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EP review: Beni - Y/our Song

EP review: Beni - Y/our Song | Random J Pop

After her 2011 release Fortune, Beni started to see surprising success with cover albums, which saw her doing the unthinkable and outselling Ayumi Hamasaki with an album, which just went so show how much her shit had fallen off. But the reverse Uno on Ayu then triggered a set of releases from Beni where the quality just got worse over time.

Beni slowly started to divorce herself from songwriting and production teams (primarily Daisuke Imai) that had worked for her so well leading up to that point of her hitting success with a cover album. Beni seemed to figure that the shift was the reason for the success, and was one she needed to apply to every release from there on out; not realising that the road she and Daisuke Imai had paved up until that point WAS the reason for the success. So we ended up with albums like Red, and yet more cover albums and a couple of original releases with Daisuke Imai fully out of the picture. None of which were particularly good.

But with the 2018 release of Cinematic, Beni seemed to turn a corner and find a sound that was new for her, whilst still evoking the R&B sensibilities of her earlier albums. But with Y/our Song, Beni tries to fuse her golden era material (Bitter & Sweet, Lovebox & Jewel), with her dusty era material (Undress and those cover albums) and her smooth femme fatale era (Cinematic) material. And she actually gets it right, except everything just meets halfway.

EP review: Beni - Y/our Song | Random J Pop

"Dakedo Hanade" opens the album and is a really nice song, which has a very live vibe about it due to the lounge jazz style instrumentation. I don’t think Beni’s ever done a song quite like this before, so it’s a great introduction to the album to have something so new for her. Her vocals on it aren’t the best though. There’s a warmth that her vocals lack here, which causes them to feel somewhat divorced from the music. But it’s still a really nice song. It’s giving me ‘waiting for dem cats to cook bread’ in Monster Hunter.

But after this strong opening, Y/our Song starts to fall off. And for several reasons.

One is that the production on the songs just feels lacking and empty; which was one of the issues with Beni’s last cover album Covers the City. The song "Missing Piece" has a really unfortunate title as it stands, because it literally sounds like it’s missing whole chunks of production and music. The best way I can describe this song is that they sound unfinished. With "Missing Piece" in particular, it oddly reminds me of something Charli XCX would do. Except A.G Cook wouldn’t let this shit out of the door sounding quite this bare. "Don’t You Stop" coulda been this big rousing disco number. It has a nice groove on the verses and a solid chorus, but they should’ve been bigger. As the song is, it sounds like an unfinished demo.

The second is Beni’s vocals, which have been a problem for the past 5 - 8 years now. Beni’s voice has always been as thin as the members of Girls' Generation. But she worked with producers who did a good job of giving her songs which supplemented that, and also knew how to produce her vocals - whether it was a case of adding subtle effects to make Beni’s voice bigger or smoother, or stacking her vocals to make them fuller. But on Y/our Song we get Beni left floundering in songs, highlighting her lack of range, texture and solid pitch. Beni has a nice studio voice when it’s actually produced. And she sounds SO good live. But when she’s singing into a clean mic with nothing to really help her, and a producer is just letting that shit on tracks with no tweaks, it’s not great.

The combination of too-pared back music and Beni’s bare vocals cause half of the songs on Y/our Song to sound like unfinished demos. Beni is not a BeyoncĂ© or a Brandy type of vocalist who can lace a bare bones beat to the point where their vocals are the music. And she’s not a Janet Jackson, who can not only give you layered-ass vocals, but has producers in Jam & Lewis who know her voice well enough to produce around it, in addition to knowing how to create amazing walls of sound.

Beni and her producers’ lack of awareness of what they each needed to bring to the table to make a song that sounds good and showcases them both is really shocking to me. If I were Beni’s label exec or manager and I heard these songs, I woulda sent Beni away with notes and made her do these songs over. Because the problem isn’t that the songs are fundamentally bad. Every song on this EP has the skeleton of a good song, but the skeleton is what was put forward, when what we needed was meat on dem bones.

EP review: Beni - Y/our Song | Random J Pop

Where-as Beni's earlier albums were most certainly her takes on popular trends, there was still an earnestness to how Beni pulled them off. They never sounded like complete rip-offs and Beni never sounded like she was emulating anybody. With Bitter & Sweet there was always a sense of her having a sound which followed through not only the entire album but the next two to three albums which followed. Sure, there was a formula at work, and her albums kinda bled into one sound. But it led to a brilliant refinement on Jewel, which also saw her work with producers aside from Daisuke Imai for some form of variation and personal validation for her that she could still deliver songs which felt like hers without him.

With Y/our Song it sounds like Beni is trying to pull everything she's done to date into one release, but  she isn't quite able to fall back in step with any of it. Instead we genuinely do get Beni on songs which evoke strong senses of somebody other than herself. "Yumeiro Biyori" sounds like a really watered down version of Namie Amuro's "Rainbow" from Feel. Album closer "Happy" feels like a perfect bookend to the album opener "Dakedo Hanade", with a live set feel to it. But Crystal Kay did this whole entire vibe so much better with "Someday" from her album Shine. And what's frustrating about this is that Beni absolutely could've have nailed these songs, but she just...doesn't. It's like Beni's just lost.

EP review: Beni - Y/our Song | Random J Pop

The huge gap that's left in this album is far more than just unfinished production and Beni’s vocals. That energy, spark and hunger that Beni seemed to have earlier in her career just isn’t here when I listen to any of these songs. Maybe her heart is no longer in it. Maybe the passion is gone. Maybe she’s not clicking with the material. But there is something missing here for sure; which makes me wonder if this pivot back to her older style is a decision which she made, or one her label had made for her - as that could explain why this EP has such a ‘Fuck it’ vibe about it.

It’s a real shame that Beni is at this point with her material, because Y/our Song isn’t a case of being a bad selection of songs. In fact, the songs here are some of the strongest from top to bottom that I’ve gotten on a Beni release in years. It’s just the execution does neither the songs nor Beni any favours. If those involved with this album simply cared just a little more, this could have been a really solid EP. But as it stands, it's not great, and Beni doesn't seem wholly present here.

VERDICT: WHEN IS JEWEL HITTING SPOTIFY?

Highlights:
■ Dakedo Hanate
■ Missing Piece

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