Album Review: Kumi Koda - Kingdom

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

In 2008 Kumi Koda was on a roll; off the back of an album which charted at number 1 on the Oricon chart, and the albums which came before charting at number 2 and 3. Kumi went into her 7th studio album (Best ~Second Sessions~ was a damn studio album, I don't care what Avex wanna try and say) knowing that she was set. She knew she was a big seller and that she could go on to sell bigger. She knew Avex needed her. She knew that Ayumi was low key afraid of a bitch.

The album title and cover says everything about how Kumi Koda felt and how she saw herself. Royalty. The queen of her own Kingdom.

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

We know who Kumi Koda is visually. This was pretty much set during Feel My Mind. But musically, Kumi Koda was still in flux. She had no real discernible sound or musical angle that was her own. Sure, there was a formula at work on her albums and an expectation. Every album featured a set selection of sounds, where you could expect Kumi Koda to give you a couple of 'Urban' cuts, a Pop bop and some good ballads. But her music was still a sum of other people's parts and just doing what she'd always done just because. None of Kumi Koda's albums felt like she was attempting anything new or trying to better herself.

By the time Kingdom came around, it felt like Kumi Koda was at least trying to find her own lane. Not trying all that hard, but a bitch was at least somewhat aware of her need to have to do it. But wanted the fame and the success so quickly, that she just adopted everybody else's styles, then rinsed and repeated to get there faster. So every album started to feel more like melting pots of ideas and other people's sounds, as opposed to a journey to find her down sound and lock it down. Kumi was so focused on being a star and being compared to an Ayumi Hamasaki that she seemed to forget that she needs to be known for her music too. Sure, Ayu was known for expensive music videos and extravagant tours, but the music was the foundation. Kumi didn't seem to grasp that, and Kingdom is another example of Kumi placing her focus in the wrong things.

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

Kingdom came two years after Black Cherry, with that one gap year occupied with a Best album. The time away did some good, because Kingdom doesn't feel like it's trying to do as much as previous albums. Kingdom is still an album of seizing moments though. "Last Angel" featuring TVXQ who were incredibly popular at the time as still relatively new artists within J-Pop following massive success in South Korea, with a Garage inspired beat which was seeing a revival circa 2007. Fan favourite "But" being a take on the Pop, EDM and New Wave fusion sound that was popularised from 2006 by Nelly Furtado's "Maneater" and Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack". But the results work far better here than they did on previous albums. Even if these edgier cuts stick out like sore thumbs on what is a predominantly Pop album.

Kingdom followed the trend we'd seen with Secret and Best ~Second Session~ by being far less reliant on R&B than her debut album Affection and its follow-ups Grow Into One and Feel My Mind. Pop is the anchor of this album, which ran in accordance to what was happening in the West, where R&B wasn't as big on the radio as it was just a few years prior. Pop was having its comeback under different guises and forms, paving the way for EDM. The album intro is misleading, but Kumi album intros always are, so no surprise there. And the two standout songs ("Last Angel" and "But") are not indicative of the style of Kingdom at all. That sickly sweet Pop shit? THAT is the sound of this album as a whole.

The Pop songs on Kingdom are nice, as they always are, but they offer nothing new. We'd gotten cuts like the cutesy "Anytime" and "Koi no Mahou" before. And then there are the ballads. Same shit. All really nice, but one standout ("Ai no Uta"). The Kumi album formula is at work.

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

Kingdom has it's fair share of good songs. But what hurts Kingdom is that it's just not remarkable as an album. It feels like a step forward in terms of narrowing Kumi's musical focus down, but it also feels like a step back to her debut Affection; where we had gotten nice songs, but a wholly unremarkable, unmemorable album. Everybody loved "But" when it first came out, but it's not much of a staple, and she bettered and overwrote it with "Pop Diva" and "Physical Thing" just a couple of years later.

Kingdom is a good album, but it would have been far better if it had gone through an editing process. This could have been a pretty nice, if safe and middling, 11 track album. But the R&B and Hip-Hop leaning cuts (including the intro), the filler songs and...once again, the sequencing fucks up the flow of the album. But the biggest faltering of this album is how undaring the music is generally.

By this point in Kumi's career she had a really solid handle on delivering good Pop and good ballads, as she should, she'd been trotting them out for 5 years at this point. But there's no succinctness or love present in the song-making process, to create songs which are catchy, memorable and have the potential to stand the test of time. Every Kumi Koda album feels like a lob against the wall to see what sticks and then 'Cool, we're done'. Kingdom is no different. Comparatively, in 2008, Hikaru Utada had released Heart Station and given us "Kiss & Cry", "Beautiful World" and "Prisoner of Love", all of these songs with great hooks and melodies - just as she'd been doing since her debut album. She was in her zone. Namie Amuro had already put out Play a year prior which had "Baby Don't Cry", "Hide & Seek", "Can't Sleep, Can't Eat, I'm Sick" - managing to not only mimic popular songs in the West, but better them (Bitch, "Can't Sleep, Can't Eat, I'm sick" is better than Jennifer Lopez's "Get Right". Fight me). Play was a stellar refinement of what Namie had been aspiring to create for 7 years. Namie was all about bops only. Ayumi Hamasaki had given us a beast like "Mirror". Crystal Kay had given us great songs like "One" and "Namida no Saki Ni" to show that her signature sound was on lock and still has fire as ever, and that she could do something new that was still catchy as fuck and a showcase of her as an artist. And if we want to throw in a wild card, Perfume had given us pop gems "Polyrhythm" and "Secret Secret". Kumi was giving us nice songs, but nothing that felt career defining or memorable. And has good as Kumi's ballads are, there's only three of them I can name, as they all bleed into one more-or-less. All of Kumi's peers were giving us great, memorable Pop songs that continue to stand the test of time as great Pop songs. Meanwhile Kumi is still just doing the same old shit. The fearlessness and focus that she displays in her image isn't translating over to her music.

This is where Kumi Koda's discography is not comparable to Ayumi Hamasaki or Hikaru Utada's, and where the artistry really starts to separate them. Ayumi and Hikaru both had their sounds pretty locked down by their third albums. By album number seven, Namie had finally gotten her musical transition and re-brand in order and delivered a good body of work. And here is Kumi Koda, on album number seven and her shit still isn't all the way together. Kumi Koda has no sound, no style and no finesse when it comes to putting an album together. Her kitchen sink approach is the wrong approach. When you're a Jack of all trades, you're known for nothing. And it's frustrating when you watch an artist who has talent just flounder and be okay with being so middle-of-the-road.

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

Kingdom as a collection of songs is nice, but there is no one absolutely amazing, definable song which makes this album a stand out in any way shape or form. Kumi Koda still hasn't mastered the art of putting together an album. The Japanese music release format differs greatly to other regions, in that we can get 6 to 7 seconds from an album before we even get an album. And very often songs are recorded on a song by song basis with the intent of them being singles - with no forward thinking being considered for these songs having to eventually sit on an album together. But even so, many artists have found ways to make this work, so that by the end of it, the album still feels like a body of work. And with Kumi Koda playing with release formats just as she did with Best ~Second Session~ and after 7 albums, you'd think she'd have some consideration for her albums and how she puts them together. But nope.

The only thing that I remember Kingdom for is the album that has the song with TVXQ on it. Nothing about the other songs or the sound of the album define it for me. Kingdom looks great, but its sound is nowhere near as bodacious and bold as the regality of the album cover.

πŸ‘πŸΎ "Last Angel" and "But" are bops
πŸ‘ŽπŸΎ Kingdom is the same old shit and by this point, it's tiring


■ Himitsu
■ Ai no Uta
■ But
■ Koi no Mahou
■ Aishou
■ Anata ga Shite Kureta Koto