Album review: Kumi Koda - Walk of my Life

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Walk of My Life | Random J Pop

Every Pop star goes through a phase and releases an album which is 'a real closer look at who I am'. After giving us a decade of personas and characters, Kumi finally decided to take out her hair extensions, hang up the wigs, get a low-key mani and just give us her without any façade or theatrics. And the result is Walk of My Life. But it's all an aesthetic. Ain't a damn thing changed underneath it all. Kumi still has no sense of her own sound, what she's doing or what her musical identity is behind the personas.

Walk of My Life pretty much picks up from the ship wreckage of Bon Voyage. The album is once again helmed by a team of European songwriters and producers, who give Kumi a decidedly more European sound. It's likely that this is a reflection of the US soundscape at the time, when Euro Dance music was still relatively popular and European producers aside from Max Martin and Stargate were being listed in the liner notes of US releases with increasing frequency. Or maybe it was in reaction to Namie Amuro's Feel, which had shifted pretty hard to a Euro focused Dance sound, off the back of Namie doing all the sounds Kumi had been trying to do, but doing them better. The intro to Walk of My Life is produced by the same man behind Namie's "Hands on Me" (you can hear it) and I don't think that's a coincidence. It is a welcomed turn however, because it gives the album (or some of it) a slightly different flavour to some of Kumi's others.

Walk of My Life brings some new styles into the mix, some of which work. Some of the songs have a Fatboy Slim and William Orbit vibe to them, which is pretty cool. There are some really well produced songs on this album. But the problem is the songwriting and the arrangements - the former of which started to become an issue on Kumi's Kingdom album.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Walk of My Life | Random J Pop

So many of the songs on Walk of My Life have the potential to be so much better than they are. We get songs with great production, but shoddy song structures and doo-doo choruses. We get songs with decent structures, but rubbish arrangements. We get songs with Kumi rapping, when she would have been better of singing. It's another case of Kumi Koda giving us an album where if it's not one thing, then it's a damn 'nother. "Lippy" has a great beat on it and Kumi sounds great on the verses, but the chorus is far too repetitive and doesn't lift the song in the way it needs to. Having the drums switch into double time as they do for the intro and post chorus would've have helped some. The same goes for "Mercedes". Great vibe. Great production. But the chorus is so damn flat; so the entire song just stays at one level, and never shifts in the way you expect it to based on the energy that Kumi is giving it. "Piece of the Puzzle" has a really good sound, but the lyrics and Kumi's vocals are just awful. I struggle to think of a song where I didn't think 'This could have been better, if only'. All of the songs on this album lack that special X-factor to make them truly pop. All potential, but no potency.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Walk of My Life | Random J Pop

Walk of My Life is another Kumi Koda album where the title and the visuals don't really match the music. Not that this is a requirement by any means. But it shows how there is a disconnect between how Kumi wants us to see these albums versus how we hear them. As was the case with Bon Voyage, it seems at some point that there was some type of theme that was thought about and considered, but it just didn't carry through. I'm really not surprised. It's clear that after 13 studio albums (I count Best ~Second session~ as a studio album, 'cos that shit is not a Best album) Kumi Koda isn't capable of giving us a consistent album where everything ties in together. Walk of My Life seems caught between trying to be an introspective delve into Kumi as a person and Kumi's party girl persona, but the two never quite meet in the middle. Literally. The album opens ("Dance in the Rain") and ends ("Walk of My Life") with what are essentially similar sounding songs which match each other in tonality and theme - but very little in between them which sound like they're cut from the same cloth. It causes you to wonder what the album is trying to ultimately do and what Kumi Koda is trying to convey. This stark duality is probably why we got W Face.

Kumi is throwing far less at the wall to see what sticks, but she's still showing an inability to put together an original album which feels 100% cohesive and thought out. I feel the same way about this album as I did Bon Voyage, which is that it would have worked so much better as a concept album of sorts. Bon Voyage should have been a complete party album, but then we got a ballad slapped in and then this tug-of-war between Burlesque horn jaunts, Pop leaning Rock and Pop meets Reggaeton. This album does the exact same thing, just with a couple of different sounds. Walk of My Life should have been EDM and UK Dance focused, because it seems it's what the album wanted to be anyway, but there was no commitment to see it through. So we basically get Bon Voyage 2.0.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Walk of My Life | Random J Pop

Kumi's vocals stand out on this album, but not always in the best of ways. The uptempo party songs show that Kumi always brings great energy, even the songs themselves are doo-doo and her singing technique is a mess. She's not really showing off her vocals on these songs, but you can tell that she can sing because of certain notes that she hits when she's giving Michael Jackson's squeals and trills, and the sense of rhythm that she has on these songs. But on the slower more mid-tempo songs, Kumi's vocal technique, or lack thereof really shows. Kumi has developed this particular way in which she sings, that I can't describe any other way than it sounds like she's vomiting words. And she also does this thing where she swings notes instead of singing them straight. Listen to how she sings on Eternity ~Love & Songs~ and Color the Cover in comparison to how she sings on Walk of My Life and you'll hear a clear difference. There is a smoothness, directness and awareness of technique that she shows on her cover albums. On Walk of My Life, she's just wailing over beats. And if she isn't wailing like a seal, then she's rapping. I'm not going to speak on behalf of the entire Kumi Koda fanbase, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they'd probably like to hear her actually sing, and sing good.

Album review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - Walk of My Life | Random J Pop

Listening to this album it's really hard to deduce what Kumi ultimately wants to do with her music and how she wants to position herself as an artist - or if these are even things that she's considering. 

To give you the short of it, Walk of My Life is not a memorable album. It's wholly unremarkable. Kumi really gave us nothing. This package would have been far tighter if it had stuck to a sound and a theme and been about 3 songs shorter. I mean, did we really need both "Hotel" AND "Gimme U"? They are the same damn song. But the most glaring issue is that the songs just aren't great. There's no quality control which is taking place to ensure the songs are the best that they can be. Expecting an album to release where every single song bangs out of the gate is a lot. But to not even give us half an album of great songs? Not even a couple!? Gurl, REALLY? There's a complacency which I feel stems from 'the song sounds good enough' and 'It's Kumi Koda' - which isn't enough. The songs shouldn't just sound good enough. The songs shouldn't solely rely on Kumi's (dwindling) currency to float them. The songs just need to be really fucking good. Period. They need to bring something to the table, and Walk of My Life turns up empty handed.

Despite Kumi having a discography which I feel is extremely light on great top to bottom albums, I would still regard some of her weaker albums as essentials based on how good some of the songs on them are, what they represent as moments in J-Pop and also Kumi's career. But Walk of My Life isn't one of them. The only value this album offers, is that it provides context as to why we got W Face

If you want an album which does what Kumi tried to do here, but does it well and with finesse, go listen to Namie Amuro's _genic.

👍🏾 It has moments of fun.
👎🏾 It's all forgettable.


■ Lippy
■ Mercedes
■ Fake Tongue