Now that introductions are out of the way, it’s time to get into the full swing of things. This week marks the release of Berryz Kobo’s ninth official album, Berryz Mansion 9 Kai, and to commemorate this occasion, I’m actually gonna rewind to last year for a bit in order to instead take an interesting look at their eighth album, Ai no Album 8!
I purchased this album while attending the group’s second US appearance in New Jersey last June, and, still high off that whole experience, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the album from start to finish upon listening to it after I got home. The three singles from 2011 that I merely glanced over the first time became a joy to listen to this time around, while the new songs for the album served as the soundtrack for reminiscing over my adventures on the east coast. Listening to the whole thing would forever be associated with those fun times–to this day I can’t help but chant nonsense gibberish to the tune of C-ute’s “Shiawase no Tochuu” whenever I hear “Because Happiness”, just as we did during the concert.
But there was something oddly familiar about this album. Noticing that the last track of the CD was a soft piano-driven ballad, I took a closer inspection at the structure of the track order and the songs themselves and realized that Ai no Album 8 was eerily similar to an album I purchased 11 years prior that also was acquired in the month of June and became associated with fond memories: Return of Dragon by Dru Hill frontman Sisqo!
Now I know what you’re thinking: How could a Japanese idol album crafted to be modern(ish) and varied in genre be similar to an American hip-hop-flavored R&B album from 2001? It doesn’t seem intuitive to the untrained ear, but it makes sense when you realize two things: for starters, Tsunku loves to pay weird and (sometimes not very) subtle homages to western music–Momusu’s “Love Machine” has obvious roots in Shocking Blue’s “Venus”–and secondly, you just have to already be familiar with Sisqo’s second album, which is only possible when you come from the same “urban” musical background that I came from (I mean, really, we all know “Thong Song” but who else besides me actually bought this guy’s second album?).
First off, a look at the respective album covers already shows similarities. A brighty sunny setting overlooking a vista, the shiny embossed wordmark, lots of crazy post-production effects…and you gotta admit, those outfits look kinda weird.
The vital statistics also show some similarities:
|Ai no Album 8||Return of Dragon|
|Release date||February 22, 2012||June 19, 2001|
|Number of tracks||10 (all songs)||12 (10 songs, 2 interludes)|
Ten full songs and only a two minute difference in total song length…and it gets even better when you actually look at the songs themselves! In fact, the first four songs pretty much match up perfectly with each other: starting things off for Berryz is “Mythology ~Ai no Album~”, which corresponds with Sisqo’s first full track of his album, “Not Afraid”, both songs setting the tone as upbeat anthems meant to inspire confidence…
|Sisqo – “Not Afraid”
(I couldn’t find an embeddable version of this song)
Following up the introductory song is a high-energy track; while “Yo no Naka Barairo” and “Infatuated” come from very different genres they still serve the same function…
Song #3 features a strange minimalistic arrangement: “Shy Boy” comes through with cold, singular electronic melodies, while “Can I Live” has producer Teddy Riley experimenting with simple rhythmic timing and empty spaces…
The fourth song carries collaborative reunion intentions, albeit with different approaches for each album. Whereas “Without You” sees Sisqo reunite with Dru Hill, “Because Happiness” merely serves as one half of the epic Berryz/C-ute mashup “Cho Happy Song”…
Songs 5 through 9 don’t line up exactly with each other as far as track order goes, but we still have corresponding songs within that bunch:
- There’s a slow, emotional song in “Renai Moyou” (my favorite song from Ai no Album 8) and “Close Your Eyes”
- “Ai no Dangan” and “Dance for Me” are both intense and uptempo, and each serves as a lead single for its respective album
- Berryz collabs with sister group C-ute on the energetic graduation anthem “Amazuppai Haru ni Sakura Saku” while Sisqo collabs with his own Associates on their hardcore debut track “Off the Corner” (my favorite song from Return of Dragon)
- Somber lyrics collide with heavy beats on “Atarashii Hibi” and “Homewrecker”
- “Aa, Yo ga Akeru” and “Last Night” have similar themes of night and loneliness on top of a dance beat, though with different approaches to the themes
Lastly, concluding each album is a sweet-sounding piano-driven ballad featuring male and female voices: “Seishun Gekijou” by Berryz and “Dream” by Sisqo…
And if all that weren’t enough, you may notice over the past several months that Risako has been getting a little trigger happy with all sorts of different hair colors and styles. Wait…a lead singer known for crazy hair colors…does that make Berryz Kobo the Dru Hill of Hello! Project?
On a more personal note, the fond memories I’ve associated with each album are also closely connected in a way. Return of Dragon harkens back to the summer of 2001, a calm, innocent time before the shenanigans of 9/11 and its aftermath; Ai no Album 8 on the other hand reminds me of that New Jersey trip to see Berryz in person, which included a visit to New York City where I was able to see the new World Trade Center being built to replace the destroyed towers. H!P had once again brought me full circle…so even if you’re not buying this whole connection, you ain’t convincing me otherwise.
So what can we take from all this? The conclusion is simple: J-Triumf is a crazy man who tries way too hard to combine his two worlds. Somebody stop him.