EP review: Crystal Kay - Shining

EP review: Crystal Kay - Shining | Random J Pop

2007 was a great year for Crystal. She had a top 20 song featured in a popular anime, followed by an album which debuted at number 1 on the Oricon, which had the iron so hot that she struck and released a Christmas EP in time for the holidays.

Now, Christmas albums of any sort aren't really common in J-Pop, although Christmas themed songs and music videos are. Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan, but it's very much acknowledged. In fact, Japan goes harder at Christmas than most places do. But still, Japanese artists releasing Christmas albums isn't as common as it is in the US. So for Crystal Kay to release a Christmas themed EP was a bit of a risk, even for somebody who was in the midst of success, whose sound was more westernised than most, and from an artist that many didn't see as Japanese anyway. But she did it.

Shining wasn't this greatly thought out project though. And in all fairness, not all Christmas albums are. They are usually just cash grabs. Shining featured five songs: one of which is a remix, and only two of which were new songs at the time. "Happy 045 Xmas" was a digital single two years before the release of Shining, and "No More Blues Christmas" featured on Crystal's 2003 album Natural. So, if you're a CK fan, you're not getting the best value for money with this EP. And if you're new to Crystal, there isn't really much to sink your teeth into.

The album title track "Shining" is pretty much what you'd expect from Crystal Kay in 2007. By the time "Shining" had released, Crystal had a signature sound that had been established for at least three albums, and its release came just mere months after Crystal Kay's first (and only) number 1 album, All Yours. All Yours had a very festive vibe about it generally, which Sony capitalised on by re-releasing a Winter Special Package version of it the same month that Shining had released. So "Shining" sounds like an extension of All Yours. It's a really lovely song and the familiarity of the signature CK sound is one which will resonate with fans who got put onto her music circa 2005. But it is a really safe sounding song, and one which doesn't feel all that festive without the horrendous green screen music video of everybody shaking their titties in the snow outside of a PARCO store. The Jazztronik remix is my preferred version of "Shining", just because it is something a little different. There is nothing Christmassy about the new production what-so-ever, but it is vastly different from Crystal's usual MO, whilst also feeling so right for her voice and signalling a style that she could (and eventually did) move into. However, I do wish that there were an alternate version of "Shining" which did feature all of the Christmas clichés. The original version, as nice as it is, does feel like a song which could have been included on All Yours, where it would have fit far better than it ended up doing on its follow-up album Color Change!.

"Snowflake" is the EP's quintessential ballad. Had this been released as a single, the Shining EP probably would have fared far better, because we know Japan loves a good winter ballad, and this right here is a good 'un. "Snowflake" was a pretty typical ballad for Crystal, sounding a lot like her hit song "Kiss".

"Happy 045 Xmas" the banger of the EP, sounding like the first cousin of "Two As One" from Call Me Miss.... As with "Shining" it's a nice song with a great vibe, even if it does feel like a CK song you've heard before that could have just been put on a previous album. The bridge section on this is so good that I almost wish this had been expanded into a full song. But the whole thing pops. If you live for Crystal's old school Sony catalog bops, this will be your jam.

"No More Blues Christmas" is a cover of the Natalie King Cole song from her Christmas album Holly & Ivy. It's a perfect song for Crystal to cover, as the style of the original and the arrangements are SO Crystal Kay. As with "Snowflake", "No More Blues Christmas" has the familiarity of "Kiss", even though the song was released before it. This is a really nice number for those who like slightly depressing Christmas songs which put you in your feelings. But because this song was already 4 years old by the time Shining has released, and Crystal's voice had grown significantly in that time, her voice doesn't sound as good here as it does on the other songs. She definitely should have re-recorded this for the sake of consistency and doing the song a better justice.

EP review: Crystal Kay - Shining | Random J Pop

Shining is a really nice EP. But so little of it sounds Christmassy, which is great if you're one for Christmas songs which avoid the typical tropes. I get that Crystal and Sony were trying to really push her signature sound, but there were ways they could have gone about it whilst keeping it wholly festive. There are songs that Crystal has in her discography which sound far more festive than the songs on this EP: "Koi Ni Ochitara", "Kirakuni", "Hero", "Cherish". Shining honestly feels more like a B-Side EP than it does a Christmas album. This isn't a bad thing. It's just a shame that the producers involved didn't take the theme and do more with it sonically to create something that felt less like cuts for a regular Crystal Kay album; because Shining doesn't offer anything that Crystal hadn't given for Call Me Miss... or All Yours. And two of the songs are literally songs that Crystal has given us before.

Having Crystal cover a globally known traditional Christmas song and one well known Japanese Christmas song would have also done wonders for this EP, to make it feel a little more well-rounded, considered and justifiable as an EP. It would have given the EP an immediate sense of familiarity to those who are new to it, as "No More Blues Christmas" is a rather obscure choice on its lonesome.

Whilst no song on this EP is bad, "Shining" really coulda just been a maxi single. Or a single with "Snowflake" as the B-side and the Jazztronik remix of "Shining". But that said, Shining still provides a nice little selection of songs to add to your CK song pile if you don't have any of them.

VERDICT: GONNA MAKE YOU KIRA KIRA

Highlights:
■ Snowflake
■ Happy 045 Xmas 🏆 J's fave
■ Shining (Jazztronik Remix)

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