The long-awaited sophomore full-length from Mami Kawada is out now, but how does it stack up against its predecessor, or amongst the other I’ve Girls solo albums for that matter? Well, I’m not afraid to spoil that it isn’t a disappointment, but for the rest you’ll have to go below the cut.
Mami Kawada (川田まみ) – SAVIA (2008, Geneon)
1. energy flow
3. Beehive -album edit-
5. 赤い涙 (Akai Namida)
9. intron tone
10. 翡翠 -HISUI-
11. 最後の約束 (Saigo no Yakusoku)
12. Get my way！
I begin this review with a confession to make. Prior to her 2006 full-length album SEED, I never cared for Mami Kawada much. Even her brilliant-upon-later-reflection singles radiance and Hishoku no Sora hadn’t done much to hold my interest before that point, so it came as a total surprise to me when I actually preferred SEED to the KOTOKO and Eiko Shimamiya albums released that same year – so SAVIA naturally had a lot to live up to, being the follow-up to the album that opened my eyes to Kawada.
Truthfully though, I was never really worried. Mami’s been putting out nothing but quality in these last 2 years since SEED, and even if every one of the album’s new songs was terrible, few albums can claim the kind of single strength SAVIA has thanks to the inclusion of all the songs from her ’07 singles save for the sickeningly-sweet misstep Aozora to Taiyou. And, knowing I’ve as well as I do, I knew the odds of that ‘every new song being terrible’ scenario coming true were just about nil.
So, really, it isn’t a surprise that SAVIA is an improvement over SEED. Better singles, less midtempo filler, more genre experimentation, less Maiko Iuchi, everything that could have been better about SEED is present here. Even the instrumental introduction has been improved this time ’round: if opening track ‘energy flow’ has any flaw, that would have to be the simple fact that it’s too damn short. But by the time it exits with the opening chords to JOINT, well, its length (or, more specifically, the lack thereof) is forgiven.
The main reason SAVIA is of note, however, has little to do with the quality of the songs, top-notch as they may be. Just as KOTOKO found herself with her second album Glass no Kaze, SAVIA has Mami Kawada settling into the role of an accomplished, versatile artist. Delving into multiple styles and only sounding uncomfortable when wrestling with Maiko Iuchi’s twin monster ballads (DREAM and Saigo no Yakusoku, the only two bad songs on the album), Mami defies any attempts to pigeonhole her as just the ‘rocker chick’ of the Love Planet Five group in brilliant form. Particularly surprising is her dance-music turn on early-album highlight ‘TRILL’, a blast from the past sure to rekindle any old-school I’ve fan’s faith in the collective. But equally noteworthy is her refined pop-punk persona on ‘sense’ (which bears more than a slight resemblance to Outer song ‘Leave me hell alone’, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing), proving that Get my way! was far from just a one-off experiment and promising many interesting things for Kawada’s future.
In summary, SAVIA is stunning. If you had told me even 2 years ago that Mami Kawada would make an album better than anything KOTOKO had ever done, I’d probably say you were insane. But here she is, and this album is indeed better than any of KOTOKO’s, and while it’s hard to compare them I’d like to think it surpasses any of Eiko Shimamiya’s releases as well. If one were to present a single-artist distillation of everything the I’ve brand has stood for in its 10 years of existence, it would undoubtedly sound not too much unlike SAVIA. I don’t usually say this, but buy this album. It’s in your own best interest.