Hello! I haven’t done a review in a while, but I’ve sold my soul to university work I’m afraid. I kept procrastinating and putting things off, but then this little single rolled around and I thought it was time to exercise my poor music-analysing skills. FYI, I can put an almost definite disclaimer that this is the first and last time Ken Hirai will be reviewed here. Sorry, Ken. It’s nothing personal. Anyway, this is Ken Hirai’s 36th single and features the wonderful Namie Amuro. It was released on April 2nd 2014 and I’m going to review Type-B!
The cover is very basic, but it does a nice job of conveying the mood of the song. It’s dark, the lyrics are quite ominous and the fact you can only see half their faces sets the tone and creates an apt counterpart to the “story” of the song. The other covers are very much variations on a theme so to speak, but with white backgrounds instead. Namie looks absolutely gorgeous, her make-up looks perfect. Ken is looking the part, I’m so glad you can’t see his ridiculous spikes on the cover (lord). His facial hair is looking pretty sweet too. I don’t adore it, don’t hate it either – it could’ve been much worse.
1. Grotesque feat. Namie Amuro (グロテスク feat. 安室奈美恵)
2. 桔梗が丘 (Kikyougaoka; a place name)
Alright, Grotesque is pretty great. If you’re a fan of Namie’s previous collaborations (particularly the ones that were crafted for her Checkmate! album), then you’re definitely going to be in your element here. It’s got a very clubby theme running throughout it, with a pounding beat that manages to keep a “subdued” sound i.e. it is never overwhelming on the ears. The bridge before the pre-chorus is glorious, awash with shimmering, slick synths and a dance build-up before an infectious, irresistible chorus. The entire song is essentially a back-and-forth between Namie and Ken, and the lyrics are pretty harsh. The chorus begs “I am grotesque / can you still love me? (…) It’s me / why don’t you kill me?” and lines after each verse like “Someone said / “I hate you”“. The English is kept to a minimum but when it appears it’s admittedly done well. As for the vocals… I must admit right now that I’m not a fan at all of Ken Hirai’s vocal abilities, but can attempt here to admire them from afar for this song and the b-side. That said, the way that their voices blend in the bridge is very aurally pleasing, they kind of merge and Ken sounds like a deeper version of Namie and she sounds like a higher (is it possible!?) version of Ken. And at some points their voices are almost indiscernible, but whether or not that’s a plus depends on how you feel about their respective voices! All in all, I really love this song. It’s catchy, great, sophisticated pop music. A winning effort.
Moving on to the b-side, and politely placing preconceptions about Ken’s voice aside for now, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that Kikyougaoka is underwhelming in comparison. It was actually released as a digital single by Hirai back in October 2013 already. It’s a gentle ballad, mostly led by Ken’s vocals. It’s very easygoing, Sunday morning type fodder. It’s actually not bad, but pales in comparison to the previous track. Fans of Ken will no doubt appreciate this much more than casuals who jumped on him this month for Namie, but that’s just my two cents. There’s some sleepy horns, a tinkling piano and sweet guitar. Altogether it makes a very docile, safe and pleasant track. And sometimes, that’s just what we want or need to hear. So for that reason, I don’t want to be too hard on this little number.
Overall (wow this feels short!), I think this is a solid single. I’m not a huge Ken Hirai fan at all, but I don’t want to taint the review with my bias. I’m giving this single an 8.2/10. As I said, Ken fans will find much more to cherish here than I did but the lead track is pop gold. The producers really worked their magic on this one, it’s versatile, danceable music with the right amount of sass and attitude from each singer to convey the dark message pushing through in the lyrics. I’m a fan of this release!