Posted by: Kanna | 02/21/11

Album Review: The Front Line Covers


Various – The Front Line Covers (2008, Visual Arts)

1. Mami Kawada – RIDE -The Front Line Covers-
2. Eiko Shimamiya – DROWNING -The Front Line Covers-
3. KOTOKO – 季節の雫 -The Front Line Covers- [Kisetsu no Shizuku]
4. Mami Kawada – Days of promise -The Front Line Covers-
5. Kaori Utatsuki – そよ風の行方 -The Front Line Covers- [Soyokaze no Yukue]
6. Mami Kawada – birthday eve -The Front Line Covers-
7. Eiko Shimamiya – I will… -The Front Line Covers-
8. MELL – Two face -The Front Line Covers-
9. Kaori Utatsuki – One small day -The Front Line Covers-
10. KOTOKO – Belvedia -The Front Line Covers-
11. MELL – Disintegration -The Front Line Covers-
12. Kaori Utatsuki – Dream to new world -The Front Line Covers-

If I had to describe this album in one word, it would be refreshing. Gone are the days of Kazuya Takase’s cheap sounding string synths and production hailing from the Dancemania era. Some of the songs in this compilation were due for a much needed update with fuller sounds and new arrangements. The  “Love Planet Five” lineup would be covering I’ve songs that helped the collective rocket to their popularity. Songs from the hallowed compilations of Regret, Verge and Disintegration reinterpreted for a new generation of I’ve fans.

In a way, this CD was a long time coming because I’ve previously shown that it is adept at reinterpreting their older songs  – in some cases even surpassing the original. (C-LICK and Mixed Up are good examples.) Very rarely has it gone wrong. So really, this compilation had nothing to lose if they kept to the same standard.

Despite their previous accomplishments, part of me was hesitant. The album came at a time in which the quality of I’ve’s major releases were wavering. 2008 had some of the strongest I’ve releases of recent times (SAVIA, MELLSCOPE, BLAZE) and yet the year was ending with the lazy PSI-Missing, the hopelessly vapid U Make Ai Dream and the start of some bad Red fraction rehashes that was KILL. There was a sense of foreboding since I was unimpressed with the majority of the remix album master groove circle. So The Front Line Covers could be excellent or just a complete flop.

But I was in for a pleasant surprise as The Front Line Covers delivered and in style. The tracks have been injected with the characteristics of each respective singer rather than just a backing track with some vocals thrown over it and it is a treat to listen to. And while some of the arrangements are not as interesting as I had hope (KOTOKO’s Belvedia springs to mind, the song is listenable and pleasant enough but slightly flat in execution.) but as this was a return to the doujinshi scene in which I’ve was born from, the arrangements are more unusual than what would have been found in their more mainstream Geneon releases.

RIDE opens the compilation with Mami Kawada’s lower vocal range and while she pulls it off, you can tell that she’s not comfortable singing that low and as a result it comes off with less charm than the original. But as you move on from the listless opening and get into the bulk of the album, things pick up. DROWNING gets the dark guitars riffs and synth hooks that are reminiscent of Naruku no Hana and Shimamiya pulls off the MOMO classic with a dark tinge. Despite a few niggles with some of the sounds within the song itself (the drums are not as good as they could be, but neither were the ones in the original.), it is a wonderful interpretation.

Similar praises follow the rest of the songs. Cheery songs like Kisetsu no Shizuku, Soyokaze no Yukue, I will and Dream to new world are just as charming and don’t sound as saccharine because thank god, Kazuya Takase can afford better sounding VSTs that sound fuller and the sound has become more mature, more refined. The melodies have aged like good wine and finally, the production flaws those melodies have hidden behind have disappeared. I’ve’s songwriting excellent shows again.

Where I have the most praise for this compilation comes from the darker trance inspired songs. They were my personal favourites from that particular era of I’ve and Mami Kawada and MELL tackled Birthday eve and Two face.

Birthday eve is wonderfully executed, with the original sparkling synthlines and an impressive vocal performance from Mami who really takes the song and makes it her own. The same applies to MELL and Two face where she takes the psy-trance melancholia of the original and adds a bite on it. While the original sounded more wistful, MELL sounds vindictive and burning in her sadness.

Despite the overall sound of the album being very good, there are of course, a few flaws to take note of.

KOTOKO, Mami Kawada and Kaori Utatsuki are previous students of Eiko Shimamiya. Thus, their singing styles are shown to be quite uniform in the way they handle melodies. I find  that while a lot of the covers are on point, there was a general lack of vocal character which I believe was one of the strongest points of the older I’ve compilations. Whatever happened to AKI? MIKI? MAKO? Nobody knows. But the diversity was what made their songs sound interesting. But, bearing in mind that the compilation was made with the current I’ve Divas, it is me being slightly nitpicky.

MELL’s cover of Disintegration also deserves a mention for being the worst song on the entire compilation.

MELL’s English has always been a point of contention in that while she is the most adept out of all the I’ve girls at it, her accent and well, just look at Red fraction for god’s sake. The song came with its detractors, mostly for the lyrics and delivery.

The opening is breathtaking, with MELL nailing the opening lines perfectly and the piano in the background complimenting her to in a steady build up to the meat of the track. Then it just goes completely downhill and at once all my hopes are shattered – SINE6 loops a section from the original featuring Lia’s reverb vocals and it just highlights the contrast between MELL and Lia and it makes you remember that this is Lia’s song. Lia nailed the song and that reminder stings. MELL’s English decends into a complete Engrish mess where she struggles to make the vocal jumps fit the syllables as a non native speaker and the result is just MELL sounding strained and struggling to put in a good performance.

That is not what you want to hear considering the melancholic feel and soaring melodies of the song. Even if you had never heard the original Disintegration, the song is just a mess both musically and vocally. It stands out as it’s a song that went in the wrong direction. I hate to single her out after my love for Two face but, no. Just… no. I am starting to doubt that there will ever be a good reinterpretation of Disintegration and we should just let the original stand.

My personal opinion is that Mami Kawada, MELL and Kaori Utatsuki really shined in this compilation. Kaori does what she does best in being cheery, and though it’s more of the same Kaori that you always knew, when she’s this good it’s hard to critique her for not going out on a limb. Mami shows her versatility and MELL, despite her English pronunciation really took the songs and made them her own.

Eiko delivers a good performance, but I would have prefered her to perhaps to do a self-cover of some of her work from that time. Who wouldn’t say no to a redone Garasu no Tsuki or To lose in amber? Heck, she and MELL were around at the time regret came out – why were they the ones who only got 2 songs? And KOTOKO… well, she’s just KOTOKO. I just get the niggling feeling that she’s holding back or not putting her all in these covers. So while they’re listenable, they don’t stand out.

I believe that this album provides a better re-visitation to I’ve’s rich eroge contribution history than the I’ve Mania Tracks compilations which seem to be more I’ve rummaging in their stores and giving fans a legitimate way to get some of oddities in I’ve’s back catalogue. A well thought out release like The Front Line Covers goes a long way, and it was a fitting segway into their 10th anniversary.


Responses

  1. Nice review Kanna, I felt like I was reading a review of Aibu’s XD

    I most definitely agree that I’ve make great rearrangements of their own songs. I felt that about every song they covered has surpassed the original arrangements.

    • I don’t mean to copy Aibu, but thank you regardless. xD

  2. Very nice review! ^^

    For me, this compilation of I’ve cover songs was good, with Kisetsu no Shizuku, Two face, Belvedia and DROWNING as my favorites songs. Of course, isn’t as perfect as it could have been but it’s not a waste of time to give it a try.

    Greetings and welcome Kanna as an official blog reviewer ♥^_^)b

  3. I’m really late to this party, but I figured I’d throw in a little comment any way. The review was great – I seriously admire your writing – and I really agree on some points, especially about Disintegration, KOTOKO not really shining here and self-covers being highly wanted. You’re doing a fantastic job of filling Aibu’s shoes as a reviewer. Here’s hoping for a new review soon!

  4. Ok wtfreak ! i didint even know “MELL” existed im a huge fan of “kawada” and honestly i think is one of the best artist out there have to say mell really amazed me with both two face and disentegration both have already been played like 100 times on the first day i got this downloaded hope to find more stuff like this from them by chance do any of u guys know where i can get like all the compilations from these artist i have tried looking for them on google and had no luck with it does any one have like i dont know a link or site to where i might be able to find this?~!~? good review as well c(:

  5. Can’t say I agree on Disintegration (also can’t say I agree on the hate of KILL either…)

    Engrish isn’t a reason to hate a song to me just about every J-music star does it. That’d be like hating a Japanese tune because I don’t speak Japanese. It’s still a great song and one of MELL’s better tracks IMO musically.

    • KILL was a plain mess of a song – it was just unmemorable and muddled. A good example of a song in the same style that works is Mami Kawada’s seduce or even another MELL song – Spiral. And you miss my point about MELL’s English.

      I don’t mind Engrish generally it because as you say, there a lot of j-artists who aren’t fluent and can do it well (Anna Tsuchiya and Tommy february6 spring to mind) but MELL’s pronunciation is actually impeding her ability to hold notes over certain syllables and it does affect her performance in the song. It sounds strained and struggling, as I’ve mentioned.

  6. Great review, Kanna, and welcome to the blog. Thank you for bringing this album to the spotlight, as it’s not a well-known one, despite covering so many hallmark I’ve tracks.

    I went into listening to it with an open mind, despite a general distaste for rehashes – but the whole thing just felt completely uninspired. A couple observations from comparing these tracks with their predecessors:

    1. I personally find the widespread notion of musical obsolescence that is implied by references to “updating” a sound ridiculous. A talented producer can squeeze out pleasing notes from any machine or software; if anything, the trend of modern producers routinely enriching their sound with devices from the past, like 303 and 808 synthesizers, only supports it. Case in point with the tracks covering entries from 2000’s “Verge” compilation – whatever tech they had at the time, I’ve did a damn good job producing a clean and crisp sound, while the new versions feel inexplicably muddled and dull. The sole exception is “Two face”, a weak entry on the original cut that here sounds like it’s gained a new life.

    2. As you hit right on the head, the vocal diversity of I’ve past roster is greatly missed. As much as I like the present artists, having voices outside the Eiko Shimamiya School of Eroge Songs signature (most notably, SHIHO and MOMO) greatly enriched the overall I’ve spectrum.

    3. More than anything else, this album highlights (albeit via proof by contradiction) one of I’ve key production strengths: matching track and singer. Eiko (RIP vocal chords) is my favorite artist on the label and, as vibrant as she sounds over DROWNING, it’s not nearly as good as fit to the tracks’ mechanistic rattle as MOMO’s sleepy intonations. This is even more apparent in Belvedia, where Kotoko feels downright confused, lurching between styles; she finally hits a stride in the uptempo section (in a way highly reminiscent of RADIANCE), only to completely stumble in transition to the crescendo/hook – I invite readers to compare it to SHIHO’s version and see if they agree that the beat was more or less built for her.


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