#1 Song Review: Week of 7/1 – 7/7

Hello Arama Japan readers and welcome to this week’s installment of #1 Song Review! Last week saw Superfly and Hoshino Gen tie for the top spot in the face of competition from NEWS. Gen’s back again this week, along with a newcomer and a blast from the past. Find out what various staff members thought of the songs that topped the physical and digital charts this week and share your thoughts on them too!

Oricon #1: Sexy Zone – Cha-Cha-Cha Champion (not released digitally)

Ronald: It’s as if Sexy Zone got a bulk deal on songs. They keep releasing these cheery pieces of saccharine cheese. If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. Towards the end of this song, there’s this really weird rap. It was so odd. I don’t know why it was there. Maybe they were trying to be cool? And instrumental during that part sounds really 80s. I haven’t liked a Sexy Zone song yet and it doesn’t look like things will change anytime sooon. 1/10

Ryusenkai: Sexy Zone’s latest offering appears to fall into that general category of ‘innocuous, upbeat pop’ that I described oh so long ago; while I understand that “Cha-Cha-Cha Champion” is meant to be the theme song for a Volleyball Tournament held in Japan, and as such a cheer song of sorts, that doesn’t alter my ultimate opinion a great degree. The majority of the track’s instrumental consists of synths and some background strings and guitars, the latter of which are often overpowered by the former. Some faux brass and piano also make a few appearances, usually following the conclusion of the chorus, though I don’t feel as though these do much for the song’s variety given how brief their intrusions are. The arrangement is… one note, I suppose would be the word, and reminds me distinctly of a rather dated Eurobeat song. I’m in no way against the use of older styles of music, but what we have here is more of a cheap imitation of said style rather than an entry into it. The vocals are perfectly fine for what the song is, though their relentlessly upbeat tone does begin to wear after a while (the one break we get with the rap feels out of place). I can’t track down a full translation of the track, but what I can understand fits with the idea of this being a song meant to provide motivation. I’m really not too much of a fan of “Cha-Cha-Cha Champion”, being frank, since it doesn’t bring all that much that’s new to the table and furthermore is far from the best execution of this style that I’ve heard. 2/10


Recochoku #1: B’z – RED (Oricon #14 / iTunes #9)

Ronald: Same review as before – Ehh, I’m not really feeling this… I have a strange relationship with rock music, I don’t know if I’ve said that here before. I only really like the indie stuff. The more classic / hard things don’t really appeal to me, so B’z has never been an act that I’ve been on the lookout for. This song is ok for what it is. It doesn’t really strike me as all that unique for them or in general. This sounds like a B’z song, but then again I could imagine a lot of bands making a song like this. It has a great energy, I will say that. And the country part, coming from the banjo, is a somewhat interesting twist. It reminds me of a harder country song somewhat. 5/10

Ryusenkai: Same review as before – I honestly hadn’t been expecting another B’z song to show up on this feature so soon after their new album, but I won’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth. “RED” doesn’t venture too far outside of what the duo have established as their current wheelhouse, but it does some interesting things even so; the banjo part that opens up the track, for example (when was the last time you heard one of those in a hard rock song?). On the whole, I think that the biggest difference between this song and their previous single (“Uchouten”) is that there’s a sense of momentum and progression here that was notably lacking in the latter effort. I still miss some of the melodic movement that colored their singles towards the end of the 2000s, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

In terms of composition, there’s a surprising amount of layering at work here, from the aforementioned banjo, to the guitar, to the clapping that overlays pretty much everything present. Vocally we see Koshi at some of his more aggressive moments in recent years, particularly as he belts the line that leads into the song’s bridge. That said, he controls his breathing as well as always, never allowing it to intrude into the instrumental. Lyrically, I actually rather appreciate what’s done here, even though it’s nothing revolutionary; there’s some poignant imagery that contributes well to the song’s energy and ultimate purpose. At its core “RED” is a fight song, and one that isn’t afraid to throw some punches of its own. While not my favorite B’z track, “RED” remains a great summer rock tune and provides hope that I might enjoy the material leading to their next studio record a bit more. 8/10


iTunes #1: Hoshino Gen – SUN (Oricon #34 / Recochoku #10)

Ronald: Same review as last week – I was really hoping that this song would beat out AKB48′s “Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai” in May so that I could review it. AKB48 won out though by about 9000 copies. But Gen recently released his catalog digitally and this shot to #1 so now I can review it. Feel good songs are a specialty of Gen’s, and “SUN” is no exception. It’s bright and cheery like you think it would be given its name. This song is bright and cheery, but not cheesy, which is often the case with songs like this one. It capitalizes on 2 trends that are a growing influence  in Japanese music currently, the 70s and funk. I enjoy these element and I’m glad to see them here. 8/10

Ryusenkai: Same review as last week – You know, after this missed getting #1 on Oricon I never thought I’d get the chance to review it here, but things have a funny way of working out sometimes. The reason that I’ve come to really appreciate Hoshino Gen as an artist over the past few years has to do with how he so seamlessly mixes old and new influences in his music. For example, the showtunes tinged “Crazy Crazy” being paired with the slow-burning and dancier “Sakura no Mori” as A-sides on the same single. With “SUN”, Gen brings a 70s sound palette and aesthetic together with some of the catchier aspects of dance music in order to create one of his most replayable songs to date. I’ve played this track a lot this year and even scoured the internet trying to find a download of it a month or so back, so I’m more than familiar with its intricacies. From the burst of static that starts the song off to the back-and-forth interplay between the violins and the bass through most of the chorus, to the nicely placed lines from the electric guitar that punctuate its transitions. Everything has a purpose in “SUN”, down to the old school snapping and clapping during the bridge, and that makes it a carefully planned joy to listen to.

Gen’s voice has a distinct tone to it which is both clear and strong; he projects quite well in particular, however as with some other singers I feel as though the breathing could be controlled a bit better. While I can’t locate a full translation for SUN’s lyrics, I’ll admit that what I can pick up isn’t exactly the most original of stuff; furthermore, the chorus also show up enough throughout the song’s length that it ends up being minorly repetitive. Still, even with those few knocks against it, I’d call “SUN” my pick of the week since it’s just such a pleasant listen musically; the rest of the single holds up just as well really, so if you like what you hear here, do take a listen to that as well. 8.5/10


Ronald’s Rank:

1. iTunes #1: Hoshino Gen – SUN

2. Recochoku #1: B’z – RED

3. Oricon #1: Sexy Zone – Cha-Cha-Cha Champion


Ryusenkai’s Rank:

1. iTunes #1: Hoshino Gen – SUN

2. Recochoku #1: B’z – RED

3. Oricon #1: Sexy Zone – Cha-Cha-Cha Champion