My thoughts on the debut album from masked idol group Malcolm Mask McLaren.
Release Date: December 16th 2016
1. Otome Climber
4. Stand By Me
5. GIMME A CHANCE
7. Life on the way
8. SWEET LOVE OF SUMMMER
9. Just Believe
10. DO IT MYSELF
12. Drugs Can’t Kill Teens
13. like this sneakers
When you talk about masked idol groups, I guess most peoples’ default reaction would be to go “You mean Kamen Joshi, right?” After all, they have a pretty large following in the English speaking fandom so it would stand to reason that their name would be the first that comes to mind. I’ve seen all you diehard Kamen Joshi fans out there, you love them and you’re not afraid to scream and shout about it (and vote in polls) until everyone else knows how much you love them too. Well my friends, I am here today to tell you that there is another way. That way is Malcolm Mask McLaren.
Malcolm Mask McLaren are a fairly new group, having only really been around for a little over a year or so at this point. Their gimmick is that they wear those white surgical masks you see a lot (not all of them did, I know from experience) of Japanese people wear when they’re afflicted by some form of cold or flu-like illness. In the beginning these masks would stay on during lives too, but I guess they’ve figured out it’s pretty difficult to sing live (and probably breathe too) in a hot concert venue while wearing said masks so they’re typically only used for promotional purposes and during fan interaction these days.
“Melodic Hardcore” is Malcolm Mask McLaren’s debut album and I believe it’s also their first official release since they became a group. I’m not going to claim I’m super knowledgeable about their history so if anyone wants to drop some knowledge feel free to leave a comment, but I have heard a couple of their songs and they were definitely something that I could see myself enjoying greatly. I also noticed from the tracklist that there appears to be at least one cover on this album, so it’ll be interesting to hear how that plays out. Always a risky proposition singing a song entirely in English. Let’s see how they did.
The album opens with “Otome Climber”. “Maiden Climber” huh? Well, I’ll let all of you come to your own conclusions on that particular title I think. I guess you could say that this is a fairly standard sounding Idol Rock song, although there are a few Punk or dare I say even Ska elements that are just creeping in ever so slightly to the instrumental. The song on the whole is pretty catchy and has a really good energy and tempo to it. It’s probably not going to blow anyone away or anything like that, but as the opening track on a 14 song deep album, I have zero complaints.
“Terumi” is up next and I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m really going to enjoy this album a lot. This is just a really fun Ska-Punk song, and if you guys know me then you’ll know by now that I love all of that Punk and Ska stuff. Man, how come more idol groups don’t do Ska music man? That stuff is all kinds of hype and makes people want to dance. I kinda feel like the delivery of the vocals on this song could have been a little less serious in tone, but I think they were going for a more hardcore Punk style than a straight up Ska song so I can see why they did what they did. Two pretty good songs in a row, not a bad start.
The Punk Rock goodness continues with the album’s third track “still”. Whoever is writing this stuff for Malcolm Mask McLaren really knows what they’re doing by the sounds of things because these guitar riffs are pretty on point. The vocals on this song seem like they’re a pitch or two too high, or they’re just that much louder than the instrumental for some reason. Nothing wrong with being a bit rough around the edges though, this is Punk music after all. This is another great song, it’s as if they’re writing this album specifically with me in mind or something.
Things get a bit interesting when we come to the album’s fourth track. It’s a cover of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me”, and in keeping with what appears to be the theme of the album, it’s a Punk Rock cover. I always think it’s a brave call for a Japanese idol group to perform a song in English, never mind a song as famous as this but Malcolm Mask McLaren pull it off really well. Is it perfect? No, of course it isn’t but this is Punk Rock man, we don’t care about that sort of stuff here. When it comes to Punk Rock covers of songs, this is definitely one of the better ones I’ve heard. Make sure you check out the embedded video so you can hear it for yourselves.
We’re back to singing in Japanese for the next track. “GIMME A CHANCE” opens with a blistering guitar riff and fast paced drum beat. Definitely ticking all of my boxes so far. Once again we’re really focusing on the Punk Rock style of songwriting and once again I have zero issues with this gameplan. This song is incredibly catchy and I have to imagine it’s absolutely fantastic when performed in a live setting. There’s a bit of a random and somewhat out of place Hardcore style guitar chugging section that serves as the bridge, but apart from that this song is a total home run for me.
I’m not sure if I got the translation for this next song’s title right, but “Soldier” is pretty much the only thing that made sense after I checked multiple different sources. It doesn’t really matter I guess, what matters are that the opening chords of this song give me some pretty major New Found Glory vibes. The rest of the song doesn’t quite play out in the same way, but man do they really know how to tug at my heartstrings. I’m running out of ways to say “awesome Punk Rock song” at this point but that’s what this is once again. That guitar solo towards the end is just filthy too.
“Life on the way” (a cover of a PENPALS song) marks the midway point of the album, and we take a much deserved break from the high octane Punk antics we’ve seen thus far…for the most part anyway. This is a slightly more serious, perhaps even sombre sounding song with some thick guitars and the drumming keeps a pretty even keel. Then we hit the chorus and things pick up a bit, it’s nothing too crazy but it adds another dimension to the song. I don’t really get the fascination some producers have with having entire songs sung at the same tempo with nothing to distinguish verses from the chorus. Probably why I’m not a producer huh?
“SWEET LOVE OF SUMMMER” sees Malcolm Mask McLaren take their first stab at a more straight up Ska song, and it kinda works but it also kinda doesn’t for a really dumb reason. The instrumental is great, if it makes you want to skank (no, not that kind of skank) then it’s doing its job correctly if you ask me. However, the vocals sound like they’re really far away for some reason. Maybe it’s just me, but it did kinda take the shine off of the song a little. You can sort of get away with this if you’re doing a trashy Punk number, but here it sticks out. Pretty catchy song otherwise though.
The English vocals make a return for “Just Believe”, which as far as I can tell isn’t a cover of a preexisting song even though it would probably seem like it to the casual listener. The instrumental falls pretty squarely in the Rock category, but the vocals are I guess more of a Pop Punk kind of thing. It works pretty well, and I don’t think you can really hear any horrible screw-ups with the English or anything like that. This song isn’t the most obvious earworm ever, but after a couple of listens I can feel it working its way in there. This one will be overlooked I think.
We dip back into Japanese Punk history once again for “DO IT MYSELF”, which is a cover of a song by a band called SUPER STUPID (great name by the way). Fun fact, this also used to be the theme song of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s very own Hiroshi Tanahashi. It’s a pretty decent cover, and Malcolm Mask McLaren have definitely tried to put their own spin on the song. I do kinda wish it maybe had a bit more intensity to it though. The vocals and instrumental work are all great, I just would have preferred the song to hit a bit harder than it did. Still good though.
I asked for more intensity and a harder hitting song, so I guess “ROX” is going to give all of that to me. No idea what the title is supposed to mean, perhaps a hip way to spell “Rocks” or something like that. This is definitely a Rock song, so the title would be accurate in that case. I’m not really sure why, and I’m sure I’ll get all the hate in the world for this comparison but parts of this song kind of remind me of SCANDAL from back in the day. Not sure I would have personally gone with the screeching synthesizer sounds myself, but great song otherwise.
Up next we have possibly the best song title I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately Malcolm Mask McLaren can’t claim the credit for coming up with the amazing “Drugs Can’t Kill Teens”, that honor falls to Dragon Ash who are being covered here. Malcolm Mask McLaren really aren’t afraid of a cover it seems (pretty sure they have more than enough original songs for an album). The song starts out pretty slow but then it bursts into an awesome Punk Rock tune and obviously that’s my thing so someone was obviously in my head when putting this album together. What can I say, I’m a total sucker for these time signatures, guitar riffs, drum beats, whatever you want to call it.
It was all going so well and then the use of the English language just fell apart with “like this sneakers”. Obviously I’m joking, but the title is slightly amusing given the otherwise great use of English over the course of the whole album. Anyway, this song is a ballad I guess? It has a pretty in your face instrumental though, so that’s cool. There’s like xylophones and stuff incorporated into this Hard Rock, verging on Heavy Metal arrangement. It’s pretty interesting. The vocals are also pretty good, and they do pick up a bit towards the end of the song but on the whole it’s not the most memorable thing on the album.
The album closes with the rather plainly titled “myself”. The opening 30 seconds or so of the instrumental sort of reminds me of something New Found Glory might do. Unfortunately for me, the rest of the song doesn’t exactly play out in a similar fashion. This isn’t a ballad, but the vocals are definitely more subdued and you wouldn’t really say there’s too much of a hook to speak of. It’s still a very enjoyable song though, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the vocal performance itself. The instrumental is a little plain I guess but I guess you’re supposed to be more focused on the vocals on this song.
It’s almost unfair for me to be reviewing this album. Malcolm Mask McLaren have basically appealed to every single part of the Punk/Ska/Harcore fan in me over the course of 14 songs. However, I can recognize that there’s a few production choices I…would have done differently shall we say, so it’s not without minor fault. That’s a fair assessment right? That aside, this album is pretty awesome from start to finish and it’s a shame more people aren’t talking about it. Hopefully I might have changed that, even if only slightly.
So yeah, I’m like Oliver Twist over here going all “Please sir, can I have some more?” Malcolm Mask McLaren are the only group I’ve seen lately doing the whole Punk thing justice (well, my definition of Punk anyway) so I’m hoping I won’t have to wait another year or more for their next CD. This album had some pretty great producers working on it too, so the group seems to be in really good hands. I doubt they’ll be showing up on too many end of year lists though unfortunately.
Buy on Amazon JP: Regular Edition
Buy on CDJapan: Regular Edition