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August 2012

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Music Review: 愛言葉 (VOICE) - Maki Goto

Hello everyone! It's been a really long time since I've written a music review, but I simply cannot resist not doing one for this fantastic album that I'm about to review. Please look forward to it!

Maki Goto was a member of the popular girl group in Japan, "morning musume", where she joined them when she was 13 and graduated in 2002. She remained in Hello! Project and graduated in 2007. Throughout her years as an idol, she has released many solo singles and albums, and was touted to be one of the most popular members of morning musume due to her vocals. 愛言葉 (VOICE) is her first full solo album since she switched labels to avex trax's sub-label rythmn zone in 2008.

Released on November 2nd, 2011, 愛言葉 (VOICE) comes in 3 editions: CD-only, CD+DVD and a limited edition 2CD+2DVD release. Today, I will only be reviewing the CD-only. The 2CD+2DVD version comes with a "collaboration disc" where the whole of her previous SWEET BLACK album is on. I will be reviewing that album at a later date.

CD-Only cover:


CD+DVD cover:


2CD+2DVD cover:


Tracklist:
1. What is LOVE
2. Get your way
3. YOU
4. 月影 (Tsukikage, lit. Shadow of the Moon)
5. 愛言葉 (Ai Kotoba, lit. Words of Love)
6. EYES
7. Paradise
8. SCANDALOUS
9. 宝石 (Houseki, lit. Jewel)
10. 「ねぇ、、、」("Nee...", lit. "Hey...")
11. 華詩 -hanauta- (Hanauta, lit. A Song)
12. Believe
13. 足跡 (Ashiato, lit. Footsteps)

Italic = Promotional tracks for the album
Bold = Featured in previous mini-album, "ONE" (2010)
Underline = Featured in previous mini-album, "Gloria" (2011)
Colored = Featured in previous mini-album, "LOVE" (2011)

---

1. What is LOVE

What is LOVE, being chosen as the 1st song of the album should be a song that brings about attention, that makes you go, "Wow this is an album to listen to", and it couldn't have done a better job.

Right when the song starts, we're treated to a heavy strong bass coupled with chants of Maki's voice on a vocoder going, "What is real love, what is pure love?" and it repeats itself for a satisfying amount of time before Maki's (surprisingly) strong and deep voice begins the verses. The verses are extremely monotonous yet not being boring; the strong bass line continues, entrancing you as each second goes by. When we reach the chorus, we're once again treated to Maki's extremely clear and powerful voice, belting out each word with strength.

What is LOVE is a great opener and sets the tone and style of the album very well. Indeed this is pop music at its very best.

"Rip open your chest and show me the real you
If there is love there, even if you lose
Scent, sound, touch, light and music
My love will always remain"

What is LOVE - Maki Goto
Score 10/10


2. Get your way

The music continues as Get your way opens. A similar chanting starts the song with "You gotta, you gotta get your way." Granted, this is a style extremely similar to What is LOVE but way more subdued. There is a lack of power and ferocity in Get your way, but it doesn't mean it's a bad song. It just pales in comparison to What is LOVE. However, the bass here is equally an earworm, and while Maki's voice might be less powerful here but it still is very clear and pleasing listen to.

Props to the bridge (something that is sorely lacking in J-Pop songs) for sounding unique yet not feeling awkward from the whole song.

"Fly away and find your perfect future beyond the endless horizon while carrying both anxiety and hope
The living proof of hope stays unchanged forever"

Get your way - Maki Goto

Score: 8/10


3. YOU

Suddenly, the mood of the album downs as we head into a couple of ballads. YOU is a very run-of-the-mill J-Pop ballad that serves its purpose well. The verses are beautiful, the chorus is stellar, Maki's voice is at its best and it has a beautiful arrangement, reminding us of traditional enka. Imagery starts to rise in our minds; sakura flowers, rivers, death, darkness... The rock guitar that drives the chorus is so powerful, it tugs at your heart strings.

In a way, YOU reminds me of something J-Pop Empress ayumi hamasaki (in fact it sounds like a slightly more powerful part of Me from Ayu's discography), which isn't a bad thing at all. Kudos to Maki's vocals again, for being so powerful. I love this song.

"If I didn't love you, I wouldn't feel lost
I wouldn't feel this weak
I lived without realizing that I needed you"

YOU - Maki Goto

Score: 10/10


4. 月影

After a power ballad, we slow down even more to a beautiful oriental ballad that is 月影. You can hear the beautiful instruments throughout this song, so kudos to the arrangement.

Once again, I can't emphasize how Maki's voice simply shines throughout the song. Soft whispers, subtle dynamics and a seductive tenor, Maki's vocals are brilliant.

I personally feel it isn't as catchy or amazing like YOU; in fact it can get a little boring halfway through. However, it is a unique song in Maki's discography and it is an ethereal experience listening to this song. Highly recommended if you need to treat yourself to Maki's stellar vocals. I particularly love the bridge where Maki ad-libs along with one of the most amazing arrangements my ears have listened to.

"Like the way the cresent moon surely but slowly grows bigger
I want to love you a little more tomorrow than I did yesterday
I want to simply love you"

月影 - Maki Goto

Score: 8.5/10


5. 愛言葉

The pace picks up a little again with 愛言葉. Similar to YOU, it is a power ballad, but stripped off the oriental sounds. Instead, we get a very haunting piano with another beautiful arrangement. The first few seconds of the song greets us with an echoing chant (she really loves doing this doesn't she lol) with, "Can you hear my voice?"

The verses start off very slowly; monotonous like What is LOVE but definitely less attention-catching. The rythmn picks up just before the chorus as the electric guitar kicks in and yes, what a darn nice chorus this song has.

It's a standard song, and coming as a title track, I have to say 愛言葉 is pretty weak. It is listenable but nothing "wow" like most of the songs in this album.

"Your words of love saved me
That's why I want to show a smile at all times
Even during farewells"

愛言葉 - Maki Goto

Score: 8/10


6. EYES

Ah finally. It's songs like these that make me love Maki Goto even more. You see, she's like a good mix of ayumi hamasaki and Koda Kumi's best elements - her voice is stellar and she has really nice ballads ala Ayu, but Ayu has horrible "slutty" songs... and Koda Kumi has amazing slutty songs but her ballads are a mixed bag at times. Maki Goto has great ballads, and even better sexy songs, and EYES is one of them.

The sexiness starts up on the album with this and we're immediately treated with a fun guitar run and amazingly catchy trumpet and percussion! Maki's vocals are deep and sultry, drawing you on the first listen. The chorus is so fun to bob your head to and the verses are another amazing music.

This is what a good pop song is to me - catchy, fun, easy to listen to and above all, coupled with some darn good vocals.

"EYES; If you will still give me the speed of an instant
LOVE; I'll boldly feel your gaze
LIES; You're a tornado that whirls my heart away with the things you do"

EYES - Maki Goto

Score: 10/10


7. Paradise

So... Paradise is a mixed bag. I'm not exactly sure how to feel about this. Well for starters, we get another chanting. Paradies tries to follow up the fun and sexiness that started with EYES but in my opinion, definitely doesn't succeed in this as well as EYES.

The verses are pretty catchy and the chorus is unfortunately a let down. It is a fun song to listen to but there is something missing that I can't put my finger to. Like what I would say about 愛言葉, it is a listenable song but sadly, nothing too special. A classic example of a mundane album track.

"Flashing my bare skin before your eyes
Seducing you with an upward glance
I approach you defencelessly
Almost close enough to touch"

Paradise - Maki Goto

Score: 7/10


8. SCANDALOUS

Right, we're now back to amazing songs! SCANDALOUS really should have come after EYES so we can have 2 great sexy songs back to back.

Like how I said EYES was a perfect sexy and fun song, SCANDALOUS definitely is another great contender. From start to finish, this song is just catchy and really fun to listen to. The chorus is full of amazing music and you will find yourself singing along soon to, "You got me feeling scandalous"!

Kudos to Maki Goto for doing sexy and fun so well through her songs.

"Don't look at me like that
But don't look at anyone else either
I love the world 'special'"

SCANDALOUS - Maki Goto
Score: 10/10


9. 宝石

And now, we're back to the ballads. 宝石 starts off with a really adorable twinkle before Maki starts singing in the verses with a crystal-clear voice. The pace picks up in the chorus and it turns into this semi-dance song, which is welcoming to me.

There isn't much to write home about with 宝石 but it is a very decent song that will catch your attention. However compared to the ballads, it is not as spectacular musically, so it is a little disappointing.

"The world sparkles as if it's loved and loves in return
If it shines like a rainbow then it's all right even if the rain never dries up"

宝石 - Maki Goto
Score: 8/10


10. 「ねぇ、、、」

We continue with the ballads as the songs start to get slower and mellower. 「ねぇ、、、」 is a beautiful, beautiful ballad that is pretty underrated to me. Maki's vocals are brilliant here, from verses to chorus, and although it is so simple, 「ねぇ、、、」has a beauty that is only found in its simplicity.

It may not be as intense as YOU, but it fares amazing as a ballad of its kind - a simple love song.

"Hey, no matter how ordinary the days would be
If we could spend them together...
It would be my treasure"

「ねぇ、、、」- Maki Goto
Score: 9/10


11. 華詩 -hanauta-

Ah and now we come to what I would say is the most emotional song of the album, 華詩 -hanauta-. In January 2010, Maki witnessed her mother pass away from falling off from their apartment. Was it suicide, or was it homicide? What we know, was only that her mother seemed to have drunk beforehand. But whatever the reason is, losing your mother probably is one of the most painful things on earth, and witnessing it probably adds another layer of anguish that not many people can imagine or emphasize.

Thus, from her mother's death, comes 華詩 -hanauta-. I would see it as a tribute... the last words Maki would want to tell to her mother before she lost the chance to forever. In many ways, this reminds me of some of Ayu's songs that she has written for deceased friends/family members (ever free, Memorial address and untitled ~for her~). There is a beauty in this darkness, and you can really feel the pain from Maki as she belts this song out.

To add on it, nothing is dreadful in this song. The arrangement, the lyrics, the vocals, the melody, the composition; everything welds together tightly into a beautiful song. I highly recommend this to first-time Maki Goto listeners. Brilliant.

"'I want to see you, but I can't'
Unable to put it into words, the more I wish the more painful it becomes
Even so, I'll never be parted from my memories and feelings for you"

華詩 -hanauta- - Maki Goto
Score: 10/10


12. Believe

Yawn. I'm sorry for going a little unprofessional, but this is all I could think of with Believe. Is it a bad song? Like most of Maki Goto's songs, it is far from bad. But is it boring? Is it lackluster? Is it uninspiring? Yes, yes and yes!

The problem with ballads is that many singers tend to sing the same kind of ballad over and over again and we end up with very generic-sounding ballads. However, I feel Maki has avoided this issue with most of her ballads in this album. But with Believe... well, hey, at least one song has to suck in an album.

The chorus gets a little interesting but the verses are really a drag and actually Believe sounds like a rip-off of some generic Anime ending. Unimpressive. You can do much better Maki.

"The things you chased shine beautifully
But your face looks lonely
You hug your knees to your chest every single day
I don't want to see you like this anymore"

Believe - Maki Goto
Score: 5.5/10


13. 足跡

They say, "save the best for last" and I cannot agree more with this album. 足跡 is arguably my favorite Maki Goto song and I am so glad this song was placed right at the end.

So firstly, we get a really cool guitar riff before Maki's just amazing vocals start the verses. The riff before the chorus kicks up the pace with the drum and all the music escalates into the perfection that is the chorus.

I love this song so much because it's so relaxing to listen to without becoming a snorefest. It is a contemporary hit. It is a classic, and it is a must-listen for everyone who has good taste! This is the kind of songs that Japan eats up (explains the great popularity and success of Mr. Children).

A great end to the album, it makes me think of many things. 足跡 translates to "Footsteps", and Maki Goto hasn't had a smooth-sailing life (or at least from what we know of it). Listening to this album, and remembering that she is going on a hiatus since the start of 2012... it makes you wonder if this is her message to her fans - That her footsteps are going to stop here, and she is going to go somewhere else...

"All I need is a tomorrow I can chase with you
With your words, I can leave my footsteps behind"

足跡 - Maki Goto
Score: 10/10


Conclusion:

愛言葉 (VOICE) is a brilliant debut album with avex trax from Maki Goto and I must say it is a huge pity that she is going on a hiatus right after such a great musical production, but it is understanable considering what she has been through and I wish her nothing but the best.

Overall score: 9.5/10


Credits:
Translation of "What is LOVE", "Get your way", "YOU", "月影", "愛言葉", "Paradise", "SCANDALOUS" & "Believe" belong to tenshi_no_hane @ http://verduistering.livejournal.com/

Translation of "EYES", "宝石", "華詩 -hanauta-" and "「ね ぇ、、、」
" belong to carlenne @ http://carlenne.livejournal.com/

Translation of "足跡" belong to snorio @ http://lyricstranslate.com/en/ashiato-%E8%B6%B3%E8%B7%A1-footsteps.html

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