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Review: Momoiro Clover Z’s New Album Showcases Why They’re Still on Top of the Japanese Idol Industry

It’s hard to overstate how impressive it is that Momoiro Clover Z has been able to continue as a group with such permanence and dominance within the idol industry for 11 full years. They had a meteoric rise to the very top of the industry and have stayed there in the public awareness ever since. With this in mind, the release of a brand new album from the popular group, coinciding with their 11th-anniversary of their foundation today on May 17 and the first since they released 2 new albums simultaneously in 2016, is a big deal. The album has been getting the promotional push to match the gravitas of the situation too, with a special pop-up shop in Shibuya, Tokyo Skytree being lit up in the group’s colors on both May 11 and 17, collaborations with Honey’s Bar for smoothies, workout bottles, and notebooks, as well as discount fashion brand Shimamura for everything from socks and underwear to clothing to even bedding and cushions. When I visited Shibuya recently, I was even serenaded with the album’s main track ‘The Diamond Four’ being blasted out of giant screens around Shibuya Scramble. Momoiro Clover Z releasing a new album is a big deal.

As of Friday, the album has been released to the general public, leaving one question on the minds of fans and onlookers alike: was the album worth the wait?

Now admittedly I may not be the person best-placed to give a truly objective answer to this question. As I’ve mentioned on this website before, being such a massive fan of the group for as many years as I have means that I was most likely going to be pleased with the album regardless of its contents. However, I want to convince you that this album is worth an hour of your time regardless of your prior interest in the group and whether you had ever heard of them before, as the deft mix of musical styles showcases their impressive vocals and talent which have been refined for over a decade, even if this can come at the cost of a more thematically consistent listening experience.

Momoiro Clover Z’s previous albums have each sought not just to differentiate themselves not just from other idols but from their previous work, serving as an evolution in the group’s image. Their first album, the phenomenally successful “Battle and Romance”, sought to establish the group’s image as a 5-member group shortly following the graduation of Hayami Akari, taking a more experimental approach, throwing themselves between songs ranging from more traditional J-pop bops to some electronic music and other heavier genres.

“5th Dimension”, which followed this album a few years later in 2013, which sets its tone from the outset with a 2-and-a-half minute rendition of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” before heading into a strong EDM track produced by TeddyLoid. While their pop roots were still present in the singles included in this album as well as some songs like “5 The Power”, for the most part, the album retains a heavier and more electronic sound for most of its runtime.

The most thematically-consistent albums from the group came a few years later with the double-album release of “Amaranthus” and “Hakken no Yoake” on the same day in 2016. Not only did both of these albums have consistent theming of birth, life, rebirth, and afterlife, they transition seamlessly into one another in a way that they can often be listened to as a consistent whole in a 2-hour block, something I often do. Again, the group redefined itself by attempting a huge range of musical styles from big band to jazz to rock and more even more experimental genres. The group framed itself as one willing to take big risks and try new things.

In many ways, even down to the standard edition cover art being reminiscent of one of the album covers for “Battle and Romance”, Momoiro Clover Z’s self-titled 5th album is much more reminiscent of their first album in terms of intent, even though they each have radically different musical tones that represent the group’s evolution over the years. While “Battle and Romance” attempted to establish the group’s 5-member lineup, this new album can be interpreted as their intent to re-establish themselves as a quartet, this being their first major release since the graduation of Ariyasu Momoka in 2018.

You can see this from the very opening song of the album too. While “Battle and Romance” had “Z Densetsu”, a song that parodied Tokusatsu tropes to introduce each member, their personality and their energetic musical style, this album has Roadshow. The chant of ‘Ladies and Gents’ before the opening verse brings the audience in as this dance-infused pop song attempts to stir up the listener and pump them up and get them into the rest of the album, a job it very much succeeds with as one of the best songs on the entire album. It has a very addictive melody and a strong beat that stick in your head after listening to the album even though it could have easily become lost as the album’s opening song.

‘Let’s start the show!’ the song exclaims.

The main song on this album follows, “The Diamond Four”, which succeeds in its role of introducing the fun personality with a bouncy pop-rap song whose electric guitar and trumpet backing only succeeds in complimenting the sheer fun this song exudes at every turn. As the album progresses you have songs like “Tamashii no Tabemono” mixing a European choir into a slow, mysterious meander, Revival showcasing an interest in modern Western pop trends and more styles are experimented with before winding out with the upbeat sounds of “The Show”, bringing the entire album around full circle to where “Roadshow” set us up.

‘Just enjoy the show,’ it concludes, with a smile and a wink, easing you out of the experience.

Interspersed within all the new tracks are the songs from Momoiro Clover Z’s ambitious project to release five digital singles in the last five months of 2018, and while these songs are strong in their own right, they are partially the reason I have for my one complaint with this release. With five very recently released songs being included in this album, all of which touch on some very different musical styles, coupled with the album’s push to freshen things up with every song, this ends up being a double-edged sword. While the result is a huge variety of songs which ensures every listen of the album feels as fresh as the first (a good thing considering my listening count since Thursday is already into the high teens), it can contribute to a slightly disjointed feeling to the experience.

Whether this is as important in the current age is an argument that remains to be seen. As streaming continues to grow in Japan and has begun to dominate internationally, the way many people listen to music has changed. Curated albums are becoming less relevant when many will instead listen to music through curated playlists or through hitting the shuffle button and seeing what turns up. Saying that, as someone who still prefers and almost exclusively listens to music in this manner, it can be admittedly jarring to transition from the poppy “GODSPEED” into another of their 2018 singles, the heavy rock cover song “Anta Tobashisugi”, then into “Tamashii no Tabemono”. And it’s not the only instance of a jarring transition between songs.

Luckily, it’s not too jarring to the point it diminishes any of the songs themselves, and the strength of each song on its own more than makes up for it, but it can make for an admittedly-strange listening experience in places. It’s an issue which would disappear when experienced in the way many are likely to experience it in the age of digital music, as well.

As a whole, this album has been very much worth the wait. With a huge variety on offer and as a showcase of the group’s continued evolution after 11 years in the business, the album proves itself to be a must-listen release from the group, one which fans and non-fans alike can get behind. I know that I personally will have this album on loop for many weeks to come and, like the group’s previous work, will constantly return to it for many, many years to come. You can’t ask for more than that, can you?

The album is available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify in Japan. The CD version of this album comes in 3 different version, one version containing just the album itself for 2,800 yen, a limited-edition which contains a second CD with special re-recordings of the group’s classic songs as a quartet for 3,800 yen and another limited edition retailing at 5,800 yen which, in lieu of a second CD, includes a special Blu-ray which includes the MVs for all of Momoiro Clover Z’s 2018 digital singles, “The Diamond Four”, as well as the entirety of the Nakano Sun Plaza date of their 2018 Seishun Tour.

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