Five disappointing albums of 2009

We’ve managed to get through the first week of December with nary a leak of the new Namie Amuro album, so for the record, it still has the possibility to make a revised version of this list (though I do very much like WILD, I’m already iffy on the promo clips of “LOVE GAME” and “The Meaning Of Us” – plus I’m still pretty mad about BEST FICTION thwarting the 60s 70s 80s single a proper album release). But if the weakest musical months are that dreary space between Thanksgiving and New Year when readers and writers are left maneuvering the sinking ship that is year-end lists and retrospectives, then who am I to abandon it at such a critical junction? Here is the first of my own: the five albums that disappointed me the most this year.

05. MEG’S BEAUTIFUL

MEG hit a low point in February when she ditched producer Yasutaka Nakata for Hadouken! on FREAK, a single so atrociously bad everyone pretended it never happened when BEAUTIFUL was released in May. But finally reunited with Nakata, the follow-up to 2008’s STEP was her first album to crack the Oricon Top Ten, a feat that would have been rendered impossible without the man behind the curtain. Magician to every female vocalist in his canon, Nakata’s precision and knack for finding just the right vocalist to suit each of his projects was already being taken for granted in 2009, a year which on one day alone (July 22) saw the release of four copycat albums (Mitsuka Aira’s PLASTIC, Ayaka Ikio’s Gossip, SAWA’s I Can Fly, and immi’s WONDER), rendering the entire genre expendable while exposing its redundancy. In 2008, MEG’s STEP was an appears top ten album with a B-side claiming the number one East Asian Pop/Rock spot: in 2009, MEG barely registered on the shibuya-kei radar. With mini-album Journey in August, she fell off entirely.

04. alan’s my life

alan’s first major stroke of popularity as vocalist for Red Cliff‘s theme song finally offered gravitas to a classically trained Tibetan; 2009 was turning out to be a flagship year when she scored her first crossover Top Ten Oricon hit with “Kuon no Kawa.” Without compromising her vocal talent or that monstrous Tibetan wail, so shrill it has the power to incinerate, alan proved that popular singers could be all things to all people: talented, intelligent, beautiful. Determined to stay in the comfortable ballad niche that was her hallmark, alan reworked most of her Chinese hits for her first Japanese-language album Voice of Earth. But by November, the record company was looking to expand the market on such a profitable young woman and stretched her repertoire to lite-pop as lifeless as a hangman’s corpses. alan could have been China’s answer to KOKIA or RURUTIA, but instead she became forgettable.

03. Perfume’s TRIANGLE

I’ve already discussed that icky, no good, very bad turn that shibuya-kei took in 2009, prostrating itself to the commercial gods in hopes of bandwagon success that eventually prompted Ian Martin of the Japan Times Online to predict that “the failure of any of these new electropop acts to reach anywhere near the success of Perfume suggests that it remains a niche genre and that supply may already be outstripping demand. In fact, with the appearance of an all-girl idol trio called Cosmetics, […] it looks like the whole genre has already descended into self-parody. Stereotyped and faintly sexist group names based on “things girls like” to look out for in the future include Accessories, Cooking and Rich Husband.” So let’s not revel in nostalgia. And anyway, TRIANGLE fans seem to be split down the middle, one half consisting of longtime listeners disappointed not so much with the sound, but with the lack of innovation, the inability to capture the spirit and elan that made GAME such a thrill, and newer fans unfamiliar with the group’s indie days, content to enjoy a pop record better than its mimicking peers. But I’m not complaining. It was great while it lasted: Yasutaka Nakata produced enough records in the past few years to solidify his reputation as a master of sound, one of those post-millenium everymen who oversaw a handful of wonderful projects and can ride the wave of dozens of hits without having to repeat too many during a DJ set. Perfume themselves worked incredibly hard to maintain their fan base this year: photo books, increasingly bigger live shows with precise choreography; they may yet resurrect from these ashes. Perfume is dead, long live Perfume.

02. AFI’s Crash Love

Rock music is in a sad place these days; toeing the line between electro and indie isn’t just tough to sell in a decade of music that’s so beyond hip it passed lame and went back to hip, it’s nearly impossible. And like Kill Hannah’s Wake Up the Sleepers, AFI’s Crash Love has yet to evolve past its major label debut to relevancy six years later. The problem really lies in the restrictions of guy-liner rock, a style which had its heyday when Panic at the Disco still used exclamation points. After the Blaqk Audio solo project by band mates Davey Havok and Jade Puget failed to produce more than one successful single that tapped into the decade’s electronic zeitgeist (follow-up pending), AFI reconvened to record Crash Love, essentially a duplicate of formulas that ditched punk aesthetics for upscale studio wizardry. The album is the mark of an entire genre on unsteady ground, stuck in the drippy anachronism of its past and afraid to pioneer a new, radical sound.

01. Koyote’s Jumpin’

Most of the albums on this list aren’t necessarily the worst albums of the year, just low points in particular artists’ careers, ones for which I either had a lot of hope for or which I expected better, but this one is an exception: the ridiculous and flashy cover should be enough to convince you. Koyote started out as a pop trio in 1999, going through several permutations where the only consistent member involved female vocalist Shin Ji. Despite Koyote’s strong beginning, the group quickly spiralled into a series of reprised sounds, sticking to their 90’s Eurodance schtick instead of embracing the rising dominance of hip hop and electro influences that would later provide an increasing level of interest of Korean pop groups hoping to break the Japanese music market. By their sixth album, Koyote was a joke but with their tenth, 2009’s Jumpin’, they’ve become the aural equivalent of pity, their work now a pointless, non-existent discussion on no one’s Korean pop forum.

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9 thoughts on “Five disappointing albums of 2009

  1. aikorin December 7, 2009 / 2:28 pm

    The only albums on this list I’ve listened to are numbers 3, 4, and 5 – I obviously won’t bother listening to those first 2 🙂
    BEAUTIFUL was my first MEG album and I really liked it. I also really liked TRIANGLE, though I’m kind of a mix of the two categories of fans you described – a long-time Perfume fan who wasn’t disappointed at all. TRIANGLE was different, but it wasn’t bad.
    Of course, ditto on the alan album. It was so horrible.

    • Anna December 8, 2009 / 11:38 pm

      The thing I can’t quite place about Triangle is that it wasn’t technically different, yet I found it seriously lacking. It’s like if it had been their first album I would be on board and expecting great things, but because it followed GAME, it had a lot to live up to and didn’t rise to the challenge.

  2. eccentricyoruba December 7, 2009 / 2:41 pm

    i fall into the second category of Perfume fans. i had no idea who they were last week but now i’m totally addicted. i like Triangle though i have not had a chance to listen to Game. and i have to agree with you on alan’s my life. it was disappointing though i hope this does not spell the end of her career.

    • Anna December 8, 2009 / 11:36 pm

      I would be totally open to hearing someone defend alan’s my life but I have yet to hear a single person who liked it. Though I hope she’ll return to music like her earlier work, I’m already predicting a future Ai Otsuka…

  3. Noah Furlani December 7, 2009 / 6:00 pm

    We already know we hate my life–I don’t think anyone likes it. As for Namie: I’m loving it all 🙂 It’s weird, just like with Perfume’s Triangle (you’ll kill me, but for the moment it’s in my top 10 albums), Namie Amuro’s latest stuff grows on me instantly. LOVE GAME is the worst of the new tracks, but I still love it. Same for The Meaning of Us. Are you like me when it comes to FAST CAR? (<3 all the way~) PAST<FUTURE is beginning to look like one of the best albums of the year. I still haven't gotten over my disappointment with alan's album. I bought that shit!
    I was going to ask you to listen ("do yourself the wonderful magnificent absolutely amazing favour of listening") to Nichika (二千花). They've been gone for the past 10 months, but their material is pure gold. Their album was tenfold ANYTHING that was released last year, and this year too. Also, do you listen to flumpool or Ikimono Gakari? ~indie rock lover~

    • Anna December 8, 2009 / 11:35 pm

      I was really psyched for Namie’s album until I started hearing all the promo tracks. None of them have really struck me. It could be that I had really high expectations after hearing her comments about trying to step out of the box, forget the past and do something completely new and it ends up sounding…kind of like all of her other stuff. She’s had a great streak going with her last couple of albums, I would hate to see it end here.

      I’ll have to check out Nichika. Not a big J-indie rock fan here, but a few bands here and there always surprise me (i.e. little by little).

      Oh and sorry about buying alan’s album! That’s one CD definitely not making my purchase list!

  4. fernando December 29, 2009 / 12:13 am

    AFI yhea #2
    I love AFI

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