Written by Zer0
Alright, B'z, you've been my buddies ever since I got into j-music. You're one of my favorite bands ever - hell, one of Japan's favorite bands ever. Your albums over the last decade, however, have alternated between "eh, kinda crap" and "meh, pretty good I guess." So how have the boys fared on this outing? Let's find out!
The title track starts off the album and is reminiscent of B'z tracks from the mid- to late-90s like "HOME." The melody is classic Tak Matsumoto in all the right ways. Harmonic, charming, and mid-tempo, this is a charming way to start the album. However, it lacks the punch of their more recent album starter tracks like "ALL-OUT ATTACK," "junjou ACTION" and "DIVE".
2. sayonara kizudarake no hibi yo
This hard-hitting 80's metal number brightens during the chorus, giving you the feeling of a hard battle with optimistic precognitions of victory. The song rocked when it came out, and it still rocks now. Koshi's vocals seem to strain later in the song and sound like they've been mixed quietly to disguise it, which is unfortunate, but a minor complaint. The song itself is stellar.
3. hitoshizuku no ANATA
"KOI-GOKORO" style plucking mixes with "Liar! Liar!" style synth in the intro, and then what follows is the grinding guitar and slick production that would have made this track feel at home on the "ELEVEN" album back in 2000. Synthesizer takes a bit too much of a front seat for my taste on here, however, complete with auto-tuned and distorted vocals for, thankfully, only one line. This song is very close to being a unique, fascinating addition to the B'z repertoire, but the mixing and production are fatally flawed in places, keeping it from really achieving greatness.
The album's first ballad comes from the "Don't Wanna Lie" single. Its inclusion on the album over "Dawn Runner" is disappointing. The ballad is standard B'z slow dance fare rather than one of their more epic, dark ballads like "RING" or "You pray, I stay." The melody and arrangement sound similar to most B'z pop ballads along the lines of, say, "OCEAN". The sad, sweet guitar that occasionally takes the lead is the only thing that really sets it apart, however its earthy, golden tone doesn't match the slick pop production behind it.
5. Don't Wanna Lie
B'z change up the feel a bit with this 6/8 rock number. Unfortunately the tempo is a bit too fast and the drums feel messy during the verses. That said, the lead guitar riff in this is a tough one to play, and Tak succeeds in pulling it off cleanly. His solo later in the song is also a star moment for him. The melody during the chorus is nice and catchy, and some of the rhythmic surprises in the song make it a fun, active listen. So it has its flaws, but overall I don't feel negatively about the song.
This song starts off immediately with a clap track, screaming to the listener that they'll be hearing it on the next tour for sure. Two minutes in, we get a sing-along section in which backup vocalists galore sing along with Koshi. While these are obnoxious additions to the arrangement, the steady rhythm, brass section, and peppy melody add to the bouncy, fun, friendly feeling of the song. It's hard not to smile listening to this. The clap track and sing-along section just aren't necessary - I'm bobbing my head and tapping my feet just fine without them!
The bluesy guitar and jazz club drums bring to mind an image of Tak & Koshi strutting into a casino in gangster suits, getting ready to start something. The title doesn't help. It's dark, liquid, uptempo, and sexy! Koshi's voice drips with the energy of foreplay, Tak's guitar radiates manly, lazy confidence. It's songs like this that make me want to pounce on the guys.
8. Too Young
Talk about bluesy! This one incorporates a swinging rhythm and switches from big band jazz to solo acoustic guitar, keeping the tempo up throughout. This is a song to snap your fingers to. It's a VERY dated-sounding song, which is obviously done deliberately, but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. It would have sounded at home on, say, 1994's The 7th Blues, but it's certainly a welcome addition to this disc and adds some variety to the proceedings!
Here's a good dose of steady, slick rock, with good dynamism between acoustic and electric guitar. It goes between dark and bright moments like all their better rock songs, making it emotional but welcoming. The chorus lacks punch, however, and I can't tell if it's a weak melody, a rush job on the arrangement, or a combination of the two. The guitar solo is fantastic, however.
10. THE MEISTER
Bass doesn't usually take such a lead role in B'z tracks, given that the band is a guitarist and a singer. It's a welcome shift to hear it displayed so prominently on this track. It's very thick sounding as a result, and this otherwise upbeat, colorful song has a bit of undercurrent rolling thunder going on. Its chorus suffers from the same issue as "PILGRIM," however. In both tracks, you're not sure you actually just heard a chorus until it's over and a verse has started again.
11. DEAD END
This track handles synth much better than "hitoshizuku no ANATA" did. They're more of a spice sprinkled onto a dark, atmospheric rock track. This song is very flavorful, if we're going to go with the food metaphor. You get your basic B'z food groups here - strong lead electric guitar, brass section, catchy melody, and slick production. The echoing guitar behind Koshi's harmonies during the bridge really make it a treat. I love this track, it's by far my favorite on the album.
This track should bring back memories of the 1992 hit "ALONE." Melodically and structurally it's very similar. However, it's been 19 years and the song is much more maturely crafted. The arrangement moves around better, it is more epic, the guitar is played better, and Koshi's vocals have improved by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. If "ALONE" is nice but feels too dated to you, give this a listen. As ballads go, this is far superior to "Homebound."
13. ultra soul 2011
I braced for impact upon listening to this song. 10 years ago, the original "ultra soul" single became my first Japanese summer anthem. I was prepared for it to be destroyed. But this is better!! The drums hit harder now, the guitar is louder, and overall it sounds more like a live performance where the original was toned-down and overproduced to make it a safe radio hit. This is a worthy update and, aside from a few nitpicks regarding backup vocals and some weak mixing, an improvement in almost every way.
Overall, the album has variety going for it - certainly more than their last album, "MAGIC," had. The jazzy, bluesy, synth-laden, and more relaxed tracks really add some flavor to the album, keeping it from being a redundant mess of hard rock. Some questionable mixing decisions and a lack of really impressive guitar solos make it so only a few tracks really stand out, but it should be enough to satiate B'z fans. I'd give this one a solid B-.