Ai Otsuka’s “FRIENGER”


Ai Otsuka / FRIENGER / April 12, 2006
01. FRIENGER / 02. Amai Kimochi Maru Kajiri

Ai Otsuka represents a very large demographic of typical Japanese pop music that tops the Oricon charts week after week. The fact that I made it so long before begrudgingly trying some of her music was a miracle in itself, but I figured, why the heck not? I wanted to know exactly what everyone kept saying Ayumi Hamasaki was up against in Jpop Queen dominance, if only to return safely with the knowledge that Ayumi had nothing to fear.

What I learned quickly was that essentially, Ayumi had nothing to fear. I will however, offer the following in consolation: Ai Otsuka not only composes and writes all of her own music, but whenever she chooses to write a ballad, she cannot fail. All of Otsuka’s ballads are amazingly sweet in their content and delivery. The songs are innocent, whimsical even, much in the attitude and style of say, Tommy february6, but unlike Tommy’s take on love, where each song represents a new head over heels love that feels like the first one each time, Otsuka’s music is more akin to a stable, long lasting relationship that remains in a perpetual state of puppy love. Whether it’s the simplistic melody of “Daisuki da you,” the nostalgic mood in “Natsu Sora,”, or the blissful tear provoking piano in “PLANETARIUM,” her ballads evoke the type of innocent girl crushing that deny the ability for a heart to ever be broken in a love so pure.

Which is why I’m so shocked that her faster songs are so awful. Most of the songs seem to summon the mindless pop jumble of Morning Musume’s music circa whenever and her attempts at creating a rockish atmosphere during songs like “PON PON” are painful to hear. The squeaky, high-pitched nasal quality of her voice is amplified to an unbearable degree, and everything else is just…boring. Unlike in ballads such as “Neko ni Fuusen,” acoustic guitars take on a trite, listless quality that no sooner begin than I have fallen asleep in boredom.

This new single is no exception and stays true to the bland, mindless, happy bubblegum bounce omnipresent in the world of Ai. “FRIENGER” wastes no time breaking into early 90s electric guitar amidst brisk drum beats. I’m not sure how else to describe the vibe in this song except happy. Too happy. I’m amazed that someone who writes such beautifully painful ballads is even capable of putting together something like this cutesy dribble..

The c/w song “Amai Kimochi Maru Kajiri” is a slower song, but doesn’t stray too far in sound from “FRIENGER”; it’s more subdued but at the cost of losing all emotion. Is this song happy? Or nostalgic? Maybe it’s trying to exude a feeling of contentedness? I’m not sure, and I don’t care because about two seconds after the song finished playing, I can’t even recall a discernible melody.

I know I’ve never been one for anything besides Otsuka’s slower songs, but with each release, I’m still hoping to find that one Ai pop song I enjoy. This single did not produce it. I think it goes without saying that I’m hoping her next single will be another ballad. Or at the very least, not another “FRIENGER.”

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