Thank you, JPope

Re-imagining ⑮ Thank you, too.

2017 marked the begining of the MMMAGA movement — Make Morning Musume Albums Great Again — which kicked off with ⑮ Thank you, too. Four years later we were treated to 16th – That’s J-Pop, which I lauded as the best MM long-player since No. 5 in my review here. If 16th – That’s J-Pop is the “One•Two•Three” of MM albums, then ⑮ Thank you, too is the “Ren’ai Hunter” in that it signaled the coming sea change in how MM albums would be constructed moving forward. Fans could expect more content overall, and though this was due to the inclusion of additional singles tracks, those songs (in most cases) worked with the album tracks to create an overarching vibe. ⑮ Thank you, too is one of my favorite MM albums — probably top five if I were to do a ranking — but it is not without a few of what I see as major flaws in track order, so I went ahead and rearranged the tracks to make what I believe is a much better album. I’ll call it ⑮ Thank you, JPope.

You’re welcome.

The most glaring mistake is opening the album with “Jealousy Jealousy” when “BRAND NEW MORNING” is in the arsenal. I understand the impulse to put “Jealousy” in the lead position, because the string intro works very well in that capacity. After those few seconds, though, it falls a bit short in its job of capturing and keeping the listeners attention. “BRAND NEW MORNING” has no such weaknesses, starting strong and punching hard all the way to the end. It’s a bold and brash opening statement. The original closes with BNM (I’ll address the 20th Anniversary version of “Ai no Tane” later), which I can only surmise was an attempt at an impactful closing statement. This is the sort of thinking I can get behind, but it comes off as being a little too clever by half when BNM is such an obvious and effective opener. Sometimes the most obvious choice is the best choice.

I followed BNM up with “Seishun Say A-HA” because it keeps the energy high while matching the vibe of BNM and the songs that follow better than the original second track, “Romance ni Mezameru Mousou Joshi no Uta.” Looking at the original track listing, the opening really is a mess, with two songs that neither fit together nor with tracks three through seven, which I have left unchanged. This is the meat of the original album, the section that elevates it above so many other MM albums, and BNM / “Seishun Say A-HA” set it up and support it so much more effectively than “Jealousy” / “Romance…” to me.

“CHO DAI” is star of this album and one of the great MM album tracks. That nasty, greasy buzz-synth works so good with the syncopated half-time groove, and Sakura’s performance on this anxious, jittery track is among her best. This is followed nicely by “Watashi no Nanni mo Wakacchanai,” which drives harder than “CHO DAI,” but is equally restless and features one of Masaki Sato’s more memorable efforts. “Jama Shinai de Here We Go!” is one of those MM singles that I like a lot more in the context of an album than as a single, and it fits perfectly in this spot. “Style of my love” and “Narcissus Kamatte-chan Kyousoukyoku Dai 5ban” close out a five-song run that rivals any such grouping to appear on any other MM album.

And that wraps up side A. Yes, I’m approaching this as an old-school vinyl LP, partly out of nostalgia (being old enough to have once owned a large record collection) and partly out of necessity. Side B kicks off with “Jealousy Jealousy” because, while it’s not great as an album opener, it does work very well as a second act opener. It also plays much nicer with the remaining songs and actually works as a bridge between the harder, more angular tracks that precede it and the more straight-forward songs that follow it. “Jealousy” retains just enough of the vibe of Side A while easing the listener into the more conventional arrangements of Side B.

“Mou Gaman Dekinai wa ~Love ice cream~” gets moved up a spot to do what a “second” track is supposed to do: push the energy of the opener forward, at which point you can either pull back or punch even harder. As this song is typical J-idol pop/rock — and definitely more pop than rock — I chose to throw the haymaker, “Dokyuu no Go Sign.” An anomaly for MM singles of its time, this track was a nice return to a bygone era of fun, upbeat MM bangers that used to dominate their catalog. The bulk of this Hoshibe Sho composition shows Tsunku’s strong influence, but it also includes his own personal stamp with the wonderful classical-flavored theatrical bridge that gave us a small taste of his future work with Beyooooonds.

With that, it’s time to catch our breath and say goodbye to Duu. I briefly thought about closing with “Wakain da shi!” — nostalgic songs always make great closers — but I eventually decided I liked it better here as a sort of “last call” announcement to the listener that things are about to wrap up. To continue the pub analogy, “Romance ni Mezameru Mousou Joshi no Uta” is the soundtrack to the night’s final beers, and “Koi wa Toki ni” is when the lights actually come on and you and your friends part ways after a fun night together. I really love this as a closer, because it definitely has that wistful emotional feeling that sticks with you after it ends.

Normally, I’d call this done — a near perfect 13-song album that would rival its successor — but this is not just a Morning Musume album, it’s a Morning Musume 17 album. Being released during the year of the group’s 20th anniversary means that “Ai no Tane (20th Anniversary Ver.)” kind of has to be included. I consider it to be a bonus track as opposed to a proper album track, though, and it actually feels pretty comfy next to “Koi wa Toki ni” — certainly more so that it does next to “BRAND NEW MORNING”. All in all, I think my rearrangement starts more forcefully, flows better, and ends more gracefully than the original.

So that leaves just one as yet unanswered question: what happened to “Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari (Morning Musume ’17 Ver.)”? I cut it, period. I’m probably in the minority on this, but I’m just over that song being updated every few years. I absolutely loved it when the original was released as a single way back in 2004, but each subsequent re-recording has chipped away at my love for it. The original was a fun Valentine to the fans, but at some point they changed the arrangement to have the girls sing their own verses solo, which seems to go against the very spirit of the song: girls being noisy together. I was pleased that it wasn’t included on That’s J-Pop, but I fear that the lineup for their 17th album will be quite different from MM’17’s and JKM will return like Jason Voorhees to torment a new cast of summer campers. If H!P release schedules continue as the have the past few years, we can expect MM’s next long-player around 2024, which would be the 20th anniversary of JKM, and that’s a long time to rehash what is essentially a novelty song.

Final Track Listing

  2. Seishun Say A-HA
  3. CHO DAI
  4. Watashi no Nanni mo Wakacchanai
  5. Jama Shinai de Here We Go!
  6. Style of my love
  7. Narcissus Kamatte-chan Kyousoukyoku Dai 5ban
  8. Jealousy Jealousy
  9. Mou Gaman Dekinai wa ~Love ice cream~
  10. Dokyuu no Go Sign
  11. Wakain da shi!
  12. Romance ni Mezameru Mousou Joshi no Uta
  13. Koi wa Toki ni
  14. Ai no Tane (20th Anniversary Ver.)

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