When I started blogging again, one of the things I mentioned was that on first listen, I had been relatively unimpressed with Momoiro Clover Z’s latest album, 5th Dimension. I know, it came out in April, so this is rather untimely, but they’re my favorite group, I feel like I owe them a full out review. Not only that, but since I have had time to really listen to the album through a few times, I feel stronger in my opinions of it.
This is a good album. Probably will be my favorite album of the year. HOWEVER, that being said, it’s still not the album I wanted, and in a few areas, it’s not as strong as it should have been. Based off the singles and the group’s growth over the past years since their first album, Battle and Romance, this album should have been mind blowing. It definitely has good things about it, but I do have some issues with it as well.
I also think it deserves to be said that if you are someone going into this album without having been familiar with the singles contained on it already, that this is a better album than I’m making it sound like. I’m going into this album already knowing and loving all 4 single tracks on it, but because they are not new material to me, when I think of how I feel about this album, a lot of that is based off how I feel about the *new* material on it. And if you haven’t heard the singles yet, I really strongly recommend you look into them because if you miss out on LOST CHILD, the B-side to Mouretsu, you are missing one of the most incredible pieces in Momoclo’s history. But, back to 5th Dimension…
Time for a track-by-track breakdown:
1. Neo STARGATE
Neo STARGATE opens with Carmina Burana. Neat idea, but a bit long here as the opener for the CD. Neo STARGATE itself is actually quite cool in my opinion. I love the verses and the opening vocals, they grab my attention right away, and the song keeps a hold on me as they do their ultra high-pitched chanting, before the music breaks into some dancey electronica. I feel like the whole song is fantastic, with one odd exception, the chorus itself. The chorus is uncharacteristically weak for this group, and doesn’t do the rest of the song justice. However, the rest of the song is so neat, I still am in love with it despite a so-so chorus. It’s a bit more mature than Momoclo usually is, but it still feels like “them”, so I’m good with it. I wish the chorus was better, but this song kicks ass anyway.
2. 仮想ディストピア / Kasou DISUTOPIA (Virtual Dystopia)
Kasou Dystopia carries the feeling of Neo STARGATE but with a bit more of a rock edge with the guitars going. The beginning doesn’t catch me right away, but the refrain is fantastically catchy and a bit hectic (which I consider to be a good quality for this group). It’s like the opposite of Neo STARGATE in how I feel about it, with so-so verses, but a great chorus. As far as new material goes (meaning, non-singles), this was one of my favorite tracks, because of that refrain. Loved it.
One drawback throughout the album that I first start noticing a bit on this track is the vocals. I really like most of the girls’ voices, overall, but there are points throughout the album starting on this track where they’re really a bit strained and/or lack proper control. It’s actually not too bad on this one but some other tracks of the album it is quite noticeable, so it’s worth mentioning.
I feel like Momoclo’s older material really catered to what their voices could and could not sing well, but their newer material has them go places vocally that they can’t sustain very well. Some of them are just overall very weak vocally (A-rin), some are good with material they can handle but get iffy when out of that comfort zone (Reni, Kanako, Shiorin). Momoka is generally strong, but had recently come out of vocal cord surgery before this album, she may be weaker than usual on it. I feel like if they are going to have the girls sing stuff like this, they should make sure they get the training they need to make it sound strong.
3. 猛烈宇宙交響曲・第七楽章「無限の愛」 / Mouretsu Uchuu Koukyoukyoku Dainana Gakushou “Mugen no Ai” (Bodacious Space Symphony, Seventh Movement “Infinite Love”)
So forget about everything I just said about vocals, this song necessitates straining but I don’t even care. I’ve reviewed this song before, in many posts, again and again and again and again and again . If you haven’t already heard it, this is a must-listen. Not just once, either, you can’t fully appreciate the intensity and insanity of this song in the first listen. This is my favorite piece of music to be put out in years and rocks like nothing else. Nothing else on this album touches it.
4. 5 The POWER
This is a rap song. See, MCZ can rap without Akari… Um, kinda. They pull it off OK, I guess, but I really just can’t get into this song. I don’t mind the short raps like they do for the bridges of songs sometimes, but it’s not something I really want to listen to to for an entire song. I find Shiorin is the best of what they have, she is pretty enjoyable to listen to, but I’d rather skip this track most of the time, even though I wouldn’t call it awful or anything.
(edit, 2 months later: It took forever, but I have actually come around to this track quite a bit, as it is silly and fun. I still wouldn’t call it A+ material or anything, but it is enjoyable for what it is, if you can get into it.)
5. 労働讃歌 / Roudou Sanka (Labor Hymn)
Roudou Sanka was probably the weakest of the single tracks on the album for me, which is pretty good, because I like Roudou Sanka quite a bit! I enjoy the light rock sound, the vocals in it, and both the verses and the refrain. It’s a fun song, and even though it’s pretty old material compared to the rest of the album, it’s good.
6. ゲッダーン! / GEDDA-N! (Get Down!)
Momoclo experiments with unlikely writers, and comes out with something that doesn’t really wow me. I love the instrumentation, but the execution of this song doesn’t win me over. I feel like it should, the music is pretty cool, but it all kinda goes downhill when the girls come in. I don’t mean that as anything against them, either, but their vocal range isn’t well suited for the verses, the chorus is OK, but repetitive, we’ve all heard progressive harmonious “ahhs” before, and the bridge is boring. I don’t *hate* it, but it really isn’t what I want to listen to from this group. They can do better than OK.
7. Z女戦争 / Otome Sensou (Maidenz War)
Hell yeah. Otome Sensou kicks ass. At 7 minutes long, it’s practically a song and a half, but you could probably string together 5 separate songs out of the various parts of it. Some people dislike that many Momoclo songs have a multiple-songs-in-one thing going on, but I love it. I’ll get different parts of it in my head all the time at different moments and fall back in love with various elements of the song over and over again because of all the different stuff going on. I love the opening chant melodies, the frantic verses, the refrain (s?), and that show-stopping peaceful bridge, with Kanako rocking her solo in the middle of an insane battle of a song before the finish. Otome Sensou is a favorite of mine!
8. 月と銀紙飛行船 / Tsuki no Gingami Hikousen (The Moon and a Tin Foil Blimp)
For a ballad, this did a good job of keeping me interested. It’s different from any of their previous ballads, with a delightfully grand feeling throughout the music and chorus. I can’t think of anything quite like it in Momoclo’s discography. It’s not my favorite on the album, but I do like it quite a bit, it’s lovely… Might even be the strongest of their ballads.
9. BIRTH Ø BIRTH
This song was one of my disappointments on the album… Maybe I have unfair expectations, but NARASAKI did this one and it’s the only time he has ever failed to impress me on any Momoclo track he’s had a part in. There are some cool parts to the song, especially the instrumental, but the song as a whole is not very memorable. The vocals also aren’t great in a few points in this song, either, they’re pretty strainy through the refrain, which was not interesting in itself.
BIRTH Ø BIRTH is like Neo STARGATE’s boring, unattractive cousin. I just can’t get into it, which is a real shame, because I was expecting a NARASAKI track to be amazing, like LOST CHILD, or Pinky Jones. This certainly has a distinct lack of Pinky Jones-level energy.
10. 上球物語 -Carpe diem- / Joukyuu Monogatari -Carpe Diem- (Story from the Sphere Above -Carpe Diem-)
Here’s the energy! Out of all the new material on this album, this song was easily my favorite. This is the song that ties the “good old” Momoclo feel with the newer sounds throughout this album. It brings the vigor that Momoclo has on their singles and old album tracks, and combines it with a song that still sounds like it belongs with the rest of them on this album.
Carpe Diem is certainly very “Chai Maxx” in the chorus, but in the best way possible, because I actually like the note progression better on this song. It’s frenzied, catchy, and exactly what I was hoping for on this album. Lots of insanity going on throughout the middle through end, too, from Aarin’s awesome scatting, to rapid-fire lines from alternating members, it’s fantastic. Even Aarin’s imperfect vocals at the peak of this song are charming, because you can hear the life and feeling in them. That feeling, that energy, that’s what I feel like is missing from some of the so-so tracks on this album, that was present in almost every track of Battle and Romance. That makes Carpe Diem my favorite by far out of the non-singles on this album.
11. 宙飛ぶ!お座敷列車 / Soratobu! Ozashiki Ressha (Fly in the Sky! Tatami Room Train)
And coming off the best, we have the worst. I didn’t like this song at all. I didn’t enjoy the childishness of it – though I often do with this group, this one did not please me. I can’t think of anything much else to say, other than that I did not care for this song one bit.
12. サラバ、愛しき悲しみたちよ / Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimi-tachi yo (Farewell, Dear Sorrows)
This was the latest of Momoclo’s singles, and it was a real different kind of song for them. It has a more serious feeling than a lot of their other material, but at the same time not too serious. The verses hit hard and fast, and I like them a lot, as well as the little chants in there. The refrain is pretty good, but the bridge was what gets stuck in my head more often, with their “one, two and three four five!”. It’s a solid, cool track overall.
13. 灰とダイヤモンド / Hai to DAIYAMONDO (Ashes and Diamonds)
We wind down the album with a ballad, that I feel like should have been a lot better than it was. The composition and instrumental are really nice (especially the strings at about 2/3 through the song), but the vocals aren’t strong enough to carry it properly. I feel like Kanako sang so much stronger in Otome Sensou than she sounds on this song, and the straining is very apparent for many of them, Ayaka in particular, but none of them come across perfect. Underneath that, it’s a lovely song, but could have been so much better if they re-recorded it with better vocal performances. I know some of them can sound better than this because I’ve heard them, I just don’t know why they would settle with this recording when it’s not as good as I think it could have been.
So there you have it. 5th Dimension. The new material was hit or miss with me, which was a let down after the amazingness that was Battle And Romance. If taken as a whole the album is really pretty good, because the singles are so great. Mouretsu and Otome Sensou are some of the most unforgettable songs in their whole discography.
But… If judging it on new material alone, I only *loved* about half or so of the new stuff, which isn’t that great a track record considering I usually fangirl uncontrollably over almost everything this group puts out, with very few exceptions. There’s a certain fun and energy missing from some of the new tracks, which is very apparent if you listen to the new tracks in contrast with older tracks – even tracks new enough to be on this album, like Mourestu. I don’t expect every song to be that incredible, but look back at Battle and Romance, and how many memorable tracks were on that.
I know this is kind of a new direction for Momoclo, but I hope they can maintain their old feeling even with new material, with their future releases. There is some incredible stuff on here, but the older material in the singles blows away the new stuff (with the exception of Carpe Diem). I’m not against them trying out new directions, I just hope they don’t lose that spark that made me like them so, so much in the first place.
(edit, upon reflection):
I should also clarify: I’m being a little unfair to them because they are my favorite. Like being mad at your honor student for getting an A- instead of an A+. I mean, honestly, with some groups I like, like Morning Musume, I might consider an album to be very good if I like more than a handful of tracks because I’m expecting the album-only songs to be crap and am pleasantly surprised if they are not. I hold Momoclo to a higher standard because they’re usually so spot-on with every single little thing for me. It’s really not fair of me to dock them so much for having what amounts to one song I outright don’t like, and 3-4 just OK ones on an album, especially when I like most of the others a whole lot. Overall this IS a strong album and I do like it, it just changes things up a bit.
I suppose we won’t know the direction Momoclo will take for sure until the next singles come out – I’m eagerly, if a bit nervously, anticipating them. Until then, I’ll be rocking Carpe Diem-em-em!