2002’s Disintegration, in addition to being the first I’ve release to share its title with an album by The Cure (the only other to date being the Comiket exclusive ‘Mixed Up’), also marked the first time I’ve favourite KOTOKO appeared on an official compilation release.
Various – I’ve Girls Compilation vol. 3: Disintegration (2002, Visual Art’s)
1. KOTOKO – 涙の誓い -Album Mix- (Namida no Chikai)
2. KOTOKO – flow ～水の生まれた場所～ (Mizu no Umareta Basho)
3. KOTOKO – I can’t get over your best smile
4. MELL – FLY TO THE TOP
5. 島みやえい子 (Eiko Shimamiya) – To lose in amber
6. KOTOKO – resolution of soul
7. KOTOKO – Wing my Way -Album Mix-
8. MOMO – DROWNING -Album Mix-
9. SHIHO – Belvedia
10. KOTOKO – 君よ、優しい風になれ (Kimi yo, Yasashii Kaze ni Nare)
11. SHIHO – birthday eve
12. Lia – Disintegration
13. 島みやえい子 – 王子よ -月の裏から- (Ouji yo -Tsuki no Urakara-)
Saying Disintegration’s tracklisting is a bit lopsided would be something of an understatement – with 6 of the album’s 13 tracks devoted to KOTOKO, it seems almost as if this ‘compilation’ is really a KOTOKO album with the other artists as mere guest spots; cameos by SHIHO and MOMO stopgaps to build anticipation for the next big KOTOKO song. And it even makes sense in context: while earlier Comiket releases saddled her with senior vocalist AKI, Disintegration was commemorating KOTOKO’s debut as a full-fledged solo artist. The same year Disintegration was released, KOTOKO had also helmed I’ve’s venture into the realm of anime music with her work for the Bandai Visual series Please Teacher (which included a full ‘image album’, Stokesia, in addition to the opening theme “Shooting Star”); for Kazuya Takase to essentially give a whole compilation album over to the girl who had just become his first certified money-maker was almost a natural thing to do.
And even three volumes into the compilation series, I’ve was still very much Takase’s in 2002. While 2 songs on the album (KOTOKO’s “flow” was produced by Tomoyuki Nakazawa, with album closer “Ouji Yo” provided by the ever-reliable Atsuhiko Nakatsubo) don’t have his name anywhere in the credits, the collective dynamic we know I’ve for was still far off: however, if one is to trace the origins of the modern “I’ve Sound” (as it were), Disintegration is undoubtedly the first of the compilation albums to truly break out of the Dancemania mold. Leaving behind the dubiously-legal samples and Bemani-ready beats of verge and regret, the songs on Disintegration have Takase refining his persona as a producer to something more akin to a true pop songwriter than the ‘electronica nerd’ he had made himself out to be before. Guitars are heard on multiple tracks (live instrumentation was conspicuously absent from the previous compilation releases), dated-sounding canned percussion largely done away with, and the entire experience is one far more organic than had been heard from Takase before.
Of course, the new sound wasn’t without its downsides: while live instrumentation was a welcome addition to Takase’s repertoire, the wandering midtempo pseudo-ballads that have plagued every I’ve release post-verge were certainly less than welcome: songs like the painful “Kimi yo, Yasashii Kaze ni Nare” have no real use as anything beyond dreary filler, yet half of KOTOKO’s contributions to the compilation are just that sort of song. It also can’t be denied that there was something lost in the transition when Takase cut out the sampling that characterized some of regret and verge’s most memorable tracks: Disintegration may be a more ‘mature’ album, but maturity isn’t anywhere near as fun as songs like FUCK ME were.
Even with those complaints, though, Disintegration contains some of the best music the I’ve label has ever been associated with. The final trio of birthday eve, Disintegration and Ouji Yo is one of the most brilliant collections of songs you’ll ever find on a compilation release, the adorable FLY TO THE TOP is a perpetual favourite (MELL doing ‘cute’ and doing it well) and MOMO makes an impressive debut with DROWNING; but ironically enough it’s the main attraction, KOTOKO, that fails to impress for the most part. Her screechy vocals render “I can’t get over your best smile” repulsive when it should be endearing, and none of her other contributions (save perhaps future Anime Expo theme song Wing my Way) really have the same punch as her peers’. She would have all the time in the world to polish up her skills later on, but on her big debut KOTOKO was outshone by the ones she was supposed to be outshining.