Meisa Kuroki / SHOCK -Unmei- / July 22, 2009
01. SHOCK -Unmei-
It had recently occurred to me that Namie Amuro has not released a single since March’s Wild; looking to fill this gap, I turned to Okinawan Meisa Kuroki, who released her debut album hellcat in April. The album may have lacked lyrical depth, but it was a likely successor to where Amuro’s PLAY left us in 2007 (though admittedly, most of the tracks actually sounded like outtakes from the Queen of Hip-Pop sessions). While in most cases I would be disappointed by the overt lack of vicissitude, innovation is hardly the key to amassing an audience and what Kuroki lacks in originality, she makes up for in sheer determination. You know, in a weird, submissive sort of way.
While writhing on a bed in undergarments and peering at the camera with half-lidded, soulful eyes behind an alarming array of hair extensions may be the way to capture a tepid audience’s expectations for generic over genuine (and most of the album’s tracks pander to the lowest common denominator, exemplified best by a track that simply goes under the title “SEX” in all caps), it wasn’t the music videos or television appearances that got me; it was the way these tracks aren’t actually bad. Perhaps more a sad, telling indictment of my own fallible tastes, hellcat was the first Japanese hip hop album of the year that didn’t have me taking cover in my copy of the AllMusic Guide’s Required Listening: Classic Rock, or worse, perusing Amuro’s recent releases again with a magnifying glass and sentimentality. In the end, I liked a majority of hellcat‘s songs and looked forward to hearing Kuroki infuse the Oricon with some healthy competition. Unfortunately, SHOCK -Unmei- is not that competition.
Almost desperately pandering to commercial success (literally – it’s featured in Kirin’s Cola Shock ads), the song lacks any of the impact it’s purporting to carry. While I have no problem with commercial tie-ins, the song has the same effect on me that Chris Brown’s “Forever” did in that it asks just how fine that blurry line between commercial success and commercial sellout straddles (I mean, I’m cool with songs being used in promotions to sell products, but what about when a company pays to have a song specifically written for it/about it – can we treat it with the same pop-minded respect and diligence, or do we build a new category for these tunes, perhaps appropriately dubbed Promo Pop, and imbue it with a whole new set of critical criteria? And what would that do to pop stars, who could go from a loosely endearing term of the word “artist” to literal musical vehicles?). In addition, the track samples a piece of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, but it doesn’t take advantage of it nearly enough – and whether or not it’s some sort of really clever homage to patrons of the art and how even classical geniuses couldn’t escape music’s commercial verve (Kuroki asks, “Who’s the puppet? Who’s the master?”), the orchestral vibe never reaches its full potential, being bogged down by repetitiveness and weaker, competing synths (the composers probably should have studied S.H.E.’s “Yu Zhou Xiao Jie” a little closer). Regardless, “SHOCK -Unmei-” is more involved than most of its Oricon contemporaries, and the c/w track “Wasted,” in an attempt to round out the single, infuses something more natural on the disc with a simple melody and sparser arrangement.
But stepping back to examine what I think it’s satirizing (intentionally or not), I do find myself wondering if I just talked myself into liking it a little more.