Sakamoto Maaya, Part 2 of 2: Replica (LE) Commentary
Hello, hello. Right now I'm not home, and will in fact be out most of the day, but I've taken with me my wonderful laptop and pre-uploaded pictures for two posts. While I'm not sure if I'll be getting to the other one, at least I know that this one will be up shortly and my review of Replica complete.
Sakamoto Maaya's newest single, Replica, was released a week ago and I posted Part 1 - with pictures of and details regarding the limited edition packaging and first press bonus - of a 2-part review this past Sunday. Today I'm ready to get to the heart of my review in Part 2, where I'll be sharing my thoughts on the songs themselves - both the songs of the actual single and the songs from the limited edition mini live album.
Yes, I'll be reviewing all 8 songs.* Brace yourself.
*Don't worry, 2 of them are instrumentals. It'll still be long, just not that long!
As I mentioned in Part 1, the limited edition copy of Replica comes with two CDs/discs: Disc 1, which is the main disc and features the main content of the single, and Disc 2, which is the limited edition mini live album. Below is a closeup of the tracks on both discs, which I will list out separately as I get to my commentary:
For the sake of organization, I'll be listing out the tracks from Disc 1, reviewing them, and then listing out the tracks from Disc 2 and reviewing those. In between I'll insert additional pictures of the single that I took on Sunday. Enjoy!
2. Coming Up
3. Replica (Instrumental)
4. Coming Up (Instrumental)
***That's right, it's that time again - we're busting out the pengu flippers. > denotes a single pengu flipper, and each track will be rated between 1 and 5 (> vs. >>>>>) depending on how much I enjoy the track.***
1. Replica >>>>>
It's so weird writing my thoughts on this particular song. I'm used to writing my music reviews shortly after the release date of the single/album, and that's no different with this one, but I feel like I know this song completely. I mean, I have a familiarity with it that goes beyond one week of listening, though I guess that makes sense because the full song was broadcasted on Sakamoto's Vitamin M radio channel.
With that being said, I think most of my feelings towards this song stem from the fact that I already recorded a demo of it on my SoundCloud. For all of you out there that sing (and musicians in general - I think this applies to learning any part of any song), you know that your relationship (really? lol) with a song changes once you've practiced it over and over again. It was weird getting my copy of the actual CD after having already practiced its main song.
But enough of that. Let's start with first impressions: when I first heard "Replica," I didn't like it. It sounded like the busier, more cluttered and chaotic version of "Buddy." Every instrument seemed to be all over the place for the majority of the song, and there was no beat I could distinguish as the one keeping the song together. And I really couldn't enjoy the instrumental bridge - the one that starts at 1:25 or so.
The more I listened to it, though, the more it started to make sense. And then I saw the PV on Sakamoto's main channel, and I started to understand it even more. Doing my demo of the song pretty much set my final opinion - that I really, really enjoy this song. There is a beat holding everything together - whether it's the percussion or Sakamoto's voice - and I personally love Sakamoto's vocal range here. She hits high notes - not eerily high, but high nonetheless - she hits low notes that we don't hear from her too often, and the harmonies between the main vocals and the backing vocals are great. I also love how the layers and of music change throughout the song: the first verse is quiet, the second verse is a bit heavier, and the final chorus - which involves singing the vocal chorus twice - changes from having the quick paced-percussion to the slower, more focused percussion (think: a beat every two counts rather than every count). There is a lot going on with this song once you get to know what you're listening to.
I don't want to drone on and on, so I'm just going to say this: give "Replica" a chance if you think it's disappointing. It's like "Buddy," only a bit more complicated. That probably sounds negative, but think of it this way: once you understand everything that's going on, there's a lot more to appreciate in this song and Sakamoto's flexibility as an artist (vocally in this case, as she didn't write "Replica"). 5/5.
2. Coming Up >>>>
The supporting track of Replica, "Coming Up" is the single's carefree, relaxed side. When I first heard the preview clip of this song, all I could think was boring. "Coming Up" was indescribably boring. Lackluster. Forgettable.
I had a strong interest in this song when I heard it was composed by a bass guitarist. I play and love the bass guitar. It's my favorite instrument. And aside from the bass lines by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I've thoroughly enjoyed many of the bass lines in Sakamoto's songs - especially those during her era with Kanno Yoko. I couldn't wait to see what this song would be.
Well, it is boring. It has grown on me, but that doesn't change the fact that this song is very repetitive. It goes on and on, with very little variation. In fact, there is no definite end either. It's one of those songs that fades into nothing. Typically that doesn't hurt the song, but in this case it does, because you're left listening to the melody that makes up 90% of the song. If it weren't for Sakamoto singing "Shake up!" you probably wouldn't realize what part of the song you're at when its end is approaching.
What breaks my heart the most is that the bass line is simple. I guess because I knew it was being composed by a bass guitarist, I expected the bass line to be absolutely amazing - for the bass guitar to be showcased as an instrument that can do more than play repetitive bars of notes (again, think: Flea, and bass lines from Sakamoto's earlier songs, such as "Kimidori"). Don't misunderstand me - bass lines that are as simple as a wall painted white can be enjoyable. But in this case, the rest of the music apart from the bass line is boring, too. Even Sakamoto's vocals are boring.
The one saving grace for this song is 3:14. That's the most drastic change in the song, and it literally ends at 3:28. That's 14 seconds out of a 5 minute song that I enjoy a lot. I would give this song 3 pengu flippers or less, but those short 14 seconds bump my rating up to a 3.5, hence why I rated it a 4 out of 5 (I always round up). I guess one could also say it's the ideal supporting track for a song like "Replica," a song so complicated that only something ridiculously simple could balance it out effectively.
Oh dear, I feel like I've torn this song apart. It's honestly not that bad! It's just far from special, haha.
3. "Replica" (Instrumental) >>>>>
For those who enjoy "Replica" as much as I do, this track is a godsend.
Again, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this instrumental track is the instrumental track for "Buddy." Something that's great about the instrumental version of "Buddy" is that it holds its own. Some days I find myself wanting to listen to the instrumental over the version complete with Sakamoto's voice. So as I'm gathering my thoughts about "Replica," I'm inherently asking myself the same question: does this instrumental hold its own without Sakamoto's voice?
I think it does. Right now I'm still on that "high" that comes with listening to new songs whenever I want, but I think that once that high mellows down, I might at times see the appeal in listening to the instrumental track of "Replica" over the complete track. Like I said in my review of the song itself: it's not just Sakamoto's voice that's great in this song. What's going on musically is a pleasure to listen to as well.
4. Coming Up (Instrumental) >>>
What can I say? Once Sakamoto's voice is removed from the equation, this song turns into an open space. My boyfriend and I just got into Minecraft so why not make a Minecraft reference: it's like getting lost in the mines.
Or maybe that isn't very accurate. Getting lost in the mines is nerve-wrecking, while the instrumental track of "Coming Up" is just...well, it's a good song to sleep to. It would also be a good backing-track for a podcast or anything where there is a lot of talking, since it fills in the background silence while not acting as a distraction.
DISC 2: DUO Mini Live Album*
2. Be Mine!
3. Nekko To Inu
*All of the live performances here are Sakamoto plus piano only.
1. Platinum >>>>
This, in my opinion, is one of Sakamoto's more iconic songs. The original is very upbeat and string-heavy, so it was interesting listening not only to a live performance of the song, but one consisting of only Sakamoto and the piano. I think Sakamoto's voice is great in this performance, and although the piano performance isn't mind-blowing, it captures the bright melody of "Platinum" well.
2. Be Mine! >>>>>
This is my favorite track from the live mini album. I've grown to appreciate "Be Mine!" even more since I wrote my review on the single, and I think the translation from the original into this version - live and voice+piano only - is not only the most drastic on the live album, but the most enjoyable. I like Sakamoto's voice more here than I do in the original, too. Yes, she hits the high notes, but her voice has more body to it than it does in the recorded version. And I love when the clapping starts during the song's vocal bridge. Then again, I always enjoy when communal parts are performed by a group of people.
3. Nekko To Inu >>>>
This was an interesting song to hear condensed into a vocal+piano version, as it is the only slow/mellow song in the bunch. Unfortunately, for me, it lost a lot of the original song being limited in that way. The piano is actually most enjoyable here, but it weighs down the overall feel of the song, as does Sakamoto's voice at times. Something Sakamoto tends to do live that I don't like too much is add more body to notes that, in the recorded songs, were airy. "Nekko To Inu" as a whole is a song that has an almost floating sound to it, and this sound is held up when Sakamoto sings the high notes in the chorus with a lot of breath. In this live performance, there is no presence of breath in those same notes.
I was torn between giving this song a 3.5 or a 4. Truthfully speaking, as a live song, it deserves a 5/5. The performance is beautiful - especially the piano. But as a performance of "Nekko To Inu," I'd give it a 3/5, as it's just not the truest performance you'd expect to hear. So, overall, I've decided to average out my final rating to a 4/5.
4. Singer-Songwriter >>>>
This is the least drastic translation from recorded to live, because the recorded version of "Singer-Songwriter" is already driven by the piano. With that being said, Sakamoto sounds her most comfortable in this song, which isn't surprising since it's one of the songs from Singer-Songwriter, the album she composed entirely herself.
There was nothing spectacular about the live performance of this song to distinguish it from the original, although it was a great performance. I think the one thing that could have brought this performance up to another level (and another pengu flipper) is the end, had it been executed differently. I'm referring to the "la, la, la" part, and going back to what I said above in my bit about "Be Mine!" I think it would have been great if they got more than one (or two? whatever the number, it sounds extremely low) people to join Sakamoto in singing the "la, la, la." If the audience joined in, for example, it would've really brought the song to life, and even compensated for the absence of the full band that is present in the recorded version. I know people are clapping, and perhaps they are singing with her and it's just too quiet to hear, but I kind of doubt that.
In any case, I still enjoyed this song enough to give it 4/5 flippers.
And with that, my review of Sakamoto's limited edition version of Replica is done! If I were to rate the entire single - bonus mini live album and all - I'd give it 4 out of 5 pengu flippers, because I think it had a few gems, despite its even fewer disappointments. I can't wait to see what Sakamoto releases next, but I'll of course continue listening to and forming deeper opinions on these songs in the process. I also can't wait to do a cover of "Replica," because it's definitely a fun song to sing! For me, anyway, haha.
I know this review was long - especially my thoughts on "Replica" and "Coming Up" - but I hope they were enjoyable to read. Thank you for taking the time out to visit my blog, and I hope the rest of your week goes well! 'Til next time. ('<>')>