So now, on to the album.
Firstly, let me say that this is just jaw-dropping awesome. It's Arashi celebrating the step into their thirties by throwing down the gloves and getting sexay and smolderingly serious, but without sacrificing their characteristic peppiness. Little anecdote: I showed the P.A.R.A.D.O.X. performance on Music Station to my boyfriend (who knows very little about Arashi) and his immediate reaction was "Whoa, this is completely different from the Arashi you showed me last time!" The Arashi I showed him last time was "Up To You" on the Popcorn Live Tour DVD, and if you've listened to LOVE, you'll agree that this album is a swift about-face from Popcorn's "Up To You" (which is a great song, too, but in a very different way).
Track 1 - 愛を歌おう (Ai wo Utaou)
For a more detailed song review, please read here.
Arashi's really going for the epic opening this time! This number runs like an echoing love story and has a beautifully dynamic melody that swooshes to dizzying heights. It's perfect, lyrically and musically. I love it. I love the orchestral accompaniment, with the obvious crescendos of the horns and pianos, the buildup with the strings and winds and fantasy-soundtrack-like voice in the "Sail away" bridge. I love hearing Aiba and Nino stretching their voices thin to reach those delicate high notes in the verses. And I love the chorus. Oh the chorus. The epicness. The surging feeling. The little breathy high notes left dangling at the very end of it. Oh the tension, the perfectly balanced tension! Have I mentioned that this song is perfect already?
Track 2 - サヨナラのあとで (Sayonara no Ato de)
We're brought, almost lulled into this song, with a nicely layered synth intro and these awesome finger-snaps. Time to take a breather from the sheer power in the previous track. Arashi is making us relax, but only in tempo, because their voices (esp. Ohno's) are as passionate as ever. Just wait to you get to the chorus, the power is there, mingled with just enough melancholy to make it more than just your run of the mill Asian romance drama theme.
Track 3 - CONFUSION
This is a fun track, and you can hear almost a youthful energy in it that reassures you that the old Arashi you fell in love with is still there, ready to run around the stage and do anything to entertain you. But this is not to say that this track is a rehash of some old song off their earlier albums; it's fun, and recognizably Arashi, but definitely with more of an 80's pop sort of vibe to it that makes it distinct from their previous music.
Track 4 - Hit the Floor
Oh shit! Ohno's bringing the groove! This is the first time I'm hearing his voice being autotuned as an effect for the chorus of an Ohno solo, and even though I am a huge fan of Ohno's power vocals soaring up to shatter entire stadiums in his customary solos, I still liked this departure from his norm. I like the little soft falsetto on the chorus here, and the 80's swervy groove to the song. It will be interesting to see what choreography he comes up with to accompany this. I have high expectations, because this is very soft disco, and I just know Ohno can pull it off beautifully. Oh-chan, CLEAR!
|Throw down your fedoras and come dance! PARADOX is here!|
Ohno just told us to hit the floor, and now all five are throwing down their fedoras in invitation with this very very danger number. You don't need to see the music video to know that this is a mecha-sexy piece popping it on the dance floor. It's a song that's filled with this low, tense beat that just teases you, sometimes with straight up kick-snare-chhhh, sometimes with snappy claps, sometimes with some very sensual oooh's and aaahh's, and around the Sakurap (Sho is such a tease with his just-barely-audible-above-the-music rap here) we even get a little exotic wood-drumming and twanging. And, yes, that Sakurap is possibly the sexiest Sakurap yet. Sho drops it down to where it's really dangerous (keep a hold of your ovaries, girls), and does this hissing intake of breath in the middle of it, like even he can't control himself. Ohno and Nino's high parts: wow. Even for them, I think this goes to an altitude yet unreached by Arashi. I also think Nino's voice is growing on me with this song. I adored all his solo verses and for once thought his voice was incredibly magnetic. Aiba and Jun are somewhat overshadowed by the other three here (I guess this is the sort of song that warrants higher, sharper voices anyways), but they still sound pretty decent. Standout Stars: Nino for his singing and Sho for the rap.
Track 6 - sugar and salt
The tempo slows down dramatically from the aggressive dance music, and Sho croons us back to our seats by the bar, where smooth martinis are already waiting. This song is just that: a relaxing wave to absent-mindedly nod your head to while you take a break from whatever big stuff is going on in your life. It reminds me of Sho's solo in their 2005 album One, "夢でいいから" (Yume de ii kara). It's got that same R&B flow and the same horn elements (Sho loves his brass!). And you know how I go all weak when Sho starts rapping slow, smooth raps! I'm very pleased with this solo, especially after the sort of lame "Fly on Friday" in Popcorn. Sho-kun, CLEAR!
Track 7 - Breathless
I liked this song when it came out, and it's still good now. I like the oh-oh-oh-oh-oh's and I like the mysterious background; it always makes me feel as though Arashi is singing to us from behind a cloud of mist. I don't know what the synth sound is called, but it that thing that sounds like a sharper, higher-pitched and more metallic piano, and it's always there guiding the vocals through the verses. Plus, Nino sounds amazingly passionate and good in his solo lines here. Despite really loving most of his solos, I'm usually pretty critical of Nino's thin and sometimes weak singing (he voice tends to shiver and falter a lot), but even I'll admit that he sounds fantastic here. In fact, he's sounding pretty good in this album. I really think he's growing on me.
Track 8 - 20825日目の曲 (20825 Nichi Me no Kyoku)
Like Sho, Nino is giving us a throwback to his earlier solos. This one sounds remarkably similar to both "Himitsu" and "1994*4##111." In my mind there are two kinds of Nino solos: the power ballads that are mostly driven by Nino's sheer vocal power (think "それはやっぱり君でした" and "どこにでもある唄" and "虹"), and the cutesy numbers that always remind me of being in an amusement park (these also give Nino the great excuse to dress up in ridiculous get-ups for his solos, of course). This song belongs squarely in the latter category. Nino is definitely trying to be cute here, and he's able to pull it off at the age of 30 in such an otherwise mature album only because he's Nino. Also, it's a song dedicated to his mother, so we really don't mind the sweetness. Nino CLEAR!
Track 9 - Rock Tonight
And here comes the fun clap-your-hands-with-the-audience song. There's hyperactivity in this song, and it really reminds me of the singing parts in "WOW!!" from the Here We Go! album, which is just such classic Arashi: energetic, fun-loving and a little silly. It's when our five bakas shed their shiny new mature sexiness to just let loose and goof around on stage. I'm hoping for some ass-grabs and janken matches to decide who has to be suspended/dive into a tank again haha! There's just something so refreshing about how Arashi can keep experimenting with new mature images in their music but still remain themselves. But I guess that's why we love them. Right?
Track 10 - Endless Game
I'll skip the review for this because I'm a bit lazy haha, and this song isn't new to most of you anyways.
Track 11 - Calling
Again, skipping this! All I'll say for both "Calling" and "Endless Game" is: if you haven't already listened to them on a loop, do so now. These are singles that were so worth buying.
Track 12 - 夜空への手紙 (Yozora e no Tegami)
Aiba's solos are definitely the most mellow ones out of all Arashi, and I get the feeling that he enjoys playing up his cute image in them (his boyish smiles in "Itsuka no Summer," "Friendship," "Magical Song" all come to mind). This song, though still pretty mellow, is definitely less cutesy and more mature. Aiba-chan is growing up (tear'), using his velvety voice to really emote. We hear real longing in his voice; it's so wistful and tender it will chip little dents in your heart. I also can't wait to see this in concert, because a melancholy Aiba is an irresistible Aiba. Aiba-chan mo CLEAR!
Track 13 - Dance in the Dark
Remember that time at the 5x10 concert when MatsuJun did a HanaDan medley... in full jazz style? Well, seems like his love affair with the playful smooth jazz beats is continuing. Jun's voice has improved by miles and miles since his earlier days and I love how he can sound both sexy and playful at the same time in this song, with the "doo doo wap doo woo wap" parts. It's certainly a different kind of solo. I cringed at last year's "We wanna Funk We need a Funk" and I thought "Tell me what you wanna be" was also painful to listen to (for reference, the Jun solos I liked were his techno sounds, like "Come Back to Me" and "Yabai Yabai Yabai"). With "Dance in the Dark" though, Jun's really showing us a whole new ballgame, and I love it! MatsuJun, CLEAR!
Track 14 - Starlight Kiss
Again, we're starting with a funky disco beat; in fact, this whole song just sounds more and more disco as you listen to it. There's that layering (much like the "ah~"s in the beginning of "Wild at Heart") in the chorus, and that tendency to peak up in the high pitched regions, and the banging beat with plenty of guitar action. The Sakurap is short but very typical, sounding just like any of the raps for their more fast-paced songs. This and the following "FUNKY" are excellent examples of Arashi breaking into a new musical genre (disco!!) in style.
Track 15 - FUNKY
Arashi + disco = me dancing like an idiot in my living room at 3 AM (this actually happened). And this track is disco like it was back in the 70's. I can see our five bakas pulling horizontal peace signs across their eyes and doing kicks in bell bottoms to this song. There's a video posted on the official Johnny's website that teaches fans a dance to do to this song for the LOVE tour. It looks more elaborate than the other audience dance moves (like for "Love so Sweet" or "Hadashi no Mirai"). Very promising. Arashi will have fun with this.
Track 16 - Tears
They were going for a slow ending, I guess. This song is a fitting end, and wouldn't be out of place as an ending theme to some sappy romance drama. I don't think it is particularly memorable though, and I tend to skip it more than any of the other songs on this album. Arashi have done better slow songs, in my opinion.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional musicians and have no idea of what's what in pop music. I'm just a fan talking about what I can relate to in the music, and trying to identify elements in songs that really resonate with me. If I got any of my facts wrong, please let me know in the comments.