Album review: Kumi Koda - DNA

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - DNA | Random J Pop

I'm messy. So it tickles me that in the album intro Kumi is declaring that her music is built from her DNA, when her whole career has been built on imitation, her music is lacklustre and two of her best albums are cover albums. But okay. Go off bitch.

DNA is the second of two albums that Kumi had slated for a release in 2018. With W Face we got two albums at the same. This time around, the albums were released 6 months apart; with one dropping at the start of the year and the second dropping at the tail end of Summer. Upon release, everybody realised that there was no obvious split which was occurring with the vibes and sounds of each album, as was the case W Face, where W Face -Outside- was the 'Urban' disc and W Face -Inside- was the pop and ballad heavy disc. AND and DNA are cut from the same cloth. However, DNA is the meat and potatoes of the two releases - feeling far more like an actual album and less of a stop gap collection of songs, which is what AND felt like.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - DNA | Random J Pop

As was the case with AND, the sound of DNA is at the every least consistent, which is more than what can be said for almost every album in Kumi Koda's discography to date. This album pretty much renders Walk of My Life irrelevant, because it does what that album did, but better. But let's be really frank. The bar is low. And this being better than Walk of My Life is no grand achievement. It just had to be better.

Suffice to say that DNA is business as usual for Kumi Koda. It's a collection of songs which are so middling that they're neither good nor bad. They're just whatever. Every song on this album is just a few degrees from being something really decent. There is potential in the songs, but there are things that cause them to veer straight into 'meh' territory. "Watch Out!! ~DNA~" could've been a banger if it had a better chorus and Kumi didn't rap. "Chances All" would have been better if it had more of a constant beat behind it instead of this stop and start style production which gives the song too much empty space and highlights how doo-doo the lyrics and Kumi's vocals are. "ScREaM" feels like three songs stitched together which all could have been spun into something good on their own, but don't work together. "Guess Who's Back" has a Walk DMC and Aerosmith "Walk This Way" energy about it which is cool to begin with, but the whole thing unravels by the time the chorus hits, because the song can't decide whether it wants to be Trap or Rock, and finds no good balance. 

DNA also sounds like the result of Kumi falling in love with the harder edge of K-Pop, which also went through (is still going through) this phase of EDM meets Trap. Many of the songs shift and pivot in a similar way that K-Pop songs tend to. The problem here is that none of the producers get that just pulling a Frankenstein on a song is enough to make it interesting and edgy. There still needs to be a good song at the heart of what you're creating. And importantly, there needs to be flow. The song structurally has to make some form of sense. So many of the uptempo songs on DNA just sound like they're being interrupted from verse to chorus to verse.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - DNA | Random J Pop

Kumi's energy on so many of these songs is feral and it gets old quickly. Especially when we've had three albums of this already. Every song devolves into her shouting and rapping, which causes the lyrics of each song to meld into nothing but 'Blah Blah Blah', amongst the busy production, her diction and the vocal effects which make it difficult to take in many of these songs, because it all becomes a cacophony of doo-doo. 

The melodies aren't strong enough. There isn't enough clarity in the vocals. Everything is just loud as fuck. DNA isn't even trying to get you to listen to the songs, it just wants you to hear them.

There are moments of respite in the albums' ballads, which feel a little out of place, but are still welcomed as intermissions from the barrage of noise that is the bulk of this album. Although "Aenaku Naru Kurai Nara" sounds a lot like Dreams Come True's "Suki".

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - DNA | Random J Pop

Kumi Koda is saying that her music is designed from her DNA, but I have no idea what her DNA even is. Over 10 years and 15 albums later, and I have no idea who Kumi Koda is as an artist. I know who Hikaru Utada is. I know who Namie Amuro is. I know who Ayumi Hamasaki is. Kumi? I don't know her. All that DNA shows us is that the vessel I'd long been saying had no sense of musical artistry to her indeed has none. Not even a little bit. 

The majority of what Kumi Koda has done over the course of her career musically has been so careless and thoughtless. With AND and DNA, Kumi comes off like she's this free-spirited woman who does what she like without abandon, but it's because she's musically lost. And even though the illusion is that she's done all of these different styles over the course of her career, she really hasn't. DNA has her land right back where she started, but without the growth and finesse that you'd expect from a return after 16 years and just as many albums.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - DNA | Random J Pop

DNA is more in the vein of what Kumi Koda was releasing in the second phase of her career with albums like Trick. We get Pop cuts, Rock cuts, Dance cuts, Cutesy bops and a couple of ballads. But the quality control is still an issue. DNA is littered with songs which could have been really good, but are bogged down by iffy lyrics, horrid vocal production and no real sense of focus. Songs take off well and then fuck up the landing almost every time. Having a wheel buckle on the runway as a wing scrapes the tarmac is the only thing that Kumi seems to be able to do consistently on this album.

Nothing about DNA feels essential. And to take a collection of songs which aren't that great and then split them across two releases was a mess.


👍🏾 Pretty consistent 
👎🏾 No evolution of Kumi's sound, songwriting, vocals, nothing

■ ScREaM
■ Aenaku Naru Kurai Nara
■ Kokoro Kara i love u
■ Work That