Album review: Kumi Koda - Eternity ~Love & Songs~

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Eternity ~Love & Songs~ | Random J Pop

Cover albums are a rite of passage for many Japanese artists. And with Kumi Koda out here releasing an album a year and giving us Best albums after 3 albums, remix albums, a single a week and all manner of other nonsense to build out that discography page on generasia, of course a bitch was gonna drop a covers album.

Given that Kumi Koda hadn't yet gotten around to releasing a good, solid, top to bottom album yet, to do a covers album was a risk. But thinking about it, it was probably the best thing she could have done. After being given so much freedom and free reign on her material and all manner of styles, maybe the restriction of working with the confines of an existing song would actually do something for Kumi and her approach to her original material. Something sure-as-hell clicked somewhere, because Eternity ~Love & Songs~ wound up being one of Kumi's better releases.

I honestly figured Kumi Koda would step up and ruin all these people's songs, but she didn't. And in some cases she managed to make some of them better.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Eternity ~Love & Songs~ | Random J Pop

Kumi Koda's covers oscillate between faithful and 'let's just change the whole fucking thing'. But the commonality regardless of what Kumi does to the cover is that she still matches the energy of the original, whilst making the song her own. Kumi's cover of Akina Nakamori's "Tattoo" turns a jazz influenced, camp spy movie sounding-ass song into an 80s Rock number, but she still retains the mischievous style of Akina's delivery. Seiko Matsuda's "Sweet Memories" is transformed from a twinkly 80s ballad into a Bossa Nova style bop you'd expect to hear in a Japanese cafe, but it's still as sweet on the ear as the original. Kumi Koda takes a thrashy punk ass song like "Chiisa na koi no uta" and turns it into a nice little Stargate sounding jaunt, whilst still retaining the free spirited Summer vibe of the original. But then you have a cover like "0-ji Mae no Tsunderella" and "Swallowtail Butterfly ~Ai no Uta~" which are almost identical to the originals. These two covers in particular are actually better than the originals. The crazy thing with the covers which got completely flipped is that Kumi would have sounded great covering the songs with their original arrangements. But I like that a risk was taken to change them and give Kumi Koda something which could easily fit into setlists without having to be altered or changed to sit alongside her original material.

Kumi Koda is one of the most inconsistent artists in J-Pop. But if there's one thing she at the very least manages to get right and stay consistent with, it's her ballads. And Eternity ~Love & Songs~ features a handful of them. Kumi Koda covers her sister Misono's song "0-ji Mae no Tsunderella" and shits on her. She sounds so much better than her sister on the song, and the arrangements being nothing but Kumi singing with a piano makes this song so much more powerful and beautiful than the original. Kumi coulda given us all sorts of wails 'n' shit, as Misono does on her version. But instead she's far more restrained and brings everything down, when she could have taken it up as Misono did for the sake of honouring the original. This might be one of the first songs where Kumi Koda's voice is front and centre, and draws your attention to her vocals. Kumi also turns in solid vocal performances on "Swallowtail Butterfly ~Ai no Uta~" and "Sayonara no Mukougawa". This is what makes listening to some of Kumi's original material so frustrating, because she and her producers clearly know how and where Kumi's voice sounds its best, and yet she be wailing like Super Mario falling to his doom on the track.

Despite the album cover looking like a funeral program, Eternity ~Love & Songs~ does feature uptempo songs. "Tattoo", "Megumi no Hito" and "Be My Baby". The originals were all uptempo and Kumi's covers crank that up a notch. All three are really good songs, but they do feel out of place on this album. Between the album title, the album cover and the majority of the songs on this album, I get the feeling that perhaps Eternity ~Love & Songs~ was supposed to be a mid-tempo and ballads focused album. But I guess Kumi's A&R or Kumi herself figured 'We need uptempo Pop bops'. Oddly enough, "Megumi no Hito" and "Be My Baby" both ended up with music videos a year later, despite not being representative of this album at all. "Tattoo", "Megumi no Hito" and "Be My Baby" are decent songs, but hey throw the flow of this album the album off. Sequencing on Kumi Koda's albums is always a damn issue. But no matter how you order the tracks on this album, none of these songs really fit. They would have been better suited to Kumi Koda's second cover album Color The Cover. (We'll get to this album, don't you worry).

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Eternity ~Love & Songs~ | Random J Pop

Even though Eternity ~Love & Songs~  adheres to many of the same sounds as a Kumi Koda album, it feels so much more refined within the constraints of other people's songs. This highlights a glaring issue I had with Kingdom, which is that the songwriting and the structure of some of the songs just weren't strong or punchy enough. The selection of songs here are all good Pop records with great hooks and catchy melodies, which make them stick in ways I felt that many of the songs on Kingdom did not.

Eternity ~Love & Songs~ also shows that Kumi Koda can sing. We always knew that she could, but the problem is that much like somebody like say...Christina Aguilera, she doesn't always sing well. As is customary in J-Pop for many female singers, she often sings high and out of her sweet spot. On this album, Kumi does the opposite and gives us vocals in the register that suits her best. Her low registers. This is partly because most of the covers on this album are either from male singers, and Kumi didn't really fuck with the key, or because the original songs were from women who sung low (i.e Akina Nakamori's "Tattoo" and Momoe Yamaguchi's "Sayonara no Mukogawa"). It works wonders, because Kumi has such a nice tone and richness to her voice which get lost the higher she goes. Kumi Koda has a distinct voice general, so regardless of what key she sings in, you can pick her voice out. But Kumi's true vocal uniqueness is when she sings low, because so few female Japanese Pop singers do, and few can go as low as she can and still maintain the control that she has. Eternity ~Love & Songs~ is the first album where I felt I could take Kumi seriously as an actual singer. She sounds great, and she knows it, which is probably why she started to make an effort to sing lower far more frequently on future songs.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Eternity ~Love & Songs~ | Random J Pop

Eternity ~Love & Songs~ doesn't do anything drastic to the Kumi Koda formula, yet manages to be a far better album and showcase of Kumi Koda than any of the albums that came before. By stripping out the wanna-R&Be cuts, keeping the tracklist short 'n' sweet and not trying to do too much, Kumi managed to craft something genuinely good which feels essential to showcasing her artistry. After 9 studio albums (I count Best ~Second Sessions~ as a studio album, I don't give a fuck) she's finally shown that she can deliver a solid top to bottom album which doesn't feel so superfluous and secondary to her image.

Eternity ~Love & Songs~ was an album that got overlooked, but an album in the Kumi Koda discography that I would recommend above many of the others; on the strength of it as a body of work, and not just because it has one or two great songs which define it.

👍🏾 Great covers and a solid showcase of Kumi Koda as a singer
👎🏾 "Tattoo", "Megumi no Hito" and "Be My Baby" (as good as they are) feel a little out of place


■ Ienai yo
■ Love Is Over
■ 0-ji Mae no Tsunderella 🏆
■ Be My Baby
■ Chiisa na Koi no Uta
■ Sayonara no Mukougawa