My thoughts on “Start”, the debut album from MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN.
Release Date: June 10th 2020
1. MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN -Ookuri suru no wa jinsei gekijō-
3. Restart (2020ver.)
4. Donkusa Happy
5. Rocket Start
7. Sayonara shinakya
8. Boku ga ī
11. Soba ni iteyo Baby angel
12. Kimi igai ni motetai
13. Daijōbu Sunrise
While I’m normally pretty good at keeping on top of this Idol stuff, there are times when I do let some stuff pass me by. You kinda have to sometimes, otherwise this really would start to feel like a job and we can’t be having that now can we? In any case, it’s usually for reasons along the lines of not having enough hours in the day, my attention failing to be grabbed, poor recent musical form and what have you. Or in the case of today’s review, I just wasn’t really sure if I needed another WACK group in my life.
MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN are I guess technically WACK’s most recent creation, if we don’t count that whole GANG PARADE deal anyway. The group is made up of finalists from the MONSTER IDOL reality show and a previously existing member of WAgg. I guess WACK can tick off reality show on the list of crazy shit they’ve done now, though it was pretty damn popular so fair play to them. Unfortunately I don’t really know anything about the members and I didn’t watch the show, so I’ve failed in my responsibility to provide you all with accurate and well researched information here I’m afraid.
The rather aptly named “Start” is the group’s debut album, coming after them having released a couple of digital singles over the last 6 months or so. It was originally slated to come out in May but well, you know how all that went down by now so it got pushed back a month to June. Many of the songs are collaborations between Matsukuma Kenta and comedian Kuro-chan, who played the role of aspiring idol producer on the reality show, so we’ll see how that translates into a final product here. I’m kinda expecting a typical WACK base style but I’m hoping there might be a few interesting spins put on it along the way.
The album opens with the rather long-windily titled “Mameshiba no Taigun -Ookuri suru no wa jinsei gekijō-” which doesn’t waste any time establishing a very upbeat and hyperactive sounding instrumental based around a Piano Rock composition of sorts. Really lively stuff, with a bit of a Denpa flair to it that definitely made me sit up and take a bit more notice that’s for sure. The vocals come in fairly quickly and after repeating parts of the song’s title for a bit things properly get underway. I like the interplay between the silly, hyper side of things and the slightly more mature and serious tone that gets introduced for the main verses. They play off of each other very well and both parts do a great job of keeping to the breakneck pace and bouncy tempo of the accompanying instrumental. Turns out the chorus is pretty much just the same part we heard in the opening and I’m perfectly fine with that personally, and they do change it up a bit by slowly increasing the insanity as the song progresses. By the end of the track even the more serious vocals are in danger of getting swept up in it all. I also thought it was kinda funny how the track just gets cut off at the end like a “Yeah, you kids are done here” kind of thing. As far as first impressions go, this is pretty darn good one I must say.
Up next is “FLASH”, which is apparently a reference to one of the members’ underage drinking scandal that got picked up after a tabloid of the same name ran the story. The best way to deal with controversy is to lean into it I’ve found, and I guess WACK agree with me on that front. The excited energy is continued into this track too, with a very quick tempo Rock style instrumental leading us off with some pretty ear pleasing guitar work being one of the main highlights here. The song’s first verse sees a momentary lull in the action to allow for the rather BiSH-esque vocals to establish themselves, before the guitar kicks up again and we’re treated to some more ear candy. Not a huge fan of the distorted and kinda garbled backup vocals that appear from time to time but they do kinda work with the tone that the instrumental is going for I suppose. The chorus really sounds like something that BiSH would do though, so make of that what you will. I personally thought the lyrics were quite catchy and the treatment on the vocals was kinda raw but with enough melody to be getting by on so it’s a win for me I think. That said, I do think that the star of the show here is the guitar work as we were treated to some really cool riffs and progressions over the song’s 3 and a half minutes of runtime. Horribly unfair of me towards the vocals I’m sure but I just call them as I see them.
Three tracks in and we’re finally treated to some previously released material in “Restart”. This was MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN’s debut single and most peoples’ first introduction to the group, so it would have been a pretty big deal at the time of its release. This is my first time experiencing it though I think, maybe? More Piano Rock seems to be the order of the day early doors, with some twinkling keys accompanying a very familiar sounding collection of chords and notes that are hinting very strongly that we’re heading off in a Ballad sort of direction. That indeed does end up being the case but hey man, the vocal performance and the emotion being put into it in the verses is some pretty good stuff, even I can admit that much. The instrumental is also providing some interesting piano parts so I didn’t find myself tuning out like I might have otherwise. Can’t really say the same about the chorus though as that’s about as paint by numbers as you can get in this particular genre of song. Not saying it’s technically bad, poorly performed or anything like that, it’s just something we’ve all probably heard a million times before is all. You need a track or two like this on an Idol album though so in that context it’s fulfilling that role incredibly well. I’m just glad this wasn’t my initial introduction to the group because I feel like my opinion might have been unfairly colored in a negative way.
It’s quickly back to the all new material on the album’s fourth track “Donkusa Happy”, which kinda sounded like it was going to be this lazy sort of Dream Pop type deal to start with but then the party came crashing in to living things up considerably. We get an instrumental that’s funky with a whole ton of rhythm to it and is definitely harking back to that 70s-80s kind of club vibe. What can I say, that revivalist movement in Japan really doesn’t seem like it’s going to be running out of steam anytime soon and my born too late ass is all the more thankful for it. The vocals also do their part to hit that retro vibe, with some smokey tones and light reverb all coming together to provide a very true take on the genre…well, for the most part anyway as there’s definitely a voice or two in there that aren’t best suited for this style to be fair. The chorus doesn’t really try too hard to stand out from the crowd on this track but that’s fairly typical for the style of song being presented and it is still easy to pick out with the uptick in intensity behind the delivery of the lyrics. If you liked the flow and structuring of the verses then you’ll probably enjoy the chorus too but if you wanted something a bit different then this ain’t going to be it I’m afraid. Is it going to go down in recent history as a shining example of the Funk/Disco/City Pop revival? Probably not, but “Donkusa Happy” definitely deserves a place at the table and should be checked out by anyone currently enjoying such genres.
Then it’s back once again to some previously released material for fifth track “Rocket Start”. This is MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN’s second single, and it was released together with “Daijōbu Sunrise” which we’ll talk about later as some kind of stunt or other that doesn’t really matter in the context of this review. More piano features in an instrumental that is very bright and sparkly sounding from the off, once again with that vague idea of a Ballad being dangled out there. The introduction of guitar and muting of much of the opening instrumental’s components for the beginning of the song’s first verse staves that off though, granted the vocals aren’t particularly lively in their tone or delivery here either. Not quite what I was expecting but I kinda dig the flow and rhythm that they’ve got going on here in a weird way. The chorus then proceeds to take on a different tone entirely, with the song becoming the very bright and lively affair that it threatened to be from the beginning, pushing things almost too far in a childish direction for me personally at times. It’s quirky for sure, but it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The rest of the track sees a nice balance struck between both styles for the most part and I think that’s probably where things should have fallen anyway. Fairly inoffensive stuff but a couple of nice hooks should be enough to please most casual listeners I think.
“CHANGES” certainly lives up to its title, that’s for sure. Opting to forgo the use of piano and other such instrumentation that has been a big feature on the album up until this point, in favor of a nice old school sounding Rock composition. Big hearty riffs are backed by a steady and I suppose somewhat disappointingly simple drumbeat as the track starts to develop and it doesn’t take too long until some vocals are brought into play. They’re delivered in nice, natural sounding tones with just a little bit of attitude coming through to accent a particular word or two every so often which I thought did a pretty good job of boosting the personality of the track, as well as making it sound a bit more true to the genre it was pulling influence from. They get away from this a bit in the choruses, with the vocals getting this bright, shrill sort of tone to them which kinda works but at the same time felt a bit off to my ears personally. It’s a very powerful performance, as are several other moments on the track for that matter, just maybe step it down an octave or two while keeping the rawness of the emotion behind the lyrics because that was definitely awesome to hear. I dunno, it’s just where I would have gone with it I guess. More than enjoyable the way it is though, especially if you take into account all of the cool guitar riffs that are littered throughout the track. If the Piano Pop wasn’t doing it for you then perhaps this track might.
I wasn’t really sure where things were going initially on “Sayonara shinakya”, as there were quite a few different components to its opening instrumental. A summer guitar riff here, a bit of synthesized percussion there, ambient synthesizer, an almost marching band drumbeat…you get the idea. So when the vocals came in and I got a blast of Chill Hop, it’s safe to say I was rather surprised…pleasantly so though. It’s quite a bit to unpack but the vocals and the flow of the lyrics do a really good job of tying everything together after a while. Nice rich tone and a feeling of warmth can go a long way I guess. Unfortunately for me things don’t stay like this for the whole track, with a much bright synthesizer and overall tone being introduced from the first chorus onwards. It works well enough but I much preferred the more natural singing to the bright shrillness that develops over time. The ambiance of the synthesizers also gets brighter and in my opinion harsher as the song progresses which makes for a couple of fairly epic sounding moments but it kinda took me out of what I thought I was signing up for initially. I probably just placed too much expectation on this one I suppose, it’s still decently enjoyable after all, I just find it hard not to feel a little disappointed here unfortunately.
It sounds like we’re by the sea at the start of the album’s 8th track “Boku ga ī”, with the Maison book girl-esque use of a field recording being the way that they chose to kick this one off. It’s fairly quickly supplanted by more of that Piano Pop style that we’d been hearing a lot of early on on this release, so I guess at this point it’s fairly safe to say that this is a core component of the MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN sound. The instrumental is once again very bright and sparkly before settling down into a more muted, mid-tempo rhythm with the introduction of the vocals. Very much a Ballad in both style and delivery on that particular front but if you enjoy nice, clean, natural vocal performances then this sort of thing should be right up your alley I think. The chorus brings the brightness back up a few notches and the instrumental turns a bit more positive in tone, with more tinkling keys and such accompanying a louder and more impassioned vocal performance. It’s not really anything that’s going to be new to you if you’ve heard a couple of songs in this genre before but it’s a pretty solid take on a rather well established style. Thankfully the track keeps a hold of some of this energy coming out of its first chorus and carries it through to the remainder of the time that it is with us. By the end it’s sounding a lot more fun and bouncy which was good to hear. Not going to rank near the top of my favorite tracks from this release but it’s filling a role very effectively.
What are you even really supposed to say about a song with a title like “Gardening”? It’s probably one of the most mundane things you could ever title a song, so we likely should have expected it from a WACK project I suppose. The song is also a bit mundane starting out, with the instrumental clashing distorted guitar with melodic piano in a somewhat similar way to what you’d have heard on a BiSH release maybe a year or so ago. It’s not the worst thing in the world but it’s not really pushing the boat out in any significant way either, it feels rather safe by WACK standards is what I guess I’m trying to say here. Vocally it’s kind of along similar lines for the opening verses with the WACK house style of uplifting, mid-tempo delivery being deployed like the well perfected technique that it most surely is by now. There’s nothing bad about it, but there’s also nothing that’s super memorable either so take from that statement what you will I suppose. The chorus pretty much just boosts everything up a bit, which results in a somewhat unpleasant harshness developing from the instrumental but I’ve been told I’m wrong about that in the past so chances are people will probably love it here too. The vocals get a bit crowded out but do the best job that they can to cut through the noise and it’s a very powerful, emotionally charged performance that once again is very much in line with what you would expect from a WACK track like this. If you like the WACK style you’ll enjoy this one, but if you’re kinda tired of it at this point and are looking for something different then you’ll likely be left wanting here.
“Trust” then comes along to snap us out of this little Ballad-y reprieve we’ve been having, with something a bit more energetic and exciting. It’s a rather chaotic mix of a bunch of different genres, from 80s Pop melodies to noodley Rock riffs, with a bit of electronica and some other bits and pieces sprinkled in here and there for good measure. It works out pretty well most of the time, especially after the track has really developed and got its’ legs under with the instrumental providing a very bouncy tempo and energetic mood that I found myself welcoming after the past couple of tracks. There’s a few moments where it gets a little bit too convoluted for its own good in my opinion but those are fairly few and far between thankfully. The vocals are once again very solid, performed in that usual WACK style for the most part but there’s also a few times where they get to let their hair down and have a bit of fun. It makes for a very colorful performance with a bit of attitude, some playfulness, moments of cheerful exuberance and more besides which sounds like a lot on paper but they manage to pull it off with some impressive subtlety. The chorus is pretty catchy too which doesn’t hurt things, though maybe they could have pushed the boundaries a little bit more with it but it’s definitely still effective despite my personal feelings that it’s a bit on the safe side. Quite a lot to unpack here but you should have a pretty fun time doing so.
Despite its somewhat tame title, “Soba ni iteyo Baby angel” is bringing a whole lot to the conversation early on as far as the instrumental is concerned. A very aggressive Hardcore style guitar and drum combination is paired with loud, Electronica influenced synthesizer melodies to make for something with quite a bit of personality that certainly knows how to make an entrance. The synths die off in time for the first few verses to come in, allowing the attitude laced vocals to do their thing in a very direct and somewhat moody way. It all ties together very well and we’re treated to some rather nice guitar riffs in the background so really what isn’t there to like here exactly? The synths come back in as we build our way to the chorus and it’s pretty clear that the intention here was to flip the script and go much brighter and more melodic. Synthesizer rules the day instrumentally and the vocals are bringing more energy and a higher pitch to their delivery which is all very effective at what it’s going for and the lyrics have a few nice hooks too which is always a good thing. There were a couple of moments where I thought they might have pushed it a bit too far but they always seemed to stop just short. I also enjoyed how both sides of the song sort of came together down the back third to give a very melodic but also hard-hitting performance. One of the better tracks on the album in my opinion.
Our last totally new track on the album comes in the form of “Kimi igai ni motetai”. It’s a very noticeable change of pace from the track that came just before it, with a very pleasant and somewhat funky sounding Synth Pop composition being the key feature of the track’s instrumental. It’s all very nice and relaxing stuff, with a pleasant rhythm to it and some interesting percussion elements that stop the mind from ever drifting too far away as you’re encouraged to pick them out. The vocals are really going for that 80s Pop style delivery and are nailing it rather well I must say, with all of the typical hallmarks of the time period being rolled out for this track. Soothing melodies and Lo-Fi harmonies accent the main vocal, which is slightly more contemporary in tone as well as pacing but still sticking to the overall theme of the track. The chorus takes the predictable, but tried and true, path of amplifying many elements of the instrumental a bit and also bumping the tempo up a few notches. This allows the vocals to work in a slightly larger range, though at points perhaps not always for the best. Still, it results in a change of pace that while needed for this style isn’t at all jarring like you hear in some other genres. Fans of 80s J-Pop will likely appreciate a lot of what went into this but if you’re more a fan of the current trends this one could sound a little dated.
Closing things out we have MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN’s joint second single “Daijōbu Sunrise”. A synthesized orchestra gets the track off to a nice start and despite there being a very noticeable build-up during this part the overall tone of things just screams Ballad to me. That’s kinda where the vocals take the song too, though I did appreciate the lower tone in which they were sung along with the rather interesting guitar work that serves as a background highlight. They do a good job of building things up to the chorus though, making the song progressively brighter in tone and increasing the power and emotion behind the vocal delivery as things progress. Then the chorus hits and things really take on a life of their own, with everything I just mentioned getting cranked to 11 it feels like. If you like that very loud and bright Pop vocal style then that’s what’s on offer here, it’s not my favorite thing in the world personally but who am I to argue with the masses. I was a little disappointed with how much definition the instrumental lost here too, I know it’s not supposed to be the star of the show and there’s a lot going on but it would have been nice if it didn’t get so blown out. After that it’s back into the verses and the build to the next chorus begins anew. Rinse and repeat a couple of times and that’s your track folks. Definitely more enjoyable than “Rocket Start” for me personally, but if either had been my first introduction to this group I would have probably been left feeling a little disappointed.
“Start” is a very enjoyable album and it should serve as a great foundation for MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN to build from, not that they really need to since I think they’ve probably had the most commercially successful debut of any WACK group thus far. Speaking of which, there’s a bunch of the usual WACK style in a lot of these songs, but there’s also a decent amount of new elements being brought into play too. Kuro-chan’s influence perhaps?
Ultimately my opinion of this release (and any release really) doesn’t really matter. MAMESHiBA NO TAiGUN already kinda feel like they’re a group that’s too big to fail and they’ve only just put out their first “proper” release. I’m curious to see how the group and its music develops from here though as this was an enjoyable first impression. It’s just going to depend ultimately on how much interest and effort the producers, record label, television people, etc are willing to put in over the next year to 18 months I suppose. And that my friends is anyone’s guess.