Album review: Hiromi - Honesty

Album review: Hiromi / 宏実 - Honesty | Random J Pop

I had honestly passed on Honesty pretty quickly. Something about it just felt off and a little different from what I was expecting following Hiromi's first two albums Rainbow and Magic, which felt like they were cut from the same cloth and part of a clear vision that Hiromi has for her music. But upon revisiting Honesty again, I realised that Hiromi's vision is still there. The decision to pare back on pretty much everything threw me at first. But the Hiromi I fell for on her debut is still here. She's just a little more muted, which may be in part due to the influence of the label (the same thing we've seen happen with Crystal Kay over the years), or maybe she was just over it after putting so much into her previous albums just for them to flop. But even so, Hiromi gave more on this album than I gave her credit for.

Album review: Hiromi / 宏実 - Honesty | Random J Pop

Hiromi operates in three modes. Bangers. Slow jams. Croony-ass ballads. This was the case with Rainbow and Magic, and shit hasn't changed here with Honesty. These are her 3 distinct lanes, and I ain't mad at it. Hiromi works them well.

The bangers are actually some of the weakest songs on this album, which isn't much of a revelation, given that some of Rainbow and Magic's best songs were the slower cuts. But they still had some great bangers. Here however, whilst we get some really fun songs, they aren't all that memorable. "One Love" is anthemic and will get the shoulders bouncing, but it's pretty much a knock-off of Keri Hilson's "Knock You Down". "Butterflies" is a really cute track for those who like their bops sugary sweet and 80s, but it's not a song you'll find yourself running back as often as something like "Yes" or "More & More".

Hiromi's slow jams are her gambits, and she has a formula and a bit of a template with one of them in particular, which I actually quite like. On Rainbow we got "Hikari Hoshi", on Magic we got "Cook" and on Honesty we get "Mikansei". Hiromi seems to like incorporating traditional Japanese sounds into her slow jams, which makes complete sense given that she loves R&B and is Japanese. This fusion is something that we've seen and heard done in R&B for years, sometimes problematically with the sound stemming from the exotic archetypes associated with Asian women. Whilst I don't think Hiromi taking on this sound is quite as political as her reclaiming it, it's still cool none the less, and feels far less icky. But Hiromi also shows growth with these songs. "Ikari Hoshi" was nice, but a little loose in places and felt like it was trying to be another song. "Cook" was far tighter. And "Mikansei" is spot on. The music, the vocals, the vibes. Tens across the board. There are so few artists in J-R&B who can do a good slow jam, but Hiromi is one of them.

Album review: Hiromi / 宏実 - Honesty | Random J Pop

Hiromi isn't known for her ballads, despite most of her singles being...ballads. But she writes some good ones. An issue with Hiromi's ballads in the past was that they'd start off nice, but when they really start to get going and require her to give more vocally, Hiromi is left floundering outside of a range that she just does not have. It rendered many of these songs unlistenable. On Honesty, Hiromi shows a far better understanding of her voice and what works for it. One of which is singing in her low to mid register, where she sounds really good and exhibits a level of control that you wouldn't expect if you came in off of her uptempos songs where she always sings high. There are instances such as on "I Need You -Aisaretai-" where Hiromi does reach for notes, but she still maintains control and knows her limitations; opting not to do too much. Ballads were once Hiromi's Achilles heel, but now they're where Hiromi shows the most confidence vocally.

None of the ballads on this album are your typical J-Ballads, with sweeping strings and magnificent builds. Everything is very stripped down, with Hiromi's vocal being placed firm and centre. "The Light" has a similar vibe to it as Namie Amuro's "Hero", with a music arrangement which feels like it's driving and pushing her. "Saigo no Aishiteru" is just Hiromi a piano and a small band giving you lounge from start to finish. It's just a shame that the ballads are so oddly placed in the album, because they're made to feel like they're dragging the vibe of it down or stopping it from being fun - when they're actually some of the best songs on the album, and the ones which best show her artistic and vocal growth.

Album review: Hiromi / 宏実 - Honesty | Random J Pop

The sequencing on Honesty does it a massive disservice. Opening the album with "I Need You -Aisaretai-" instead of "One Love" was the first mistake. The other was just putting the songs together without any real consideration as to what would not only create the best listening experience, but highlight every song. The thoughtless way in which the songs are sequenced is what makes them and the whole album so easy to pass on. The sounds on this album are far from interesting or impactful. But even so, the sequencing makes the songs come off far worse than they actually are.

Album review: Hiromi / 宏実 - Honesty | Random J Pop

It's a shame that Hiromi's career was pretty much already Thelma and Lousing off a cliff from the very beginning, because she dropped two great albums and a third, which whilst not as good as Rainbow or Magic, is still a decent enough album. Honesty is an easy album to overlook because it doesn't feature as many songs that really strike you in-between the eyes, but that doesn't make it bad. One solution would have been cutting the tracklist down to a tight 11 songs. Another would be just making it an EP. This isn't the more exciting of albums in comparison to what Hiromi fans know she's capable of, but there are gems here if you take the time to listen to it.


■ One Love
■ Teenage Love
■ Fuiuchi Love
■ Saigo no Aishiteru
■ Butterflies
■ Mikansei 🏆 J's fave