It's probably a testament to Arashi's staying selling power that this album can still sell well despite the LE cover looking like this:
The Arashi members, just so you know, were all perfectly aware of how similar sounding "Vegetarian" is with "Digitalian" in Japanglish. You can say that this graphic is no accident. No ho... Hah. But all vegetable jokes aside, this album is actually coming at a very special time. Not only is this their 15th anniversary, but The Digitalian is also the successor to what is perhaps the most phenomenally polished and musically riveting Arashi album ever: LOVE. There's certainly a lot to live up to, and after producing something as amazing as LOVE, the standard for their music has certainly been raised, and I think fans will probably be less forgiving of sloppy music from now on.
And yes, I am a huge fan of LOVE, but I am aware that not all people might share my enthusiasm for it, so consider yourselves warned that this post will contain some LOVE/Digitalian comparisons and that everything written here is my own personal opinion, which has no musical or professional authority whatsoever.
Arashi is certainly trying their hardest with this new album. They're going for a "digital" theme, which manifests in a few heavily techno tracks, and a techno elements mixed into other genres here and there. They're doing something pretty new, and very very dynamic. In fact, if I had to describe this album in one word, it'd be dynamic. Movement and action just permeate The Digitalian, which makes it pretty different from LOVE, because LOVE was sleek, mature and had quite a smattering of weighty tracks like "Ai Wo Utaou" and "Yozora e no Tegami." It also showed off some beautifully tender Arashi sounds in tracks like "sugar and salt," "Sayounara no Ato de," "Tears." The Digitalian brings us something decidedly less ponderous. I'd say of the 17 tracks on this new album, only the 3rd and 16th ones, "Tell Me Why" and "Hope in the Darkness" qualifies as having the same subdued/weighty tones as the LOVE tracks mentioned above. The rest of the album is all about action, from the shake-your-shake-your-body "Zero-G" to the five-times exclamatory "Take Off!!!!!"
So without further ado, let's get into the specific songs.
We're starting out with a lead track that is noticeably "digital," but still pop-enough to be palatable. "Zero-G" is just the type of thing you need in a promotional track of an album that's experimenting with a new style and image. It's catchy, it's got a strong beat, and it's jamming and dynamic, all essential to hook us in; and of course, it doesn't hurt that it also serves as an extraordinarily dance-able tune that gives Leader a perfect excuse to flaunt all of Arashi's fine asses in all their glory (as if fans didn't already have enough incentive to buy this album). I really enjoy some of the "digitalized" vocals in this song, especially Nino's "So I got it now~~~" and Aiba's "So I want it now~~~" (they're both the same veering type of effect). I also love the digital trip effect on Sho and Ohno's "Don't stop, stop, stop baby / Oh my, my, my lady" and "Kimi to let's get, get, get away / Sou turn, turn, turn, turn it up." It really gives the song a feeling of action, which means that yes, MatsuJun is going to have a shitload of fun bringing out all the bells and whistles for stage effects during the tour later this year, and it excites me, it genuinely does!
"Girl you wonderful~"
"Girl you wonderful~"
Ohno's call and answer with the other members certainly brings us straight to the point right in the opening lines of this track. This song is full of smooth, gliding harmony, with a jazzy background and a busy beat. It's a fast-moving song, and if choreographed for a concert, should keep Arashi dancing on their toes for a good while. The tone is full of, well for lack of a better word, wonder, to the point where it really feels like the five members (with Ohno as their lead vocalist) are whisking you away to a topsy turvy dream world where you can fly and twirl to your heart's content. The brisk pace of everything, along with the brass elements, reminds me of MatsuJun's "Dance in the Dark" from LOVE, and both are seductive in a cheeky, sassy kind of way, though I think "Wonderful" has more of a festive feel to it. Not bad for a second track.
Tell Me Why
If there's one song that's meant to be sung with Arashi's hands clenching their own hearts, it's this one. This song stands out for its subdued tone and emotional rawness. The instrumentals are plain, mostly a melancholy piano and a slow rolling drumbeat. The lyrics are sad, so sad and lonely. And the lilting voices that sing them are imploring and rippling with a hurt so painful it makes it hard for us to me to swallow. It's not a fresh kind of pain that still stings and throbs, but more like a wound that's covered with stagnant scars, a healed wound that just can't be forgotten. There's a wispy aura to this song, as if Arashi knows that the heartbreak they sing of cannot ever find resolution. I'll make no secret that I'm in love with this song, and it's one of the few on this album that I loop over and over again. Ohno's voice is especially beautiful here, and the regret in that final "I'm so sorry" is sure to shatter some hearts. I love the swell and surge in "Ooohhh baby tell me why..." and I love the wonderful layering of voices as we get into the chorus, with the emotional main backed by undertones of lower-register Sakurap ("My pain ga stay / again and again."). And speaking of Sakurap, the rap proper is a mix of something manly, something furious, and something helpless all at once. It starts with a slow drawl, and then escalates into a pounding fury as Sho starts rapping faster and faster until he just shouts "No, please, back again!" It's an interesting break from the deep sorrow that pervades the rest of the song. I'm not sure what to make of it. I kind of wish the song stayed purely melancholy with the delicate piano and handclaps; I would have been fine without the insertion of that fury in the Sakurap. But meh~ It's not a bad piece of rap on its own. It just felt a bit out of place in this song, I guess.
Lines I love:
-Ohno's "Itsumo umaku ienakute / toki ni kimi wo kizutsukete"
-Ohno's "Kimi no inai heya wa / Akibako mitai ni karuku" Not only do I love the sadness in this line of lyrics, I also think Ohno's voice sounds beautiful against the roll of that piano. His voice just sounds so pure. There's minimal vibrato, and the clear quality of the voice just blends with with the instruments.
-"Kikoeru kara" in the chorus. Just power. Five-way rainbow angst power.
-Ohno's "I'm so sorry" at the end.
This is perhaps the song that reminds me most of my beloved Endless Game B-side "Intergalactic," though "Asterisk" is more of a song that floats and glides, whereas "Intergalactic" was definitely more of a thumping and zooming kind of dance party, complete with the warp speed engine revs. Just listen to the verses in this Digitalian track: "Hoshi mo nemuru / sora no hate ni / Kimi to futari / tadayou you ni." The syllables are very drawn out, and the background music is reduced to these nebulous synth elements that appear in the beginning of a musical bar and then scatter out in echoing pieces across the soundscape. It makes for a very surreal, viscous atmosphere, and Arashi's voices are also digitally treated to get that spacious, robotic effect that allows them to float over the instrumentals and harmonize over each other, reinforcing that sense of being untethered and directionless. The beat comes back in the more emphatic verses like "Universe, universe, michi to no far away..." but the gliding harmony doesn't fade, and it all feels so sleek and refined and alien, but still beautiful because it's something unknown, and (thanks to the echoing quality of all the sounds here) something that feels so much bigger and more significant than what we're used to on Earth. I like this kind of digital Arashi. I usually prefer a more emotional, personal Arashi, but this kind of detached digital smoothness is something that I can accept with relish.
Imaging Crazy (Ohno solo)
Remember how Sho's "sugar and salt" drew us right off the sleek sexy dance floor of LOVE and handed us a couple of chilled martinis with a slow R&B tempo to really savor the sexiness of Arashi in a more tempered, deliberate and undeniably seductive way? Well, I think of "Imaging Crazy" in a similar way. It's like a steadier, quieter, more personal kind of vocal seduction to reel our ears in after they've been blasted with the sheer zoom of other more overtly sexy tracks like "Zero-G," "Asterisk," "TRAP," and "STAY GOLD." I mean, these tracks are music meant for blasting out at max volume and just letting Arashi hammer home their appeal through every heart-throbbing beat, but "Imaging Crazy" is different. It beckons you in, and doesn't try to overwhelm you with two much instrumental fanfare, just a dribbling beatbox, a few finger snaps, some cooing backup vocals, and a dangerous Ohno Satoshi who's so smooth he goes down like a sip of expensive vodka, cool and silky on your throat but with oh!what a burning kick at the end! The chorus, where he drops down to the low end of his register to sing the "Toraenai mama nozomi egaite wa/Sotto/Asa wo negau no wa~" against an absolutely magnetically masculine beat and then immediately repeats the melody an octave higher in the next line is just to die for. Not to mention that wet little "Aaahh... Stop" he utters after the first chorus and the sinfully drawn out "Uhhh~" around the 2:56 mark. This song is almost four minutes of perilous seduction, I don't even know how else to describe it. Here's to looking forward to an orgasmic performance in the Tour later this year! Track highlights: the dribbling beat, the backup vocal echoes, the octave jump in the chorus.
GUTS! (skipping the review for the singles, as usual)
Disco Star (Aiba solo)
So Aiba revealed beforehand that the other members all laughed upon listening to this song. Well, with lyrics like "正真正銘の I'm a disco star" ("I'm an authentic Disco Star") and "Boogie Woogie もっともっとフリーキー Funky girl" ("Boogie Woogie, more, more freaky, funky girl"), can we blame anyone for laughing? And to make things even better, it's all sung in Aiba's soft teddy-bear voice against an instrumental background that wouldn't be out of place in the kind of 70's bar that blasts the likes of ABBA in all their sequined bell-bottom glory. Is Aiba just taking another opportunity to flaunt his complete dorkiness? Hell yes. And do I love this? Without a doubt, yes! "Disco Star" is miles and miles superior to Aiba's other disco-influenced solo "Magical Song" (from BNMF), and I don't even know why. Perhaps it's the absence of those raucous horn blares; perhaps it's sheer ridiculousness of Aiba fully embracing his inner disco diva; or perhaps it's just the appeal of crowd arousal in the "everybody hands up" lines and the twisty melody that really gets me up and hopping. I don't know. I find it hard to pinpoint why exactly I like this disco but not the "Magical Song" disco; all I know is that hearing Aiba reaching into the upper limits of his vocal register to declare that he's the real authentic Disco Star in this song makes me giggle like an uncontrollable idiot and want to loop this song and boogie woogie until daybreak.
Daremo Shiranai (skipping)
One of the most heavily "digital" tracks in the album. It's got a computerized accompaniment throughout, and is a pretty noisy track overall, full of beeps and vibrations and some arcade-shotgun-like beat that just fills all the sound space whenever the chorus blares up. The whole song has a pretty tense tone of danger to it, and Arashi's sounding very predatory, with lines like "I'll take you down!" and "I'll get you in the trap!" The whole digital aspect only heightens the sense that we're in some kind of matrix maze that's made up of ever-changing laser lights, and I'm sure if a PV was ever made for this song, it would feature some dizzying CGI. I can't really say whether I like or dislike it. It's just... something new. It's full of swag, that's for sure, and danceable, too, yes, but something about the accompaniment is just a tad too raucous and impersonal for my taste (though to be fair, the "impersonal" part probably has a lot to do with the very nature of "digital" or "techno" music, which is a genre I don't really gravitate towards). There are elements I do like though, like the tiptoeing softness of "Ki ga tsuku ma mo nai sa trap/Ki wo nukya sugu tada no scrap" and the cocksure bad-assery of the lyrics, and I'm sure that this will look absolutely phenomenal in concert (it's just the kind of thing J would relish popping out all his fancy techno gear for). All in all though, it's not really my kind of thing, and I doubt I'll ever feel in the "mood" to put on a song like this, though hey, if it's already playing, I'll sit through and sing along with it just fine.
STAY GOLD (Jun solo)
The opening to this track had me excited. Very measured, deliberate sound effects with a dark and dangerously sexy feel. It had MatsuJun's mark stamped all over it, and any thoughts of MatsuJun going the cute sweetheart route with a "Kono Mama Motto"-like solo were stamped out within the first ten seconds of the track. This solo was a strange mix of things: it was sensual Jun, manly Jun, soaring Jun, funky Jun all rolled into one kaleidoscopic song. I don't really have a strong like or dislike for this song, but I enjoyed Jun's strong vocals, and I enjoyed the fluctuations in pitch and tone throughout. I thought the instrumentals were a little noisy in some parts, but overall, there's not much to complain about. Truth be told, the intro was probably my favorite part of the song. I said it got me excited, and it did, but I sort of wish that the song itself followed up more on that edgy sensuality in the beginning. The "kikoete kuru / kansei no naka" lines were just dripping with MatsuJun's uniquely luscious appeal, and I wish it transitioned into something a bit more urbane than the "G.O. to da L.D." I don't know what to say about this track, really. I think it was obvious that MatsuJun put a lot of thought into putting it all together, and it's not bad, but I'm just not raving over it, either.
Merry Christmas (Nino solo)
Another Nino-written, Nino-composed song. I was quite looking forward to this one. When the lyrics were leaked, I read them before I had even listened to the song, and I thought they were very sweet, with just a touch of holiday magic that I can totally see Nino's innocent-looking face pull off. They were excellent lyrics, but I have to admit that reading them first without hearing the song may have clouded my judgment of the music a bit, because when I did get round to listening, I had already developed a very specific image of the song in my head, and when the actual music didn't match it, when it turned out to be too fast and too noisy and the verbal pauses weren't in the places I had imagined them to be, I was just that leetle bit disappointed. Objectively speaking, though, I don't think I would have enjoyed the fast tempo even if I had heard it without prior judgment (I hear from Twitter sources that it's a galloping 200 bpm! Whoa! Nino, I know you're excited about Christmas, but that's a bit much, I think). It just makes the whole song feel so rushed when there is still so much to be savored in this song, like when he sings "kotoshi no onegai wa" and "datte kimi ni aitakute" I felt almost as though Nino was just stringing syllables along to the music without much emotional investment. What happened to the heart-shatteringly devastated Nino from "Sore wa Yappari Kimi Deshita?" Or the breathtakingly sensual Nino from "Gimmick Game"? Or the impishly playful Nino from "Himitsu" who practically warbled a smile through the speakerphones?
But to be fair, not all of this song was a disappointment. Nino, as I mentioned before, wrote some very fun lyrics (side note: I am a big fan of the deep bond between Aimiya, and while there is nothing conclusive to indicate that Nino wrote this for Aiba, I do believe that a part of him had to be thinking of his bestie at least a little bit while he was writing and composing), and the melody was not too bad, either. He definitely borrowed some Christmas carol elements to add holiday spice to it, which I approve of. I also liked the uplifting steps in "kaeri michi wa onaji" and "Santa wa Santa wo oikaketa." I just really wished everything wasn't so damned fast!
Kimi no Yume wo Miteita
We slow back to a normal pace with this uplifting little number, and all the feels come rushing back as soon as the opening chords give way to some beautiful Ohno Satoshi vibrato against a tingling synth backdrop. And really, something about that line of lyrics just opens the song so well: "Wasurenai kara / kimi no koe wa kikoeteru yo / kawari yuku sora miageta boku ni yasashiku hibiite iru." The sound of a single voice recalling another voice as a source of gentle constancy within the broadly changing world just evokes, to me at least, a very absorbing image that pulls one right into the meat of the song. It also doesn't hurt that Ohno's in very fine form with the melodic jumps in "kimi no koe WA kikoeteru YO," adding just the right amount of force to give us the hint of an echo effect so that he sounds alone, but not lonely. And once the other members join in the verse, I don't think we ever get another solo line from any single member for the rest of the song, which may be why this song sounds less dainty (vocally) and more stirring (in a big-picture kind of way) and certainly not at all lonely, ever. It's the kind of song you need to hear when you want to feel like there's someone on your side, supporting you always, boosting you always, steady and reliable. It chases any feelings of isolation far, far, away and leaves only positive energy behind. An excellent song for a rainy day =D
Am I the only one who felt like they were transported to Hawaii here? I mean, the guitar/ukulele-strumming aside, the whole tone of this song is just so tropical and carefree and genuinely happy. It's even got recurring Sakurai-whistles! And all of Arashi sound so chipper and boyish and just so them throughout. It's a simple song, but I love everything about it. I love the opening, love Nino's wavering little "Oooohh~ mata hitotsu yo ga akete," love how Mr. Sunshine himself skips right in after Neen with the same melody and the same cheery lyrics, and love love love how everything's buoyed by these simple violin two-steps in the background. (Strings and pianos in Arashi songs are amazingly used). And when Arashi's fearless Leader himself steps in to take the vocal reins, we get a lovely warm bath of strings that harmonically fills the spaces left by the two-steps, and another violin comes in to follow his melodic build-up to the chorus "negai hitotsu wo takushite~" The other members are join their Leader and echo "takushite~" "takushite~," harmonizing with each other at higher and higher intervals until the chorus dawns on us all and we find ourselves swaying our bodies to "One step... atarimae no" AAAHHHH~ Everything about this song is just so damn adorable and Arashi-like! Bokura no melody, indeed! The second verse starts with Jun, and you might notice a little change in the little two-steps that serve as the buoyant background instrumental: it's now a plucked string instead of a bowed string, and it gives this such a more playful, tropical tone. The bridge contains a pretty piece of Ohmiya singing crisscrossing rainbow arches over each other (I'm talking about the "Namae mo nai / ano fuukei wo (fuukei wo) / itsuka deau / hatenai yume wo (yume wo)" part where Nino echoes Ohno's main lines). And we're treated to a blasting Ohno high note right before the last chorus: "Uuuu yeeeaaa~!" Ah, that felt satisfying! This song is, simply put, a failsafe happy pill. I dare you to listen to it and not smile, seriously. I dare you.
Hey Yeah! (Sho solo)
In general, I like Sho's breezy, positive "hey yeah! let's go!" image, but I gotta say that this song, though fun, strikes me as the kind of thing that I might listen to for a summer and then forget about when the next season rolls by. It's not a bad song, and it's certainly very upbeat and cheery and enjoyable to bop along to, but I'm just not feeling very much depth to this music, if you know what I mean. Like it's all surface material, all about clapping hands and running around and feeling good, but not much underneath that, because once the music ends, the fun stops, and there's not much of an aftertaste lingering around for us to savor and reflect upon. It's very different from the equally upbeat, equally cheery but far more complex "One Step" that precedes it. So sorry, Sho-kun, you're really adorable here and I still love you and when the DVD of the 2014 Tour comes out, I know I'll be hopping to this "1 2 3 4, Let's get on!" you have, but do I think you can do better than this? Yes, absolutely. Here's to 2015!
Hope in the Darkness
This is the "Ai wo Utaou" of The Digitalian. It has that same sense of grandeur, that same echoing power, as if Arashi was singing this to us from a splendid mountaintop against a splendid sunrise. It's uplifting and swollen with emotion in every musical note, but slightly more tempered and reflective than "Ai Wo Utaou," with more of an alternative rock feel to it (contrast that with the very obviously and brilliantly orchestral "Ai Wo Utaou"). And given that this is in an album with a digital theme, it makes sense that it sounds less orchestral. I think Arashi pulled this one off beautifully. It's probably a tie (with "One Step") for my personal favorite track of the album. I love the winding, echoing "oh-oh-oh" backup vocals, love the way the mood so seamlessly transitions from the surging chorus to the languid verses, and I am absolutely head over heels for the soulful repetitions of "Subarashiki ashita e," especially that little harmonic step on the last "e" syllable. Arashi's harmonizing in this song is really only obvious in these two notes (the last "a" and "e"), but it is so, so powerful, and hearing their voices soar and glide like that totally gives me an oomph to race towards a wonderful tomorrow.
The individual member parts also sound amazing in this song. My favorite part of this song would probably be the verses over the chorus, really, because the emotions are just so much rawer when the members are singing solo. Also, the lyrics during the solo parts are also breathtakingly poetic.
-Nino's delicate, barely there vibrato on "daichi ni sotto saita hana no you ni / utsukushiku"(also, just the whole arc of his voice as it goes higher and higher during the verse. He also has other members harmonizing with him here, and it's faint, ethereal, and beautiful)
-Ohno's line right after, "ima yoru ga akete yuku~ / kikoeru ka?" His vibrato on "yukuuuuu~" is so skillfully controlled with such tense strain that it just begs a release, which we get right after he asks us "kikoeru ka?" and we're swept into the chorus.
-Jun's "manten no hoshi no you ni / umareta shinpi." It's not often that you hear Jun reaching vocally to sing bits like the "hoshi" part of this line, and purity of his voice on "you ni" and "shinpi," when he's in his more comfortable pitch, is pretty surreal, too. The nasal quality seems a lot less bothersome when it's like this, too. Our MatsuJun actually sounds kind of sweet in this line.
-Ohno and Nino's "Hikari to kage / hanpirei / najimu koto naku taemanaku / yurete" They sound so, so, so good in those low, terse lines, and I think I got legit goosebumps when Nino sang "najimu koto naku."
Anyways, can you tell I love this song? It's a powerful way to end the album (LE, that is), and I sincerely hope that they do more of these soaring, grandiose numbers!
Take Off!!!!! (bonus track)
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking..." Ready guys, fasten your seatbelts, because Arashi is about to take us sky high with their energy! This song is so bright it sounds like a legit CM BGM! Really, I wouldn't be surprised if the next JAL CM features them zooming off into the sky at the helm of some futuristic Arashian alien aircraft to the tune of "Come in now! Come in now, baby!" I fully enjoyed hearing all five guys do their rapping parts (I still think it sounds hilarious when Aiba tries to rap ^.^) and I thought Sho was pretty brilliant for coming up with all these rap lyrics, which seemed to rhyme every other syllable (okay, that's an exaggeration, but listen to the song, and you'll get where I'm coming from). I loved the play on the "O" sounds, and loved how pumped each member sounded when they rapped solo. This is what a bonus track should be, right? Fun and light and in-your-face, demanding you to have fun, to join them, to fly off from this album with a smile on your face. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and am very looking forward to seeing the concert performance of this!
And that concludes my first impressions of The Digitalian. Did I like it? All in all, yes, I did, and I've been playing almost nothing else on my speakers for the past few days, and it's bound to grow on me even more as I get pumped for the concert DVD in about a year's time. But is it going to be my new favorite album? Probably not. LOVE, Beautiful World, One (among others) are some pretty tough cookies to beat, but regardless of my personal tastes in music, I am really, really happy to see that Arashi is challenging themselves by stepping into new genres and not being afraid to take a heavier hand in the creative process with this new album. As a fan, I don't mind if their first experimentation with new musical themes is a little less scintillating than their prior songs. They're never going to please everyone at the same time, anyways, and it's the spirit of innovation that really counts, the ability of them to keep us hanging on the edge of our seats, eagerly waiting to be surprised by whatever new thing their ever-active minds are prepared to stun us with. So while I can't give a rave review for the Digitalian, I can and do see the tremendous effort they put into this album, and I appreciate it. Because truly, that's Arashi for you. They'll always work hard for us fans, and that's why we love them, even if we don't love all their music.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional musician or much acquainted with musical terminology. I'm just a fan writing about her thoughts and feelings after listening to her favorite idol group's music. So please, don't use this for your music class reports, kids!