Posted by: 愛撫 | 10/18/09

Album review: KOTOKO – Epsilon no Fune

Anticipated with bated breath by some and outright dreaded by others, KOTOKO’s fourth solo album was one of those releases that made fans forget what else came out this year through the sheer, overwhelming force of its presence. And, really, what else did come out this year? Nothing that matters quite as much as Epsilon, that much is certain. But is it any good? Read on to find out.

KOTOKO – イプシロンの方舟 (Epsilon no Fune) (2009, Geneon Universal)

 

Tracklisting:

1. ε~Epsilon~
2. リアル鬼ごっこ (Real Onigokko)
3. -∞-DRIVE
4. scene
5. 雨とギター (Ame to Guitar)
6. 限界打破 (Genkai Daha)
7. モネラの絆 (Monera no Kizuna) 
8. ハヤテのごとく! (Hayate no Gotoku!)
9. RI←SU→KU
10. HELLION
11. Geoglyphs
12. BLAZE
13. LITTLE BABY NOTHING (with Kazuya Takase) 

The review:

As of late, the once-great KOTOKO has been known more for consistently failing to live up to expectations than for entertaining musical output, squandering the limited goodwill earned by her too-few exceptional singles with mediocre-at-best releases like this year’s unfortunate daily-daily Dream. When you add her spotty track record to an unfortunate aversion to going outside her comfort zone that would in better years be anathema to the once-eclectic vocalist, it’s easy to see why fans have been less than pleased with KOTOKO recently. Her fourth solo album, Epsilon no Fune, doesn’t by any means undo all of her wrongs, but it gives one hell of a go at it, and in many ways it’s worth it just to hear KOTOKO try again.

From the beginning of the title track, it’s apparent that Epsilon no Fune is an album preaching to the converted. Epsilon sounds like a 5-year-old KOTOKO song, and those who were listening to KOTOKO 5 years ago will probably find a lot to like in its trance-lite production, while the initiate is more likely to wonder what’s with the complete tonal change during the chorus. And those initiates will probably remain confused throughout the whole album, as the whole experience is a lot heavier on I’ve’s very specific set of clichés than any of their previous releases through Geneon. Naturally, the results are hit-and-miss, as some of I’ve’s clichés make for massively entertaining music, such as the requisite faux-industrial track RI←SU→KU, while others are merely things they did well once and kept sticking with for no obvious reason, like the requisite stillborn Maiko Iuchi track HELLION (a retread of Iuchi’s past successes seduce and Under Superstition that fails to live up to either).

Let’s talk about what works, first. Epsilon’s tracklisting has very few true disappointments, and it’s pretty easy to make it all the way through without getting the urge to press ‘skip’ more than maybe once or twice. Songs like the title track and -∞-DRIVE rank as her best work in years, and while she may be treading water with a lot of the album’s material, her form’s still brilliant enough to make the listener not necessarily care that, say, Genkai Daha might not be exactly spilling over with originality. The producers are doing what they do well, matching KOTOKO’s performance but never overwhelming it, and in the process making the first KOTOKO release since 2007 that counts as a more worthwhile investment than, say, setting your money on fire. Hell, they even managed to make previously-execrable B-side scene not suck as hard the second time ’round – as sure a sign as any that they’re actually capable of learning from their mistakes.

Of course, while the album’s good overall, there are a few flies in the ointment that couldn’t be ignored. Most-publicized of these has been the completely inexplicable Manic Street Preachers cover LITTLE BABY NOTHING, sung as a duet with producer Kazuya Takase in what probably works out to be the biggest “WTF?” moment in I’ve history. It’s with good reason that this one’s received the most attention, too: Takase abuses autotune more than C.G mix at his worst, KOTOKO’s English pronunciation is horrid, the arrangement fails to impress, and the original song sort of sucked to begin with. LITTLE BABY NOTHING basically has nothing going for it, unless you happen to think the novelty value of songs covered badly by Japanese musicians is just too much to resist; in which case, Pun-Colle is the same thing, but about a million times funnier. However, some of the album’s other mistakes are a bit harder to write off. Misguided anime song BLAZE‘s lameness hasn’t been dulled much by time, and the fact that it was put on the album while far-superior recent single snIpe got shafted is unfortunate in no small way. Similarly questionable was the decision to put Hayate no Gotoku! on the album instead of its superior follow-up Shichitenhakki*Shijoushugi, but unlike BLAZE it’s a forgivable substitution as Hayate isn’t actually a bad song.

Overall, Epsilon no Fune is, for a KOTOKO fan, quite a welcome new release. It offers absolutely nothing that her previous albums didn’t, and if you really want to be cynical you could probably note that it doesn’t offer anything that wasn’t on MELLSCOPE or SAVIA either, but for the quality-starved KOTOKO devotee, an album like this might as well be manna from heaven.


Responses

  1. “Hell, they even managed to make previously-execrable B-side scene not suck as hard the second time ’round – as sure a sign as any that they’re actually capable of learning from their mistakes.”

    Was scene rearranged then? Or was being surrounded by good songs enough to lift it from being banal to passable?

    • Re-arranged, and also not being the B-side to Shichitenhakki helped a lot.

  2. “like the requisite stillborn Maiko Iuchi track HELLION (a retread of Iuchi’s past successes seduce and Under Superstition that fails to live up to either).”

    I thought you said you dislike seduce?? HELLION is more like less-noisy version of seduce. and yes, seduce is far better than HELLION :P

    but, yeah, overal epsilon no fune is a nice album from KOTOKO. in fact, as i’ve mentioned before, this album is the only KOTOKO’s album that i managed to listen from the beginning through the end with almost no skipping :D

    • “I thought you said you dislike seduce?? HELLION is more like less-noisy version of seduce. and yes, seduce is far better than HELLION :P”

      forgot to add something here…

      Maiko seemed to reduce the noise of her guitar-disaster-trademark. So I found it as a downside since I love the noisy guitar-work from Maiko :P

    • I don’t like seduce, you’re right, but I can see that she succeeded at what she was trying to do with the song. Which is less than I can say for HELLION.

  3. Not so bad, but Im still wondering if it is worth buying it or not… I wish someday i can hear again great songs such as CAVE, CROSS UP, Loose, 同じ空の下で, Re-sublimity, Went away….

  4. Well, this album sure was a pleasant surprise and actually gave me a reason to start listening to I’ve again. The previews barely seem to reflect most of the songs in any way, which is probably why my expectations for this were low.

    • yep, you are right. i felt the same, the previews are dull. noe that i have listened to the full songs, i think they are good. i like RISUKU and Geoglyphs the best

  5. Hmmm. This was a strange album. Some songs are really nice, though other ones are, if not bad, indeed somehow forgettable.

    In my case, I enjoyed Epsilon and RI-SU-KU from the new ones and Real Onigokko and BLAZE from the old ones.

    Personally, I think BLAZE is not a bad song. It is not like orgasmically awesome, but it’s quite good. I used to hate it, but one day I noticed the strange sounds used on the second part of the intro and choruses and that made me fall in love with it. Still, snIpe is better in terms of total points.

    I had never heard Hayate no Gotoku!, and I must really say that it was either boring or VERY BORING, but in any case it is forgettable, at least to me. Same goes for all the other song that only work to make the album bigger; they are not that iconic, and that’s a must for them to be both memorable and high-quality-KOTOKO stuff.

    Epsilon… Well, during the intro I was like “hmm not bad”, then it begun and I really liked it, then the chorus began and I fell into a deep abyss of WTFness with the change. After listening to it some times, I grew used to it, but this time I’ve’s evil-to-good transition was really confusing. All in all, it’s a good song for any KOTOKO fan, though it could cause some trauma for any newcomer.

    As you stated, it’s a good rest from all the recent failures, but next release should REALLY outcome Epsilon no Fune’s content or I’ve might get some serious 3rd degree burns.

  6. my most listened song from Epsilon is Real Onigokko which tells A LOT as I already whored that like a crack addict his needle long before the album. overall I think the album has some nice ideas which are just badly done like in HELLION or Epsilon no Fune.

    only real standouts are DRIVE and Geoglyphs right now.

    I’m starving for something (good) from Shimamiya or some new MELL stuff. don’t really care about Mami even if this blog is highly hyped on her.

  7. Out of the 9 new tracks (wait, 8, LBN is a cover)… I like them all. Genkai daha a bit less than the other.

    If I have to make a top 3 out of these new ones… I’d say RISUKU, Hellion, monera no kizuna (yes, I like it :p).

    The repeats… I’d stated before that I only liked scene… which happens to have a better arrangement (IMHO, as always :p)

  8. I listen to KOTOKO day in-day-out xD still can’t get enough of her voice…
    i like all songs on this album so it really doesn’t matter what anybody says…maybe that duet was unnecessary , but its ok…since its has been a while since a good album like this came out….

    personally i would buy any KOTOKO album even if it came as a blank disk….church


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