Album Review: Kumi Koda - Bon Voyage

Album Review: Kumi Koda (ε€–η”° δΎ†ζœͺ) - Bon Voyage | Random J Pop

Looking back on Kumi Koda's discography, which I will be referring to as the Kumi Musical Universe, you can divide it into three phases. Affection to Secret was phase 1: Kumi emulating other artists to find her own sound, but never really finding it, and then getting stuck in this loop of giving us the same albums over and over. Kingdom to Japonesque was phase 2: Kumi trying to give us something a bit different, leaning further into certain styles, whilst pulling away from others, but still not really owning a sound and still copying others. Bon Voyage was the start of phase 3: The downfall. Where Kumi Koda's music devolved into either complete mess, or songs that were either here nor there.

Bon Voyage was a fitting title for this album, because it was Kumi's music setting sail and heading for the iceberg.

If there is one thing that Kumi Koda has always lacked since the beginning, it's musical direction. Only during phase 2 of the KMU did things start to streamline somewhat. The albums weren't perfect, but there was at least some semblance of Kumi starting to realise what had worked for her on previous albums and trying to tap back into that. Bon Voyage feels like a huge jump back from the work that Kumi had put in on Deja Vu and Universe, the latter of which was a legitimately good album. Then there are her 2 cover albums, which left me so fucking confused, because they both exhibited more of what I wanted from Kumi, that for some reason she just wasn't able to give me on an original album. Kumi clearly values fame and being a celebrity more than her music. Bon Voyage is not the type of album an artist who is serious about their craft releases when they are 12 years into their career, and this is precisely why Kumi Koda's musical legacy will never touch that of the likes of Namie Amuro, Hikaru Utada or Ayumi Hamasaki - all of whom had already built that legacy with their discographies by this point in their careers. And in Hikaru and Namie's case, they went on to build on it further. Kumi's approach to music feels like pot luck and an obligation, as opposed to something she truly cares about. And maybe this is the issue. Because nobody who cares about their music would release an album this throwaway and forgettable.

Album Review: Kumi Koda (ε€–η”° δΎ†ζœͺ) - Bon Voyage | Random J Pop

Bon Voyage is a weird album, because it kick started this trend of Kumi not following trends; which sounds great on paper from an artist who I've criticised numerous times for following trends - but the music end result is just blandness and mediocrity. Bon Voyage generally sounds like it's about 10 years late on everything. We get these really brassy style cuts, which were all the rage following BeyoncΓ©'s solo career debut with "Crazy in Love", from which point horn sections on songs and Go-Go inspired percussion would be THE popular sound on radio for the next 2 to 5 years. The man responsible, Rich Harrison, would also go on to produce smash hits such as Amerie's "One Thing", the Missy single that never was "Can't Stop" and Jennifer Lopez's (originally Usher's) "Get Right", which would then be ripped off by Namie Amuro for "Can't Sleep, Can't Eat, I'm Sick" - which was a great song and actually better than J.Lo's. So Kumi Koda hopping on this 7 years later with such lacklustre takes on the sound with "Show Me Your Holla" is as baffling as that song title itself.

We also get Dancehall and Reggaeton-lite infused Pop songs which were also all the rage back in 2007, with songs like "Loaded" and "Dreaming Now", both of which sound like old school Red One productions. It's like Kumi Koda said 'Give me songs that sound like Kat Deluna' and then gave us beige versions of them.

The sad thing about these sounds is that they would have made sense for this album if they were executed well, and the whole album focused on them to package Bon Voyage conceptually. The brassy, almost Burlesque style sounds suit the visuals for the album, whilst the Dancehall and Reggaeton infused Pop songs suit the title, because they feel like a getaway and a good time. None of these songs are flat out terrible, but they each have something about them which prevents them from being wholly good. The verses and chorus on "Show Me Your Holla"  are terrible. Even Kumi's fun and energetic performance can't save it. The one thing that Rich Harrison was great at was song structure, flow and progression. He was a master at having songs have these really great anchoring hooks that sounded bombastic, without swallowing the verses and pre-choruses. "Show Me Your Holla" doesn't get any of this. So it just ends up sounding, for the lack of a better term, flimsy. "Let's Show Tonight" is nice and has Kumi sat in that lower register where she sounds her best, but it's only a minute and a half long, and is then followed a minute long interlude. Yep. Trash sequencing is here y'all. It wouldn't be a Kumi Koda album without it.

The Red One knock-offs sound good, but again, the song structures are weird and there are decisions made with the arrangements and the vocal production which are baffling to me. Kumi is auto-tuned on "Loaded", when she shouldn't have been. And she also sings over Sean Paul's pre-chorus which just sounds messy, because it's hard to make out what either of them are saying, until you realise that Kumi is actually saying the same thing as Sean Paul, but not exactly what he's saying, and with a slightly different rhythmic pattern. It's a mess. Every time I listen to it, I wonder how the engineer and the mixer let it happen. Why have Sean Paul on a song, if you're just going to waffle over his verse?

Album Review: Kumi Koda (ε€–η”° δΎ†ζœͺ) - Bon Voyage | Random J Pop

Bon Voyage sounds like about 4 different albums. There is no fucking cohesion with this thing what-so-ever. We get a couple of Pop tinged rock songs, which aren't bad. "LALALALALA" is actually really good. I don't even know what genre you'd categorize "Crank That Bass" as, but it's fucking awful. We also get the obligatory wannabe hood bangers than Kumi can't seem to leave alone. Another album intro which has nothing to do with anything, and sounds like every other damn album intro Kumi has given us. I don't get why she keeps referring to these damn intros as "Introduction ~[Album title]~" when they all sound like they're introducing the same thing. Then there's "Touch Down" which just sounds completely out of place, even on an album as hodge-podged as this.

Ballads? Yeah, Kumi is over those. We get one, "Koishikute", but it doesn't hold a candle to some of her earlier ballads. Nice? Yes. Memorable? Sorry, what was the song again? Kumi would have been better off leaving this album ballad-less, because "Koishikute" sticks out like a sore thumb.

Album Review: Kumi Koda (ε€–η”° δΎ†ζœͺ) - Bon Voyage | Random J Pop

In a move that I'm going to assume was due to Namie Amuro being the HBIC at Avex circa 2008 onwards, and smashing Ayu and Kumi's first week sales to smithereens with Uncontrolled and Feel, two albums which featured English language songs - Bon Voyage features a fair amount of English. Kumi hasn't committed this much English to song since her English versions of "Real Emotion" and "1000 Words", which Avex told her they were going to release and then had them wiped from the Avex servers.

Kumi's English is pretty inconsistent, as Namie's also was; but it's in that weird place of being so difficult to make out at times that you don't even realise that Kumi is singing in English. I am not a Japanese speaker, and Namie is not an English speaker. But it's clear to me when Namie flips to English and back to Japanese within a verse or a line of a song. With Kumi, sometimes there's no clear distinction until I'm like 'Wait, that doesn't sound like Japanese!? OH. It's English!'. When it's a verse that it just in English, it's fine. Her English sounds great on "U Know". But when Kumi is riding a beat and switching between English and Japanese, it doesn't always work.

Namie had said that she started singing songs in English because when the songs were sent to her they were already in English, and it was easier to just sing them as such, rather than having them be flipped into Japanese where melodies and flow would probably change. I'm not really buying it, in light of songs such as "Yeah-Oh" and "Go Round" sounding better in a Japanese / English hybrid than they do in complete English. Also, a good songwriter will retain the flow and melody of the original lyrics. But anyway. Namie's English songs were good. And if any of them weren't, the English wasn't the reason why. Just as the English doesn't ruin Kumi's songs. But where-as Namie singing in English didn't seem strange and in an odd way made sense, as is the case with almost everything Kumi does musically, her decision to start working with primarily European producers and sing in English is probably because Namie started to do it. It's just Kumi bandwagoning for the sake of bandwagoning, as usual, and not pushing anything forward or offering anything new as she does so.

Album Review: Kumi Koda (ε€–η”° δΎ†ζœͺ) - Bon Voyage | Random J Pop

As is the case with one too many of Kumi Koda's albums, Bon Voyage has no sense of consistency, no theme, and a goal which seems so shallow with an end result which is so...nothing. This album is just nothing. It doesn't contribute anything to J-Pop. It adds nothing to Kumi Koda. Bon Voyage brings absolutely nothing to the table whatsoever. All Kumi Koda seemed to want to do on this album is sing as much English on songs as she could. This would be fine, if the songs were actually good, which is the difference between this album and the likes of Uncontrolled and Feel. These weren't great albums by any means, but they sound like masterpieces compared to this. And they at least had an a handful a piece of great songs. There is no denying "In the Spotlight (Tokyo)", "Singing Yeah-Oh", "Let's Go", "Hands On Me" and "Heaven".

Bon Voyage is so damn unremarkable that it's actually remarkable. It's another clear sign that Kumi Koda has no real sense of self when it comes to her own music, and that she'll just do what other artists are doing, with no regard for fit, what makes what they did work and what it means for her. It's shameless and a shame given that she has such a good voice, and has shown she can deliver something of note and worthwhile with Eternity ~Love & Songs~ and Color the Cover.

πŸ‘πŸΎ It has moments of fun.
πŸ‘ŽπŸΎ It's all forgettable.


■ Loaded
■ On Your Side
■ U Know