ALBUM REVIEW: Mika Nakashima – “Music” (2005)

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1. Sakurairo Maukoro

2. Oborozukiyo~Inori

3. Hi no Tori

4. Kumo no Ito

5. Rocking Horse

6. Carrot & Whip

7. Shadows of You

8. Legend (Main Version)

9. Hemurokku

10. Seven

11. Fake

12. Fed Up

13. Hitori

Music is Mika Nakashima’s 5th album. It peaked at #1 on the Oricon 200 Album Chart in Japan and has sold 547,138 copies since its release on March 9, 2005.

After the commercial success of Love and the crossover acclaim of Oborozukiyo~Inori, Mika Nakashima followed on from the popularity of those two albums and its predecessors (True and Resistance) to release her third main album, Music. This time around, Mika expands her horizons and explores a much wider range of genres than any of her previous four albums, but continues to maintain her grown-up attitude.

“Sakurairo Maukoro” (When the Cherry Blossom Colors Dance), which leads off the album, is a gorgeous spring ballad about separation and reunion underneath cherry blossom trees. Mika plays the piano in the video, but not in the song. Nevertheless, her vocals are pristine and angelic, and the background music is unique, with glossy violins, ascending harp glissandos, and the piano itself setting an elegant mood.

“Oborozukiyo~Inori” (A Misty, Moonlit Night~Prayer), the same song that appeared on Mika’s previous mini-album of the same name, is one of Mika’s first attempts at a techno-influenced song (dubbed “electro” in Japan). The Japanese koto and Taro Hakase’s beautifully done violin solos pay homage to traditional Japanese folk songs, but with a modern touch (“Oborozukiyo” itself was a Japanese folk song; “Inori” is a fresh composition from Mika and Taro).

The next track, “Hi no Tori” (Phoenix), is a techno-easy listening ballad with a luxurious arrangement that has “adult contemporary” written all over it. Also the theme from the Japanese animated series of the same name, the song has one of the best melodies out of all the songs chosen for the album…it sounds heavily Latin-flavored, and the video for the song fits the theme of the song very well. Mika sings the song in such an elegant way that I don’t blame Mika fans for saying this was one of their favorite songs from her. It was terribly unsuccessful sales-wise compared to four other singles from the album, though.

“Kumo no Ito” (Spider Web), whose lyrics are based on an early-1910s poem of the same name, begins with an atmospheric pattern of descending chromatic chords that smoothly lead into the first verse. This song has great vocals from Mika and a flowing electronica arrangement that would’ve made it suitable for airplay on one of XM Satellite Radio’s “Lifestyle” channels!

“Rocking Horse” changes the tempo of the album with a sophisticated 70s-soft rock sound a la Blood, Sweat, and Tears. This song is about life struggles (“No job, no education – oh my God I’ve fed up myself”), but the jazzy mood is so cheerful that it actually forgets about its own storyline! The track that follows, “Carrot & Whip,” is an even more charming jazz song with a cute horn solo in between verses and at the end of the song.

“Shadows of You” is a midtempo ballad with some potential, but the melody doesn’t stand out among the more hit-potential numbers here, so forget this song. “Legend” is fantastic. Its electro-based arrangement (complete with a harp) is stylish, even though I think the Latin-flavored Original Version of the song is much better.

“Hemurokku (Hemlock)” continues the upbeat trend of the album with an arrangement comprised of strings, guitars, and glamorous harmonic vocals from Mika and her background singers. The song is so very much like the Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” but the feel of the music is much funkier. “Seven,” the first single released for the album, makes listeners want to get up off their feet and dance in two seconds. Its jazzy influence brings to mind “Love Addict,” from Mika’s Love album, but with a heavier Latin flavor and gorgeous trumpet stabs at the very end. “I shout for you…”

“Fake” slows down the tempo with a simple, yet sensual, late-night jazz arrangement. The piano is one of the most prominent instruments here, along with the sax solo. Mika delivers her lines like a true torch singer, and the lyrics also kept me interested. Billie Holiday would be proud.

“Fed Up” is the first time Mika ever attempted a rock sound in her music before all the “NANA” stuff. The piano and violins are heard throughout the song, and some radical electric guitar bursts allow Mika to tell her audience: “I’m fed up with being trapped in my cocoon, so I’m gonna spread my wings like a butterfly!” I hear ya, girl! And your singing brought serious depth into this long, but endearing, symphonic rock ballad!

“Hitori” (Alone) closes the album in the same manner in which it began: exquisite. It places plenty of emphasis on the piano and the string ensemble, and the melody is probably the most poignant melody I ever heard by any artist anywhere. Not to say there are no other contenders, but the song’s lyrics are extremely painful (“Even now, I can’t forget you”), and Mika brings out the extreme sadness of the song in the most intense way. This song gets my two thumbs up (like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert would).

Music might drag on sometimes, but its arrangements are amazing, and the choice of genres sure beats the monotony of teenybopper music. With all the teen trash I continue to have to deal with (a neighbor was playing very hard pop music as I wrote this review), albums like this give me the assurance that artists like Mika are a breath of fresh air.

Pros: Smooth production; great vocal performances; solid arrangements; and great range of genres make this album a winner.

Cons: Only “Shadows of You” weighs things down.

Bottom Line: If you love easy listening, you’ll very much enjoy this album. It and its follow-up, Best, were in my opinion the best albums released in 2005.

Final Grade: A.

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