I’m a bit late with this album review, but I hope to offer some cogent observations nonetheless. As usual, if you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to contribute your thoughts by commenting. I’m always open to seeing things from a different point of view.

I decided to review this album out of sheer curiosity. I’m still of two minds about SZ, and often choices made by those managing this group leave me confused. The upside is that I have high regard for the voices of Nakajima Kento-kun and Kikuchi Fuma-kun, and I thought it was worthwhile to give this album a shot because of that.

In general, this was an uneven album for me. I enjoyed some of the songs a great deal, while I found others sorely lacking. As expected, I preferred some of the new songs over their two recent singles – “Lady Diamond” and “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu”.

Note : This will be a review of the regular edition, and therefore doesn’t include “Namae no Nai Omoi”, which was in place of Yuuki 100% in the limited edition.

1 – 完全マイウェイ (Kanzen My Way)

For the way this song started, and the vocals in general, the music really needed a bit more bass in it – the pitch was way too high when set against the moderate vocals. The main offender was the trumpet-ish sound, which was just plain distracting.

Otherwise, this was a good song to start the album with. The vocals were smooth, though undemanding. The melody was an easy one to get into. I was looking for an energetic opening, and this definitely qualified.

2 – Silver Moon

Seeing this performed on Shounen Club, I already made up my mind that I like the song. The way the song opens is a sharp drop in pace from “Kanzen My Way”, though, and prefer smooth transitions in pace. Fortunately, this song speeds up into its body.

Honestly, this song could have made for a better single than “Lady Diamond” or “Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu”. The melody is much more coherent than the ones found in those two songs, and the refrain is catchy.

My main critique about the song is that it’s too short. The refrain is a nice heavy one that’s worth repeating a couple more times. The soft build-up at the beginning takes up a full minute, and pounding the refrain a bit more would improve the balance of the song.

There’s also one sound effect that I would get rid of entirely. I can only describe it as a swoop. It occurs a few times, more distractingly at 3:35.


3 – Lady ダイヤモンド (Lady Diamond)

I understand what the composer of “Lady Diamond” was going for. It’d work great as a song in a musical (and steals motifs from a number of them), preferably while the singers played out some sort of skit. It also fits fine in the context of this album. I’ve never understood, though, how anyone thought it would make a good single A-side.

The best aspect of the song is its playfulness. It’s definitely a bright, light-hearted tune. The downside is that, despite having some solo parts, it doesn’t do a good job of highlighting the vocals of the members.

4 – IF YOU WANNA DANCE

I really, really enjoyed the performance of this on the May 9th Shounen Club, and I consider it the best performance SZ has done on the show so far. I was therefore a bit surprised to hear how the album version starts, which is different from how that performance of it began. I prefer the earlier version to this one.

It’s still a great song for them, though. It’s nice and spare, allowing the excellent vocals to stand out. While there are some distracting effects, they’re not burdensome (still a matter of swoops and trumpet-ish stuff). It could use a touch more bass, but it’s not in as desperate need of it as “Kanzen My Way” was.

5 – rouge [Kikuchi Fuma Solo]

Without question, this song was an ideal way to feature the vocal stylings of Kikuchi Fuma-kun. It had a nice, easy feel to it, suiting his personality.

Stylistically, it’s not my type of song, but I can’t fault it on that account. Up to this point in the album, it was the first tightly composed song, with the music focused on the intention of the composer. It was also the best sung song.

6 – GAME

This is such a quintessentially Johnny’s song, I love it. But once it identifies itself with the Spanish guitar stylings, there’s nothing about it that jumps out – nothing to really grab the attention and make the listener remember it. Even the beautiful vocals starting at 2:00 are sort of generic.

Still, it is thoroughly well-executed. This was the first song on the album that had no extra notes or effects.

7 – 君と. . . Milky Way (Kimi to . . . Milky Way)

And here was my favorite song on the album. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s a ballad, since that both minimizes the extraneous electronic effects and maximizes the vocal effort demanded. I’m also a sucker for any song title mentioning astronomical features.

What made this song stand out even more was the way it smoothly changes texture at multiple points in its course – especially at 2:08, 2:42, and 3:30. This was really superb composition, made possible by the singing abilities of Kento-kun and Fuma-kun.

Again, I think this could easily have been released as a successful single, to better results than Sexy Zone has seen.

8 – Sexy Zone

When it was first released, I didn’t really think much of SZ’s debut single, but in light of their subsequent offerings, I’ve grown more fond of it. The big stumbling block for me was always the unnecessary female background vocals at 0:30, repeated later as well, which sound like they say “you get so sexy.” Oh, and any use of the word “sexy” within the song. That was, and still is, unacceptable. I’ll spare you the accompanying rant.

Take those out, though, and it’s a frenetically-paced, energetic song that suits the group well. The main melody is an easy one to remember, and is carried through consistently throughout the song. There’s a lot about it that marks it as a good debut song for a young teen group – a lot like Ultra Music Power for Hey! Say! Jump. All except for that one word.

9 – Don’t Stop Sexy Boyz  [Sexy Boyz]

From the very first bar, I hated this song. It’s just too heavily electronic for me. Don’t get me started on “sexy boyz” – repeated constantly throughout the song.

But even throwing out my issue with the lyrics and the synthesizer involvement, the composition we exceedingly sloppy and unimaginative. The mixing was harsh, with the vocals struggling against the high-pitched . . . I don’t even want to call it music.

So, no big shock, this was my least favorite song on the album.

10 – きみを離さない きみを離れない (Kimi wo Hanasanai Kimi wo Hanarenai)

After the previous track, this one was a breath of fresh air. It’s a pretty unremarkable song, and very typical Johnny’s in character. The singing didn’t require too much effort, but at least it was well-matched to the music.

Someone is still having too much fun with effects – especially a swoop effect similar to the one that I complained about in “Silver Moon” (one of multiple instances occurs at 1:34, if you’re not sure what I’m talking about). There was also another unsuitable effect that starts at 3:18. The song is fine without it, so what happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

I tried this out after “Sexy Zone”, and it was still a nice break from the pace.

11 – We can be one

Fuma-kun’s voice from 0:55 to 1:05 totally sold this one, even before they hit the refrain’s excellent melody. My impression for the first minute was that it bore a resemblance to something Arashi might sing, but then Fuma-kun broke in, and the character of the song changed.

On the flip side, Fuma-kun is also responsible for why this didn’t end up my favorite song of the album. The tiny passage between 3:31 and 3:41 is musically justified to create dissonance, but I still didn’t like it. Go figure. No big problem, though – it just ended up being my second favorite.

Like “Kimi to . . . Milky Way”, the texture of this song morphs at a number of points in the song. Especially interesting is the shift from a hopeful theme to an eerie one at 1:34 and 4:22, which is quite mysterious. It’s almost as if something is undermining the message of “We can be one”. I found the implied question mark fascinating.

12 – Teleportation [Nakajima Kento Solo]

Broadly speaking, this song does for Kento-kun what “rogue” does for Fuma-kun – put a highlight on his vocal abilities. Kento-kun doesn’t have Fuma-kun’s range, but his voice has a sharper edge to it, and the contrast between them is the heart and soul of any success SZ is likely to have in the near future.

For once, I think I can give a thumbs up to the use of a synthesizer for the backing music. First of all, with a title like “Teleportation”, a futuristic sound is definitely called for. Second, the composer kept the music is appropriately thin to allow Kento-kun’s voice to stand out clearly, making sure the star of the song was the human, and not a pet special effect.

13 – Sexy Summerに雪が降る (Sexy Summer ni Yuki ga Furu)

I think I’ve criticized this song enough in my Shounen Club reviews, and nothing has changed after I’ve heard it . . . far too often. It’s a musical mess.

In the context of this album, it might even be worse off, since it’s juxtaposed against some genuinely decent song. It sticks out like a sore thumb alongside “Don’t Stop Sexy Boyz” as examples of phenomenally lazy songwriting.

14 – スキすぎて (Suki Sugite)

This is another energetic song in the mold of “Kanzen My Way” and “Sexy Zone”. It’s musically unsophisticated, but it picks up the pace with some youthful exuberance.

Other than that, I can’t find anything else to say about it.

15 – 今日はありがとう (Kyou wa Arigatou)

This one left me scratching my head. I like ballads, but this one sounded aimless and a bit messy. There was something wrong with the way it was mixed, especially at the beginning. They wanted to feature Sato Shori-kun’s voice at 0:25, but what they managed to do was convince me that his singing voice is still too weak to warrant a solo at this point.

I like the turn at 3:08, which kept me from completely writing off this song. Still, it was a pretty dull offering.

16 – 勇気100% (Yuuki 100%)

Well, what can I say about Yuuki 100%? It’s so iconic that even I can’t review it in terms of the quality of the music.

I prefer the SZ version over the NYC version, simply because of all Johnny’s songs, this one deserves to be sung by kids. The younger members of SZ did a nice job of capturing the spirit of the song, which is one of childhood adventure. There’s a certain inherent excitement in their voices that sells the song. They also contrasts well against the portions sung by the smoother voices of Kento and Fuma.

To sum up, the songs that I would be willing to add to one or another of my playlists are “Silver Moon”, “If You Wanna Dance”, “rouge”, “Kimi to . . . Milky Way”, “We can be one”, “Teleportation”, and “Yuuki 100%”.  I would not mind listening to “Kanzen My Way”, “GAME”, or “Kimi wo Hanasanai Kimi wo Hanarenai” again. The rest? I’d rather not hear them again, if I can help it.

It pains me to say so, but I can’t give the album an unambiguous thumbs-up when there are so many tracks that I would want to skip on a future listen. That’s a shame, because there are songs here that I would eagerly recommend. If you haven’t already heard them, “Kimi to  . . . Milky Way”, “We can be one”, “Teleportation”, and “rogue” are well worth the time.

To end on a positive note, though,  I can say that there’s every reason for SZ to have a bright future going forward. Despite being an ardent Hey! Say! Jump fan, I prefer this album to “Jump World” (though not over “Jump No.1”). If they can get the people who wrote “Kimi to . . . Milky Way” and “We can be one” to carve out some songs for future singles, they could easily see their sales trajectory turn positive and reach new heights.

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