[ALBUM] Jin Akanishi – Japonicana

Japonicana might provide a good pump-up backing tape while one is getting ready to hit the town on a bender, but aside from that, it’s borderline painful to listen to.

When I first heard Test Drive many months ago I unconsciously slapped myself in the forehead. I can’t say I’m surprised Jason Derulo occupied more vocal time than Jin himself but to think he would add to the quality of the song was a gross miscalculation. There is virtually nothing that could have saved this track short of demolition. Test Drive is a bit of a bore for a club pop song and the poetic substance of the lyrics is sorely lacking. In fact, any thirteen-year old boy could offer more than what Jin has bought to the table. Sun Burns Down is a mild improvement on the first single but still contains the same basic R&B sound overlaid with banal lyrics. Well done, Jin. This didn’t have my hopes particularly high for Japonicana but only time would tell how much of a mess this brave new endeavour would prove to be.

Akanishi’s desire to debut in America would have come at no great surprise to the ordinary KAT-TUN fan. His passion for the R&B genre and desire to sing in English was well documented since his boy band days when a great number of his solos were preformed in English. The infamous Love Juice could have been construed as a pallet teaser for Japonicana but it really wasn’t: Jin has taken the smut, innuendo and R&B feel up a hundred notches to produce something I’m not entirely sure how to respond to. Love Juice, by comparison was a relatively decent song when put alongside the treats Jin has on offer with Japonicana. Classy like none of these hoes? No, Jin, I really don’t think so.

I can’t say there is one track on the album by which I am particularly impressed. Perhaps my deep seeded hatred of R&B is clouding my judgement but Japonicana seems to me to be a monumental failure.  This album fails to the showcase even a fraction of the vocal talents fans of KAT-TUN know Jin possesses. Tracks feature forced, rough wails—which are needless to say unpleasant to the ears—or monotone spoken verse that could be perceived as a horribly pitiful attempt at rap. Either way Japonicana does not present Jin as a talented vocalist or a great composer. All it does is paint him as a pathetic wannabe who is trying so very hard to be something which he is not and will never be. I am a little embarrassed for him.

Despite what the album title suggests, Jin has abandoned any notion of Japanese pop idol he may have still contained in favour of good ol’ American R&B. While assimilating into something already familiar to the American audience may have been the only way for Jin to gain any sort of attention, the fact remains he has brought nothing new to the genre. While iTunes claims this album to be an example of sleek, modern R&B/club it doesn’t succeed in meshing to two together—Japonicana’s tracks contain elements of both sounds but each song is distinctively one or the other.

The club house component of the album is an utter disgrace. Aphrodisiac and That’s What She Said are classic examples of club pop and aren’t something you would enjoy listening to outside of a bar and even then you probably wouldn’t like it that much. As to be expected of this specific genre the lyrics are minimal and this works in Jin’s favour as he didn’t have to strain himself too hard thinking of something profound about which to sing.  Aphrodisiac sounds just like every other song I hear when breaking out some moves on a club dance floor and I probably wouldn’t distinguish it from the constant drone of the DJ’s mix. I guess if you like club music you might appreciate Japonicana but for the average pop fan it’s not an album you would put on just to listen to. It might provide a good pump-up backing tape while one is getting ready to hit the town on a bender, but aside from that, it’s borderline painful to listen to.

That’s What She Said has been the centre of controversy prior to the album release. I don’t particularly feel like getting involved in the shit storm involving rape connotations and misogyny that inevitably appeared on the internet following the leak of the lyrics and will say nothing more than Jin’s English vocabulary is obviously more limited than one first thought. I’m impressed he understands the meaning of neologism but with Jin coining awe-inspiring words along the lines of Tixy—created from ‘tits’ and ‘sexy’—I can’t see these words taking off anytime soon. The beat of the music very much lends itself to a club dance floor and if you remove Jin’s pitiful excuse for vocals—is he even attempting to sing?—then it may provide something to dance to if there were nothing better on offer. The fact this song is a blatant play-by-play of a drunken one night stand with an overemphasis on oral sex really makes me question iTunes’ review asserting Japonicana is ‘consistently pop radio-friendly.’ Okay.

California Rock is utterly boring for a club song and once again with an incredibly narrow scope of lyrics it can’t have taken Jin any more than ten minutes to pen. Sex and alcohol seem to occupy a large portion of Jin’s brain activity so I guess one cannot blame him for alluding to one or both in all his songs. The boy likes to party but with a track as uninspiring as this one I don’t see myself jumping out of my seat anytime soon.

The first true R&B track manifests itself in Like You. This seems to be Jin’s first serious attempt at a decent song but once again fails to impress in any area. Set Love Free is much the same and perhaps the biggest disappointment in regards to these tracks is his singing. With uninspiring lyrics and bland melody, Jin needed to rely heavily on his vocal talents to achieve any form of praise for this album. Unfortunately for Jin his voice seemed far less impressive than it did when he was a member of KAT-TUN. I’m not sure whether this is implying his group mates are noticeably bad by comparison or whether Jin is perhaps not cut out for this genre of music regardless of how desperate he is to be a part of the American R&B scene. His voice seems strained and lacks the smooth sensuality he displayed in KAT-TUN’s discography. This is a genuine shame.

Oowah and Tell Me Why round out the relatively short album and are again nothing impressive. I listened to the entire album several times and these two failed to even register in my memory. That’s all I have to say about them, really.

While Japonicana seems to be mostly a genuine attempt to move away from his boy band roots, it seems like Jin should have stuck to what he was good at. Ultimately he has tried too hard and fallen flat in the process. Instead of challenging the music industry and attempting to further the genre he has instead added to a swollen pool of artists by offering much more of the same in an attempt to fit in. The result of this is an unimpressive pile of sameness that will remain unacknowledged amongst a sea of well-established and successful artists. Furthermore Jin’s vocals are pathetic and nowhere near the standard he produced as part of KAT-TUN. Way to take a step backward there, Jin.

If I was held at the point of some life-threatening weapon and demanded to pick a favourite track I would begrudgingly select Sun Burns Down. It’s the closest Jin gets to actually singing on the album and one of the few tracks that features him solely. He almost sort of manages to dance, too. In regards to the video, I fail to understand the relationship between seducing a woman and espionage, but hey, I don’t claim to understand Jin’s mind and I’m sure no one ever will.


If you’d like to check out what netizens are saying about That’s What She Said feel free to peruse this post on あらま They Didn’t!: http://aramatheydidnt.livejournal.com/3475605.html

It’s bound to keep you occupied for hours.