Follow-up to Mami Kawada’s unexpected breakout hit SAVIA, LINKAGE had a lot to live up to. And, with a weaker lineup of singles holding it up and a somewhat unexpected approach to marketing that some deemed ‘tacky’, it seemed unlikely that this new offering would be a worthy successor; but is it? Read on to find out!
Mami Kawada (川田まみ) – LINKAGE (2010, Geneon Universal)
- 言葉、心の声 (Kotoba, Kokoro no Koe)
- in answer
- アウェアネス (Awareness)
- 未来の粒 ～I’m formed～ (Mirai no Tsubu)
- All in good time
Sometimes, I’ve actually shows they are capable of learning. That they released not one but two master groove circle albums, continue to underutilize Kaori Utatsuki even after a surprisingly mature debut album, and allow C.G mix to make the same song over and over again every time a new eroge theme is announced might suggest that learning isn’t their forte, precisely, but with LINKAGE we get a lovely little reminder that sometimes the idiots “get it”.
With LINKAGE, it’s clear that the staff at I’ve took a long, hard look at SAVIA and realized that they could never do that again. The perfection that occurred when the best singles any of the I’ve girls had, or have since, put out were combined with a promising artist coming into her own in top form wasn’t something one could just conjure up on a whim. So, instead of attempting to recreate the album (as might have been tempting for them to do), the new album has Mami moving in a different direction, having more in common with KOTOKO’s 2009 comeback success Epsilon no Fune than with SAVIA.
Like Epsilon no Fune, LINKAGE’s focus is fixed on the sort of ‘dark’ trance-inspired dance-pop that made I’ve a household name in the realm of eroge-music production so many years ago. While none of the songs can boost quite a strong a hook as KOTOKO’s now-legendary Re-sublimity, most of the album’s mood is comparable to that most revered of singles. In fact, the whole album is quite “KOTOKO-esque”, representing an unexpectedly welcome move towards homogenization of the “I’ve Sound” as it has become. After losing focus and releasing a number of unimpressive singles on Geneon Universal (that, it would seem, are even now being removed from the canon – none of the misguided “Departed to the Future” singles have seen a spot on an album tracklisting, and LINKAGE lacks any of the B-sides from the singles represented), it would seem that Takase, Nakazawa, C.G mix and even Iuchi are starting to work towards a new, leaner sound for I’ve, the focus now less on individual arrangers’ personal styles and more on making simple, effective pop music.
And, in that respect, LINKAGE, along with its spiritual predecessor Epsilon no Fune, works powerfully as a restatement of the “what does I’ve sound like?” thesis: there may not be any surprises for long-time listeners on either of the two, but what can be found is a tight little collection of songs with few true missteps. And, unlike the horrendous mess that was the batty cover of Manic Street Preachers’ “Little Baby Nothing” at the end of Epsilon no Fune, the English-language cover song on this one isn’t terrible. Sort of bland, perhaps, but not quite embarrassingly awful like its predecessor.
Highlights of the album include “in answer”, a C.G mix contribution that works both as lovely fanservice for the devoted and quality ammunition to those who would pin C.G mix down as a one-trick pony (nothing in its 4 minutes and 53 seconds of runtime is really original in the slightest, but he does it with such style it’s hard not to get into it), and upstages the entirety of his recent solo endeavor with a metaphorical hand tied behind its back. Somewhat less expected, but no less welcomed, is Maiko Iuchi’s “TOY”, a cute song in the same pseudo pop-punk vein as “Get my way!” that finds the oft-loathed producer restraining herself enough to not drown the song in horrible garish guitar solos as she very well could have. And has done. Many times.
However, as well as the other producers do, the stars of the show, as always, remain Tomoyuki Nakazawa and Takeshi Ozaki. The JOINT duo’s slick CLIMAX kicks off the album on a high note, and title track Linkage proves to almost be the follow-up to SAVIA’s portamento that everyone wanted, while keeping things fresh enough with its stop-start rhythm to not draw any complaints of repetition (unlike, say, “in answer”). It’s more challenging a song than anything else on the album, and definitely smacks of ‘not for everyone’, but such a description is hardly a complaint. That Mami is willing to try new things is always nice to know, antithetical as it may be to the general focus of the album.
But, is LINKAGE better than SAVIA? No. By no means. Its highs aren’t as high, its lows (Mirai no Tsubu is frankly horrendous) no better than the corresponding missteps on SAVIA, and the thrill of hearing a previously-marginalized vocalist take charge is gone, but if this is a sophomore slump (first album SEED doesn’t count, don’t ask why) then Mami’s doing pretty damn well for herself. Highly recommended, even if it’s not quite SAVIA.