Remember 2017? It was a particularly painful year for fans of Hello! Project and associated acts, which was made to feel even worse as it followed one of the absolute best years in 2016. This plugged-toilet of a year saw the end of C-ute’s 15-year run, the Country Girls/KSS Divestment Draft, Kobushi Factory pushing the absolute limits of how much self-inflicted damage an idol group can endure without being disbanded, and a host of disappointing singles from all corners. Even Angerme (the real flagship) couldn’t completely avoid the carnage, closing out the year with a lackluster DVD-only single.
Amid this carnage, there were a couple of bright spots, one of them being PINK CRES’s debut album Crescendo. While the album carried the benefit of very low expectations, it has held up nicely in the intervening years. It’s been a year since PINK CRES’s follow-up album, Etcetera, was released, which means I’m a year late in reviewing it. Hey, if I’ve established anything with this blog it’s A) you’re gonna get more PINK CRES content than any other English language blog, and B) I work at, uh, my own pace. Anyway, TheParuProject over at mm-bbs requested a full review of this album, so here goes.
I reviewed the promotional videos for “Etcetera” and “Bukiyou na Jibun” at the time they were released, and while I wasn’t a fan of the non-musical aspects of “Etcetera”, it’s a pretty good track that follows the early-teens R&B-cum-Kpop girl-group sound they established on Crescendo, and I’ve grown to like it more with time. I liked everything about “Bukiyou na Jibun” at the time, and a year later I love almost everything about it (those oddly buried vocals still annoy me).
The album kicks off with a one-two combo of tracks in the mold of the aforementioned power-Kpop-R&B variety — think SNSD at their peak — almost as if to remove any doubt that this is the PINK CRES “sound”. “P･I･N･K” and “Etcetera” are excellent representations of the genre, but here’s my problem: as much as I love this sound, it’s been a dated sound for at least five years. It was kind of cool as a one-off for Crescendo, but it seems like an odd place to position a stylish, mid-20s J-pop girl-trio in 2018. “Love Tag” follows up with an upbeat hybrid of fun Kpop music and H!P production, which is a nice break from the previous two tracks, but it still feels six years old.
“Route Sixteen” delivers a nice, summer-breezy mid-tempo track, that also employs dated techniques, although by now we’ve at least made it to 2016 minimalist-pop. The first real gem of this album, though, is “Suppli”, a funky-yet-chill disco number that borrows just enough from H!P funk to get your head bobbing, but holds way back by means of the very minimal arrangement — piano, strings, fairly simple programmed drums, and a super-funky bass line — that suits this more mature group to a tee. The beautiful “Bukiyou na Jibun” is the first track that sounds contemporary, and it’s a damned shame that the gorgeous vocals and melodies are buried so deep in the mix as to become nearly lost at times. Still, these three tracks put PINK CRES in a place that suits their age and skill set: we all know that Miyabi can sing, but Hikaru’s turn on “Bukiyou na Jibun” is a revelation and points to a future where PC is not merely “Miyabi’s group”.
Then “TOUGH GIRL” shows up to spoil the party. Look, I expect a throw-away track or two on every Jpop album, but this is so cheesy in and of itself, and even more so for a group of young women well into their 20s. “We are tough girl!” [tony-stark-eye-roll.gif] With a more rocking arrangement, this could have made a decent throw-away for Buono!, but it’s woefully out of place here. Possibly the first PINK CRES song that I legitimately dislike.
“Sing to the sky” rights the ship somewhat with a track similar to “Route Sixteen”, but with a slight African feel. It’s nice. Nothing amazing, just… nice. One niggling thing has become apparent at this point, however, and it’s the gratuitous use of not-for-effect AutoTune throughout the album. I find it bothersome, and would prefer to hear imperfect pitch to such obviously yanked-into-line vocal tracks. Your mileage may vary.
My first inclination is to say that “true love” sits firmly in the H!P sound, although I can’t cite any specific examples to back that up. Either way, it’s a fun, up-beat number that doesn’t feel too young for PC in the way “TOUGH GIRL” does, but while I like it, it’s not something I’m going out of my way to find in a playlist. The album closes with the bonus track, “Sweet Girl’s Night”, the Christmas song released as a digital single in 2017. It’s a return-trip ticket to 2014-Kpop-by-way-of-H!P. It’s cute, maybe a tad cloying, but in no way objectionable.
“Not objectionable” pretty much sums up half of Etcetera, though, and it’s a bit disappointing. It’s not a bad album — the first half is quite good, in fact — but it’s definitely a drop-off from Crescendo. There’s enough here for long-term repeated listening, but if you’re like me, you might find yourself skipping around after the final strains of “Bukiyou na Jibun”. That song and “Suppli” are the belles of this ball, and together make Etcetera worth the price of admission. As much as I like “P･I･N･K” and “Etcetera”, I really hope we’ve heard the last of that old-and-busted Kpop sound from PINK CRES. Their new single “Tokyo Confusion” offers a ray of hope that UP-FRONT feels the same way.