinction between W Face (Outside), DNA and Re(CORD). Throw all of the songs from each album into a playlist and try to discern which song is from which album without having a Wiki page open.

Good luck with that.

Re(CORD) does what every Kumi album does, which is just serve sounds based on what I honestly can't tell is either how Kumi would like to see herself in music or how she thinks fans want to see her in music. With W Face (Outside) we saw her really embrace this hood bitch mentality, which was probably because she saw Beyoncé on her Formation world tour and thought 'Yes bitch'. But we also get a ballad, because we need a ballad. Then we get another song with Sean Paul, because 'He's still cool right?'. Re(CORD) feels like a mood board which should have stayed in draft.

The album opener "Do Me" would be funny it it were legitimately a joke. But hearing Kumi Koda brag about being the number 1 and the best in the world isn't even laughable at this point. It's just sad. She could have only released a song like this after Namie Amuro retired, because Kumi knew along with the rest of us who the head bitch was. Restraining order on Kumi's bragging rights aside, "Do Me" could have been a good song. It's well produced and it has a nice bridge section. But Kumi's lyrics and delivery ruin the whole entire thing. Then we get this same type of shit for another 2 songs back-to-back. "Do Me", "Get Naked" and "Strip" are all the same song. Except one is about Kumi being the best, another is telling a dude to whip it out and the other is about her using an anal douche.

But she's not done. There's more y'all.

"Rich and Famous" starts off sounding like a nice Summer bop, with a whole verse in Engrish (Namie's impact) and some finger snaps to rock wid and lean to. But then it happens. The song devolves into that same "Do Me", "Get Naked" and "Strip" bullshit. Sean Paul's verse is decent and Kumi doesn't shout over him as she did on Bon voyage's "Loaded". But the song as a whole is a mess because of the Trap sections which disrupt the flow of what could have been a nice song. And just to bring it home about how much Kumi is really into this sound, the penultimate song on the album "Shutout" is the exact same shit. As with "Do Me", the lyrics and Kumi's delivery kill what could have been something decent. It gives me 2NE1 vibes. And honestly, if those girls or CL would have done this song, I probably would have liked it more, because they would have laced it right.

Then there is the Japanese and English cover of Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca". Why did Kumi Koda decide to cover this song and throw a nonsensical dance break in the middle of it? A question I'd like to ask her. She shouldn't have bothered with the English version, because her English hasn't improved much since she attempted to sing the Final Fantasy X-2 theme songs in English 16 years ago.

Whilst there are no songs on Re(CORD) which I'd call great, there are a couple of decent songs on this album. It is unfortunate that they're pretty much in the last third of the album, so they will go unheard by those who tap out of Re(CORD) early, which is understandable. 'Cos this album really is a struggle.

"Put Your Hands Up!!!" is cute, but it sounds unfinished. The music sounds like it needed more to it. Some hand claps. Some chants. Some whistles. An air horn. Some cowbells. An acoustic guitar perhaps. The same goes for the vocals. The same energy that Kumi was giving on the songs that came before was needed here. We needed harmonies. We needed ad-libs. We needed a good 6 or so vocal layers. What really hurts this song though is the use of auto-tune. It's unnecessary. The issue with Kumi using auto-tune is that she has this tendency to warble when she sings or just flat out sing like she has food in her mouth whilst drunk on plum wine, which causes her words to sound slurred. So slap auto-tune onto of this and it sounds like somebody going ham with a pitch wheel on a piece of music from Double Dragon on the Game Boy. I'm all for auto-tune if it makes sense musically and stylistically, but it was not needed here.

"Summer Time" has Kumi Koda playing up the sex and listing the rooms in the house where she wants her pussy tended to. The Reggae influence is nice and her delivery has none of that extra shit. It's a good song. "OMG" is one of the best songs on the album because it is just a good, fun, bouncy club record...AND THAT IS IT. I could have done without the auto-tune, the breakdown and the talking on the chorus, because it just causes the hook to sound overly cluttered and she isn't even talking on beat. But it's still a good song. "OMG" should have gotten a video and been a physical single.

The albums' sole ballad "Again" is fine. That's all. It's just fine. It sticks out on this album because it is the only slow song on it and its smack bang in the middle of it. Kumi would have been better off leaving "Again" off the album. Not because it's a bad song, but because it feels like its inclusion was just to fulfil the quota of the album having a ballad. It's not like "Again" is so amazing that the album could not have done without it. Kumi hasn't given us a memorable ballad in a while. I feel for her, because she set her own bar high with "You" and then "Hands". Two songs she's not managed to come close to touching since 2005.

Album review: Kumi Koda / 神田 來未子 - Re(CORD) | Random J Pop

Then there's her vocals. Kumi Koda has a decent voice in her. Somewhere. You'd be hard pressed to tell with all of the wretched screaming and warbling that she does; providing it's not auto-tuned to death. There is no finesse to Kumi Koda's vocals on any of these songs. None what-so-ever. As per the music, there is just no consistency to her vocals from track to track. Sometimes she sounds good. Sometimes she doesn't. On "OMG" she sounds really good and her vocals are sharp and direct. But then on "Eh-Yo" and "Shutout" her vocals are all over the place. Then on the Trap-ish records, she's not really singing at all. Which is fine. But even with that, her delivery is a mess because a) She raps like Pac-Man and b) She sounds like a caricature of a rapper and not herself. Once again, there is just zero finesse.

One of the worst things that Kumi could have done with this album was to include all of the digital singles. She would have been better off pulling a _genic and just recording most of the album from scratch, given the lukewarm response to the singles. It also would have given her the opportunity to record a body of work as opposed to releasing a collection of singles. But in true Kumi fashion, she didn't take up an opportunity which was afforded to her in plain sight.

Kumi Koda is an unusual artist because at no point in her career has she ever really had a sound that's been her own. In the beginning her sound was that generic J-Pop sound that Avex was giving all of the girls that they signed (Ayu and Namie had it too). Then she tried to be hip and go the J-R&B route, because America, and that's what was hot in Japan at a point in time. But then she also tried to model her sound somewhat on Ayumi Hamasaki's with these rock tinged ballads and typical slow songs. And then her sound just became this clusterfuck of everything, which kinda became her brand for a while across albums like Black Cherry, Kingdom and Trick. At no point has Kumi Koda ever really tried to hone a sound that's her own. She's managed to give us decent albums here and there regardless, but it's always felt like pot luck when she has. There is no consistency to anything that she delivers aside from inconsistency. Re(CORD) just bangs a drum that I've been banging on for years in regards to Kumi Koda's music; which is that she has no sound of her own and she seems to not see it as a priority to try and find it and lock it down.

Re(CORD) is divided as most Kumi Koda albums are, between ratchet-ass sounding songs, ballads, rock flavoured bops and cute ditties which seem like they're all sunshine lollipops 'n' rainbows, but are actually about dick. We've been getting this with every album since 2005 and it's tired. Kumi deciding that she's going to give us songs which fall into these brackets is not a replacement for a lack of an actual musical style. After 17 years of releasing music, she is still just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Kumi Koda has balls, and she most certainly has the audacity; but she has absolutely no vision for her sound. After double album stints with W Face and AND and DNA, Re(CORD) was a chance for Kumi to checkpoint, reign things in and think about what she wants the future of her sound to be. But instead, she just gives us W Face and DNA in one album, with zero awareness of what missteps they were.

Unlike W face, AND and DNA, Re(CORD) isn't just a bad album because the music is bad. It's bad because it lacks focus at a point in Kumi Koda's career where she needs it most. As much as I couldn't stand W Face, I get what she was going for, with the whole imitation of what Beyoncé did with I Am... Sasha Fierce. But with AND, DNA and now Re(CORD)!? I just don't get any of it. This was an issue I had with how the album was being sold visually before I even got into the music. I don't get what this album is supposed to be or represent. I could have overlooked the dissonance if the music here was solid from start to finish, but it's anything but. And the songs which are good aren't good enough for me to overlook the issues that plague this album.

Between Kumi Koda's Re(LIVE) shows and the visual throwbacks to her old videos, I strongly feel that Re(CORD) should have either been a follow up to Color the cover or an album of self covers - one of which I assumed Re(CORD) was going to end up being. Kumi is at a point where she needs to reflect on the past of her career a little and take her foot off the gas of creating any original material, because she clearly has no idea how to move forward with it in a way that won't make fans listen to this new material with disdain and look back on what once was. I didn't think much of Kumi Koda's material back in the day, save for odd songs here and there. But I'mma tell you this; it all sounds amazing compared to this shit we've been getting from her over the past few years. Even songs that I didn't like back then are hitting different when I listen to them now, because this current shit is just THAT bad.

Kumi Koda keeps putting out albums which aren't reflective of what I feel she is capable of. But maybe she isn't capable of more than what she's been giving us, and it's my wishful thinking manifesting a whole side of Kumi Koda which isn't actually there. Because she really has been showing us the type of artist that she is (or isn't) for  a considerably long time now. As much as I joke about Ayumi Hamasaki's fall off, at least she had a music style that was hers and she managed to give us two decent, if safe and boring albums (A One and M(a)de in Japan) post her Party Queen slump. Kumi Koda just keeps trotting out these messy, forgettable albums, which are just plain bad and show absolutely zero growth. None what-so-fucking-ever.

Re(CORD) is another bad album in a string of bad albums. Kumi Koda needs to take a time out. And she also needs new management and an A&R who has a vision. Otherwise she's going to lose fans. Folk just won't bother listening to Kumi's albums anymore, if the precedent is that we're just going to keep getting the same shit. And at this rate, she may as well just Re(TIRE).


■ Summer Time
■ OMG 🏆