Sound Decision
Singles: Mika Nakashima, Hitomi, Berryz Kobou

by Jonathan Mays,
Looking for some domestic CDs? And/or anime music? Fear not, there's a big stack on the way. In the meantime, enjoy a couple of advance import reviews (and one that was released last week)!

Mika Nakashima: Hitori —Sony (June 8th)

Elegant and smooth, "Hitori" brings out the best in Mika Nakashima. What a relief to hear a chart-topper who knows when to breathe and how to end phrases without sounding like somebody's choking her. There's only one song, but when you put together three polished tracks, anything more would spoil the mood. With a soft rock "single" version, a piano "album" one, and a beautiful string-only "endroll" variation of a classic 90s song, Nakashima reminds us that it is possible to do a cover professionally. (Look out below, Hitomi.)

One small problem: I can't for the life of me remember the name of the song she's adapting. You can hear it here, and if you do happen to know the name, please let me know!

Hitomi: Japanese Girl —Avex (June 1st)

For her first release in over a year, Hitomi's latest effort is quite a dud. "Japanese Girl" has lyrics worthy of Utada's equally lame "Easy Breezy" (the "Japanesey" one), and "Venus" is a cringe-worthy remake of Bananarama's 80s cover. If Hitomi is going to do this pop pastiche thing, she and her songwriter need to take a cue or two from Puffy AmiYumi and lighten up. The way these two songs plod along make them sound more like lazy Eurythmics rip offs than anything we would want to listen to 23 years later. But don't take my word for it; hear for yourself.

[UPDATE: Brilliant, they remix it as I'm writing the review. Trust me, the commercial "Venus" is a masterpiece compared to the mess on the single.]

And then there's the Engrish. "I'm just a Japanese girl" is pretty hard to screw up, but "Benas"—I mean "Venus" is a terror to the ears of anyone who knows English. As much as I dislike hammering somebody just because she struggles to pronounce a foreign language, I have to wonder: If it's going to be this ugly, why remake the song? Hitomi has been doing this for over a decade, so it's not like she is desperate for a big endorsement break. I just don't get it.

Hardcore Hitomi fans should note the new version of "There Is... " on this single. Back in her comfort zone, she does a fine job on an unremarkable mid-tempo pop song. For anyone else with a taste for Hitomi, look elsewhere.

Berryz Koubou: Nanchu Koi wo Yatteru You Know? —Piccolo Town, whatever that is (June 8th)

Let me preface this by stating that in principle, I can live with Morning Musume and most of the pre-teen "Hello! Project" army. Most of their songs are catchy enough that you can overlook the weak vocals. This new Berryz Koubou group, on the other hand, is completely unbearable. "Nanchu Koi" matches horribly unbalanced vocals with one of the most generic arrangements I've heard this year. It sounds like freaking Mega Man music (for the original Nintendo). And what on earth is that wail at the end of the chorus?

Now, take a moment and prepare yourself.

The B-Side of this single is my early nominee for several awards: worst song of the year, worse mixing of the year, and worst arrangement of the decade. For the first two, take what I said above and magnify it a few times. The arrangement... well, it's so bad that I need to single out Shoichiro Hirata, the mastermind behind many a Beatmania CD, for creating a song that barely makes it from verse to verse and has a bridge that honestly sounds like he got halfway through and said, "Aw, geez, I have to fill up another 20 seconds. I know! Let's do scales! And when they get too high, we'll just start from the bottom again!" If you want to scare your friends away from J-Pop, this will do the trick.

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