Album Review: Kumi Koda - angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...]

Album Review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...] | Random J Pop

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of J-Pop star Kumi Koda, which is an amazing milestone. Especially for an artist that many may didn't figure would last 20 minutes let alone 20 years. And whilst most would have just released a Best album and called it a day, this is not how Kumi Koda rolls. Remember. This is the same woman who put out a Best album, a studio album and a cover album in the same damn year for her 10th anniversary. This time around, Kumi had a similar mindset and said 'Give them all the things'. So, she released a Best album exclusively for her fanclub, toured the bitch during a pandemic and then released some EP's in time for the holidays, so her fans to listen to whilst they eat their 2-piece chicken meals under the fairy lights.

The two EP's angeL and monsteR retail separately as standard editions, with the special edition featuring the two of them packaged together. So I'mma just review this shit as one album. Because quite honestly, it's what it should have been as standard, if Avex and Kumi weren't so damn hungry to occupy two positions on the Oricon chart. Because no fan is going to just buy one of the EP's, and every store in Japan is going to merchandise them together as a bundle anyway.

So let's get into it.

Album Review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...] | Random J Pop

angeL and monsteR follows the exact same format as Kumi's 2017 double-album release W Face which was split between 2-discs Inside and Outside. Inside featuring lighter pop songs and ballads. Outside being more dance heavy. It's the exact same deal here. As aforementioned, the split across discs and then retailing them separately has nothing to do with a creative decision. It's a way to get people to buy two albums and get two positions on the chart. Kumi Koda has always given us these styles on one album before, and now suddenly she feels they should sit separately? Gurl, please.

It would have been far more interesting to hear what Kumi would have come up with if she had just released one 5 track EP, with no plan to put out some other half to it at a later date. Artists such as Rina Sawayama, Crystal Kay, BoA and Ayumi Hamasaki have all released decent EP's which feel like a very well rounded collection of songs which run from top to bottom; some even with intros, outros and interludes to create a fuller body of work. There is a whole different mindset you have to have when crafting an EP - so seeing what Kumi is able to put out with the restriction of less songs would have been nice to see, because Kumi's approach to angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...] is the same as if she were doing an album. It's literally 5 songs here, 5 songs there and that's it. It's not two EP's produced as two EP's. It's one album that was split into two EP's.

Album Review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...] | Random J Pop

The angeL side is the stronger of the two. The songs themselves aren't anything special, and there's nothing that will stick with you or be remembered in weeks let alone years. But Kumi sounds good singing on them for the most part and the songs are decent. When all else fails with Kumi, she's usually able to, at the very least, deliver a good ballad; and she comes through here. "For..." feels like a throwback to the days of Kumi's earlier ballads: "Your Only One", "Hana", "You" and "Hands" - and it's a welcomed one that reminds you of how good Kumi's ballads truly were. "Run" is one of Kumi Koda's best ballads in quite some time. The music is beautiful, the lyrics are nice. The only thing that lets it down are Kumi's vocals - which sound fine on the verses, but are a bit of a mess on the chorus, where she sounds like she's vomiting words as opposed to singing them properly. And her ad-libs are in every other key except the one the song is in. Had she sung "Run" with the same level of technique as she did "0-ji Mae no Cinderella", this could have been so much better. The more upbeat songs on angeL I just let pass me by without a third thought, because there is nothing to them. "Alarm" sounds like a complete rip-off of Clean Bandit's "Rather Be". And "I'm Lovin" and "Puff" sound so much alike, that I don't get why we needed them both. I'm also very much beyond tired of Kumi doing these cutesy bubblegum songs to the exact same template each time. The record been needing a change.

Album Review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...] | Random J Pop

The montseR side of the album isn't the complete wreck it could have been based on what Kumi has given us in the past, but it's still a type of mess. "Killer monsteR" is Kumi trying to be 'hood' on a trap influenced beat, and yet again missing the marks, as she's continued to do with these types of songs for almost her entire career. At least back in the day we got Kumi acting humorously freak-nasty in a music video. Now we just get her doing her best CL impressions. This style of music has (believe it or not) evolved over the past couple of years, and yet Kumi is giving us the most basic and boring takes on it. Even K-Pop has come along and given us some twists to try and shake things up. Yet, here's Kumi. Being so incredibly basic and giving us nothing. And not that Cassie basic and Cassie nothing which still pops off. "Killer monsteR" song isn't bad, it's just boring. It's not the big explosive album opening anthem that Kumi seems to think it is. "Sing the Truth" follows the same vibe of just being a really hollow take on a style of music that Kumi thinks she sounds good on when she doesn't. There's nothing to these songs to make you vibe. There's no energy to them to get you hyped. They do not slap whatsoever. "Work It" sounds exactly like Girls' Generation's "Catch Me If You Can". "FliCky" is basically "Winner Girls" from her 2014 album Bon Voyage. "No One" is the strongest song on this disc, taking on the island vibe that Stargate ran into the absolute ground with Rihanna circa 2010. The production is a little messy in places, the mixing isn't great, and the auto-tune is too overdone and unnecessary. But "No One" is still hot, and is the only example of a song on monsteR which feels 100% right for Kumi sound-wise. Kumi Koda has put Sean Paul on two songs in the past, and she should've made it a hat trick with "No One". He would have been perfect on this and also handled the slightly awful Japanese-man-try'na-do-dancehall-patwa-style ad-libs. I would say it would be nice to get a video to this, but Kumi ain't that same chick who would have given the mess of her in a Rasta hat with blonde dreadlocks sewn in, whinin' on a beach with the darkest skinned Japanese man she can find - because that is what I would need for this song. 

angeL + monsteR also features the songs that Kumi had released earlier in 2020 as singles, "Puff", "Lucky Star" and "XXKK". They all fit in just fine, but they don't really add to anything to the album, given that they aren't all that great songs, and they have counterparts on the album which sound so similar. "Puff" is nice, but again, we've heard this style of song from Kumi so many damn times over the years and better. Kumi Koda's "Lick Me ♥" from 2012 still rules the roost when it comes to these style of songs, with a very clearly tongue-in-cheek charm which made it even better. "Lucky Star" sounds like re(CORD)'s "Put Your Hands Up!!!". And "XXKK" is Kumi doing her rap foolishness again. As much as I have no time for "XXKK", it would have made a far better album opener than "Killer monsteR", because it has more impact and is more interesting sonically due to the switch in the pre-chorus. But those who have been following Kumi's albums since the beginning, or been on the journey with me of reviewing them all, know that bad sequencing comes with the territory of a Kumi Koda album.

Album Review: Kumi Koda (倖田 來未) - angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...] | Random J Pop

Splitting albums by disc based on sounds doesn't always work. And when it doesn't, it comes of as lazy. If you, as an artist, cannot find a way to make one album out of the songs you've recorded because you find they don't work together on one disc, and not because you have an excess of great material, then maybe there is a problem there. And so often with double disc albums in pop, they absolutely could have worked as a one disc album and would have been far better off for it. Beyoncé's I Am... Sasha Fierce and Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics are two examples of albums which could and should have just been one disc. More songs does not always equals better and it's not the flex that some artists seem to think it is. There are of course some double disc albums out there which are good. Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life comes to mind for me. But very seldom do double albums feel  justified. And in Kumi Koda's case not only did she have a number of songs which could have fit on one disc, but there are instances of song duplication. She could of easily cut songs and just released one EP. But nope. Because Kumi loves excess.

The other issue with splitting albums by sound is that more often than not there is an overlap, and instances where a song on one disc could have featured on another. Further cementing the idea that you could have just put the damn songs together. In angeL + monsteR's case, "No One" is on the monsteR disc, when it could have just as easily been on angeL. This absolutely should have just been a 5 track EP. It would have far better if it were, even if it would be an EP full of songs that fans have heard Kumi give a million times before at this point. But at least the package would have felt a little tighter.

Kumi Koda's music no longer feels essential, because she releases it so frequently and shows no growth with any of it. Ever since Japonesque, Kumi Koda has pretty much been releasing the same album; with no sense of wanting to be better, give something different, be a better singer, or take her artistry seriously. It's frustrating because she is so much better than these dusty-ass albums she keeps releasing. She's shown as much with songs she's put out in the past, and her two amazing cover albums. And yet, here we are. I struggle to name specific songs of Kumi's from any of the albums she released between 2011 and now, because they are so forgettable, and all of her albums just meld into one. Even her bad songs released in the first 10 years of her career were at least still memorable for being bad if nothing else. "Shake It" from Secret and "Bling Bling Bling" from Trick were hot messes, but I still remember them because they were just THAT hot of messes. The same can't be said for anything she's released as of late. It's all so, 'whatever'. And whatever is the best word I can think of to describe angeL + monsteR [My Name Is...].


■ For...
■ Run
■ No One 🏆 J's fave