Note: This is the second on a series of posts where I catch up with Hello! Project music released during my hiatus.
ANGERME’s latest single represents a return to form after an odd video-only triple A-side release. It was odd not only because of the video-only format, but the music was a departure from the winning sound they had established with “Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku” and replicated to varying degrees of success thereafter. “Manner Mode” sounded more like a Kobushi Factory song, “Kisokutadashiku Utsukushiku” was a throwback to the horror-idol sound they toyed with a bit in the wake of the name change, and “Kimi Dake ja nai sa…friends” always felt more like Morninng Musume song to me. The single felt like a rare misstep for the H!P Flagship-in-reality (if not in name) to me, although it was received well among long-time fans.
So it was with relief that I greeted the guitar riff of “Uraha=Lover”. My ANGERME is back, baby! The song isn’t as dark or powerful as some of its predecessors, but the driving beat, the indefatigable guitar riff, the melody and chord progression, and the dense arrangement are pure ANGERME. I like that Rikako continues to earn solo lines with her continued progression as a singer*, and Musubu getting a nudge is nice to see, as well. No H!P group features all of their members as well as ANGERME does, and thankfully that continues with this single.
The video for “Uraha=Lover” is a clinic in making the most of a single video effect, as the infinity-house theme that carries throughout the length of the video never gets old. The dance works well with the mood of the both the music and the video, and once again showcases H!Ps premier dance group. I love everything about this song.
“Nakenai ze・・・Kyoukan Sagi” is a fusion of H!P’s past and present. There are elements that sound like classic Berryz Koubou and others that are straight out of the EDMusume soundbank. It’s a good dance number that is carried more by rhythm than melody, but the girls pull it off, because these girls are fucking pros. The video is standard issue econo-H!P, with outfits that look like sexy firefighter Halloween costumes. Meh, it’s H!P, I know the drill by now.
Which brings us to the “Kimi Dake ja nai sa…friends” remake. First of all, why? What is the point of adding an acoustic version of a song that was the caboose of their previous release? Was there an outpouring of demand from Japanese fans that I didn’t hear about, because there sure as shit was no such demand over here. Look, this arrangement was not a bad idea per se, it was just a bad idea for this group. It’s a gorgeous, sparse ballad arrangement, but it should have been cut from the single the moment the girls finished recording their vocal parts, because literally no one sounds good on this. Had Up-Front wanted to proactively show that the singers of ANGERME weren’t as good as you thought they were, they could hardly have done a more effective job than this. This is not their milieu, but H!P decided to master this plugged-toilet of a track anyway. It’s rough to see them struggle like this. It reminds me of MM hacking it through that solo piano set from a few years back.
In the end, this is a decent single. The return of the ANGERME sound is welcomed, but I was hoping to see them return closer to the level they attained with the “Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku” and “Umaku Ienai” singles. Baby steps are all well and good, but at the pace H!P groups release singles these days, Ayaka Wada has, at best, two more singles with the group before she graduates next year. ANGERME is the sexy red Lamborghini in the Hello! Project garage, and giving them average material is like driving an actual Lamborghini in LA traffic: yeah, you might look good, but inevitably you’re gonna find yourself frustrated behind a line of Ford Focuses and Toyota Priuses that you can’t get around, regardless of how well tuned your super-car might be.
*Rikako haters will roll their eyes at the thought of Rikako becoming a decent singer, but it’s not just me saying this. Here’s ANGERME Recording Director, Taisei: “Two members that have improved are ANGERME’s Sasaki Rikako and Juice=Juice’s Uemura Akari. These two have both shown remarkable growth as of late.” (From Wota In Translation) Look, you guys are just going to have to accept that Sasaki is going to be one of the main centers of this group moving forward, because now that she can sing a little bit, she’s a legitimate 5-tool idol. “But, muh MOE!!” Yes, Moe is awesome and she’ll get her time in the center, as well. She deserves it. But so does Rikako.