MELL, the original I’ve girl, had never had an album to herself. Until now. Was this a bad thing? Read the review to find out.
MELL – MELLSCOPE (2008, Geneon)
2. Red fraction
3. Way beyond there
5. Virgin’s high!
6. no vain
8. Under Superstition
10. The first finale in me
11. 美しく生きたい -10 Years anniversary mix- (Utsukushiku Ikitai)
12. repeat -Deep Forest Remix-
Mami Kawada’s sophomore album SAVIA did pretty much everything right far as I’ve solo albums are concerned: a tight collection of songs with enough spin put on the already-heard songs to keep things from getting too familiar (such as adding extended opener “energy flow” to the fantastic JOINT), and new songs unquestionably amongst I’ve’s best (TRILL and Portamento were both instant classics far as this reviewer is concerned). So with 2008 already showing us everything an I’ve girl’s solo release can be, the bar was set almost ridiculously high for MELL’s long-overdue first full-length.
And it’s… better than Hikarinadeshiko, I’ll tell you that! Damning MELLSCOPE with faint praise as that may be, it’s still true that MELLSCOPE is not anywhere near as much of a waste of time as that particularly dire Shimamiya-helmed stinker was. But you know what? Even if it isn’t Hikarinadeshiko, I’m not going to dance around the fact that MELLSCOPE is still a disappointment.
The main problem with MELLSCOPE is the dire lack of new content: only a third of the album is truly original songs, with twin tacked-on remixes at the album’s end bringing the new-content-to-old-shit ratio to exactly 1:1. SAVIA admittedly had to deal with a similar conundrum (5 of SAVIA’s 13 tracks came from previous singles), but since, no matter how badly I apparently wish I was, I’m not reviewing SAVIA, I should shut the ever-loving fuck up about that album before I forget if MELLSCOPE actually is any good. And not only is the old shit really old in some cases (try ‘repeat’ on for size: the MELLSCOPE version is the exact same version released with the eroge Daraku back in 1999), but it’s all integrated pretty well artlessly: the tracks aren’t remixed, not even re-edited or extended to at least give the songs different runtimes than they were on the soundtrack CDs for the now-ancient eroge that birthed them. They’re just shoved in there, as if Geneon didn’t have the money to finance full studio sessions for the album so they figured it’d be alright to just tack on that song from Collective and a grab bag of recent B-sides, ship it as a new release and hope the profits would be enough to maybe fund the marketing push for another KOTOKO single or two.
“But how are the originals?“, you’re probably not caring enough to ask. Well, I’ll take a brief break from being angry and bitter to say that the Tomoyuki Nakazawa-produced “Way beyond there” is brilliant, and Maiko Iuchi’s “Under Superstition” is actually one of the oft-maligned producer’s better works, sounding nicely grimy in a way that almost suggests there might actually be something to MELL’s darkness, that maybe it’s not all just unintentionally-hilarious Engrish lyrics and weird, occasionally frustrating music videos. Of course we all know that’s a lie, but for at least one song she makes a vaguely convincing argument.
The less said about album opener SCOPE and Nakazawa’s uncharasteristically lame “The first finale in me” (think Mami Kawada’s “undelete”, just… oh, there’s no “just”, it is fucking undelete) the better, so I’ll leave those two castoffs be. The album’s most intriguing curiosity comes with the twin remixes that close the album out: a supposed ’10th anniversary’ edit of MELL’s I’ve debut Utsukushiku Ikitai, and the left-field Eric Mouquet remix of repeat (probably the only reason Geneon tacked on repeat rather than, say, Egen). The 10th anniversary mix is a fascinating experiment in seeing how many things can possibly go wrong with a remix, with hardly a single note not sounding horribly out of place and just plain ugly. It’s a disgrace to I’ve to call a remix that nixes the bits that made Utsukushiku Ikitai endearing and lovable and replaces them with a generic dance beat guaranteed to be forgotten the second after the song’s runtime has ended any sort of “anniversary tribute”, but in 2008 that’s pretty much what I’ve has come to so it’s best to just grit our collective teeth and pretend this song doesn’t exist. It won’t be too hard, you’re guaranteed to forget what it sounds like the second after it ends anyhow. The Mouquet remix of repeat isn’t really any less of a joke (did you really, really like the faux world-music pop craze of the mid-’90s? Own every Enya album? Finally, a MELL song just for you!), but at least it tries to be interesting and sort of succeeds at it.
The most interesting part, however, is how despite the underwhelming individual elements, MELLSCOPE in its own weird way does manage to be somewhat enjoyable (while still being a disappointment. Don’t ask). As old as they might be, songs like repeat and Red fraction have yet to go stale, and the new context has given Virgin’s high! B-side “kicks!” the chance to finally grow on me (although the same can’t be said for its garbage A-side, a lamentable presence on an album already overfilled with questionable song choices). The few new songs suggest something far from staleness in MELL’s future, and while her debut was largely a wash I’m not doubting a SAVIA or Garasu no Kaze-level sophomore release: it’s just a question of how long until it comes around.