KAT-TUN’s voices seem to lend themselves to ballads as they don’t suffer from a distasteful whine which occasionally rears its head in some of their more powerful songs.

Admittedly, my interest in KAT-TUN dropped when Akanishi Jin announced his intentions to go solo, so much so I actually skipped the No More Pain album altogether. But in light of Jin’s failed attempt at a Western album, I thought I’d take a look at what he’d left behind. I was genuinely surprised by what I found.

I really did have low expectations of how KAT-TUN would function after Jin’s departure. Of course, one man does not make a group, but to lose the best vocalist and dancer it did have me concerned as to how well KAT-TUN would function without him. While I cannot speak for No More Pain, I would like to offer my congratulations to KAT-TUN for having completed a rather nice little product. While many fans may miss Jin, he is certainly not missed on this album. With seventeen tracks Chain has a lot on offer; however fans avidly following KAT-TUN may be a little disappointed to find five of these were previously released singles leaving only twelve new tracks to show. Even so, twelve is the average length of a studio album, and even if a further five of these are solos, it is still a generous helping.

It does go without saying that the singles rank amongst the best on Chain. Change Ur World, Ultimate Wheels, White, Run For You, and Birth were all previously released with MVs, followed by Lock On, which was released as the title track of the album. Lock On was a great choice as the title as it is certainly an amazing song and probably my favourite on the album. The sound is powerful, energetic and portrays KAT-TUN as a better-rounded and mature group. I’m not entirely sure what role the robot in the water tank fills in the MV but I’m not one to question these things. The choreography is nothing spectacular but the MV is still worth a look as no one ever looks bad in black suits.

The other singles contain a similar sound which seems indicative of the new style KAT-TUN has cultivated. Their post-Jin sound is edgier, darker and all-round more mature which no doubt reflects the way KAT-TUN and the bulk of their fan base as grown. Birth has a great, upbeat pop sound and is diversified by the inclusion of a sick bass line. I’m not entirely sure about the trumpets and other brass instruments in the background but in general the track has a great feel. The vocals form a nice harmony even if Kamenashi seems a little overpowering in the chorus. Change Ur World has a delicious rock feel emphasised by the powerful intro. Regardless of any personal issues I have with taking shortcuts with the English language, I really like this song. While it seems KAT-TUN have shot their payload on the singles, the album itself is still held to a relative high calibre. A highlight of Change Ur World for me was Koki’s rap, which seems to be depressingly scarce on Chain. In general, I found this to be a bit of a letdown as Koki is certainly one of it not the best rapper amongst the Johnny’s cohort. It is nice to see more of his singing talent, though.

Ultimate Wheels is a good song with a bad MV and even worse title. Honestly, could they have made it any more of an obvious car endorsement? In any case, the song has a theatrical feel made epic by the string accompaniment. I wish I could say the same for the title.  Fortunately though, the only real negative quality to this song is the ridiculous title and consequent inability to listen to it without thinking of cars. Thanks KAT-TUN.

Run for You and White round out the singles featured on the album. Run for You has a horridly catchy chorus and, while the song is not overly boring, it’s generally pretty standard as far as KAT-TUN songs go. Although not as impressive as Ultimate Wheels, Change Ur World and Lock On, it is decent and in tune with KAT-TUN’s new sound.  I have to deduct points for the mismatched techno-remix slopped into the middle of the song and also the over use of autotune. Even though KAT-TUN’s vocal talents are mediocre at best in the scheme of Asian pop, no one is in need of that much digital manipulation.

Although White is weakest amongst the singles it still ranks in the upper half of the album. The rap solo in White is the best on Chain, being quite fast and impressive as always. Koki certainly has an attitude in his voice that only shines through when rapping and it’s a real shame his rap solos were so limited. However, with rap tracks being few and far between it acts as a mean of drawing attention to specific songs, of which White is one.

KAT-TUN - Ultimate Wheels

Chain is an album tastefully devoid of ballads. There are only three soppy tracks—not including the solos—and this makes for a fun album. あの日のように [Ano Hi No You Ni] is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a J-Pop ballad: the vocals are soft and the music pretty and there’s not a lot more that needs to be said. I have to say, though, KAT-TUN’s voices seem to lend themselves to ballads as they don’t suffer from a distasteful whine which occasionally rears its head in some of their more powerful songs. But for some reason, I’ve always hated KAT-TUN ballads. I think the slowest KAT-TUN song I claimed to have liked was Water Dance off the particularly impressive Break the Records album. I know, I know—I hate all pop ballads but the only thing worth nothing about あの日のように [Ano Hi No You Ni] is the rare inclusion of Koki‘s rapping. 歩道橋 [Hodoukyou] also falls into the same category of pretty vocals but without the mildly exciting rap. 儚い指先 [Hakanai Yubisaki] is the highlight of the slower songs as it has a little more energy than its fellow ballads. Regardless of my personal tastes, I can’t fault KAT-TUN’s vocals in these tracks as they certainly present them in the highest quality.

Amongst group tracks on the album Smile for You is the low point as it is a not-so-refreshing return to KAT-TUN’s light and fluffy youth. While some fans may reminisce at this throwback to their original sound, I find that it comes across almost juvenile when compared to the generally more mature feel encompassing Chain. Even so, it’s not an overwhelmingly bad song—it’s just not that good.

This brings me to the three highlights of the album. Nestled in amongst a group of previously released singles One Day is a very boppy and potentially very catch tune. I originally classed it as my favourite non-single track on the album until I came across Solider. Solider is simply a fantastic track. The staccato rhythm to the lyrics in the verse is wonderful and stands out against the rest of the album. The disjointed verses are juxtaposed against a smooth chorus strengthening the overall dynamic of the song. It really is in hot competition with Lock On for the overall crown of best album track but this is something I will need more time to mull over. The one downside to Solider is hidden track Chain of Love embedded in the track making the song seem very long by comparison. I don’t particularly like when bonus tracks are included this way as it means you can’t listen to the songs individually. This can be very troublesome if the first track is bad but luckily this wasn’t the case. Despite being included under the same track time, both Solider and Chain of Love seem to be independent of one another making the transition sound like an ordinary shift between tracks. With Koki’s rap combined with impressively fast vocals in the chorus it does have me asking why the choice was not made to have it included as its own stand-alone track. It’s certainly strong enough to be one.

Finally, all that is left are the solos. Taguchi Junnosuke’s solo Finale is a marked improvement on some of his previous endeavours—I am still haunted by Samurai Love Attack. It’s worth noting Junno himself had a hand in the writing of this track and has produced a decent song with a mature sound. It’s good to see KAT-TUN have reflected their personal growth in their music as well. However, it’s disappointing that the overuse of autotune makes it hard to fully grasp or appreciate Junno’s voice. Nakamaru Yuichi’s solo Step by Step, on the other hand, is a light track which suits his voice very well making it the perfect showcase for his vocals.

I’m horridly disappointed with leader Kamenashi Kazuya. ずっと[Zutto] is a depressingly bland ballad that does absolutely nothing for Kame’s voice. This track serves only to highlight the flaws in his vocal abilities by emphasising the obvious difficulty he has with higher octaves. While he’s probably the best vocalist in KAT-TUN at present (second to Jin during previous albums) I don’t consider him to be anything special as the higher he goes the whiner his voice seems to become. ずっと[Zutto] perhaps would have been something powerful were it not for the inadequacies of Kame’s singing. But this is not the first time Kame to has had a rather terrible solo. With the exception of the brilliant 1582 from Break the Records, Kame hasn’t been given much opporuntiy to impress on his own.

~again, Ueda Tatsuya’s solo, was a pleasant little surprise. I’ve always considered Ueda’s voices to be noticeably weaker than the other members—not in ability but in power. Despite this disadvantage Ueda is more than capable of holding down a solo, as proven previously with Lost.  ~again is one of the better solos on the album, bested only by Taguchi. Dangerous Cat ~Make me Wet~, however, is—to borrow a cliché—a different kettle of fish. I’m not entirely sure what Koki was thinking when he co-composed this track but I can’t say I’m overly surprised. Carrying on from his classy Make U Wet series, Dangerous Cat ~Make me Wet~ compliments Tanaka’s wild, eclectic personality. This track, however, is a disaster. From the dogs barking in the introduction right down to the ridiculous lyrics, Dangerous Cat ~Make me Wet~ in no way competes with the quality of previous solos by the likes of Parasite and Pierrot. Even the rap is a disappointment. By assuming a strange tone to his vocals, Koki loses the personality and flavour he usually exhibits and instead produces something strange. At this point I’m really struggling to decide whose solo I hate more—Koki’s or Kame’s.

Chain is a surprisingly good album that represents a new stage in KAT-TUN’s music. With minimal lowlights and a solid assembly of tracks, KAT-TUN fans would be very pleased with what’s on offer. However with the most impressive tracks comprising of those previously released as singles, fans who bought the earlier releases could be left feeling underwhelmed. Chain does not have one clear-cut, stand-out track and instead provides the listener with a bunch of good songs making it difficult to discern that one great track—if it even exists at all.  Regardless, Chain is a solid album with a lot of promising attributes and is very much a step in the right direction for KAT-TUN.

Perhaps I should go back and listen to No More Pain.