Kumi Koda Album Review: Dejavu
"Dejavu" is Kumi Koda's 9th full-length album released on March 2nd, 2011. It contains songs from the singles "GOSSIP CANDY" (although only one out of five songs from that single appears on this album), "Suki de, Suki de, Suki de.", and "POP DIVA". Unlike the albums before and after this one, "Dejavu" only came in two formats: a CD only version and a CD+2DVD version: the CD+2DVD version contains all the promotional videos from this album as well as two parts of her Dream Music Park Tour from the year before.
This review consists of a track-by-track analysis followed by my overall thoughts. Each song is scored on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. It should be noted that scores are based on my overall enjoyment of the songs and their innovation in Kumi's discography. This goes against my, say, Ayumi Hamasaki review hubs which base scores in comparison to Ayumi's other songs. This does not apply to Kumi Koda reviews.
Disclaimer: By no means is this review the be-all-end-all of what is and isn't great. I'm just one big fan with a lot of bias but also a lot of expectations. Feel free to add your thoughts about this album in the comments below!
Track #1 - Prologue to Dejavu
Music & Arrangement: Lil' Showy
Starting the album is the "Prologue", a dark and heavy track with marching drums and Kumi's ominous voice asking "Why won't you come with me, to my Dejavu?" I don't know, why won't we? Maybe because this track is only a minute long, and although it morphs into the next track at the end, it's not long enough for us to get into it. Just as you're going "Aw, yeah, this is the stuff!" it cuts out to "POP DIVA". So much potential gone to waste here.
Track #2 - POP DIVA
Music & Arrangement: Lil' Showy
Well, if it isn't "POP DIVA", the "most beautiful, powerful, talented girl on the planet". Are you ready for her? "POP DIVA" was the last single released before this album dropped and was the promised club banger everyone was waiting for. "POP DIVA" is the second coming of 2008's "TABOO", or, you know, Kumi's greatest song ever. So how does it match up? "POP DIVA" is indeed a heart pounding, booty shaking song of the highest J-pop standards. It isn't hard to imagine this song being played in nightclubs across the world. While the lyrics are laughable (but let's face it, lyrics are second to everything else in this song) the composition is set for foot tapping and the arrangement is electronic paradise. My fave! "POP DIVA" also doesn't overstay its welcome, which is good because after a while it does get repetitive since the chorus is the centerpiece of the song. Aw, yeah. This is my jam.
VIDEO: For some reason Kumi's either a literal dirty girl or she's hooked up to machines being experimented on. Maybe they're testing her levels of pop divaness? Well, somebody's looking up some good books on herself, and they're all written in Cyrillic! This video tries really hard to have some sort of loose story to it (basically Skynet's exploding and here comes the machines with Kumi to the rescue). Of course, this whole scenario is literally all in her head as it becomes clear that sleeping Kumi's dreaming this all up. What that says for Librarian Kumi or "hoppin around in red lights" Kumi, I have no idea. I don't think the creative department on this song thought that far. But we all know songs like this don't get much thought in their videos. Oh well.
Track #3 - Lollipop
Music & Arrangement: Kumi Koda, Ian Curnow, Jane Vaughan, Julie Morrison
"Lollipop" is the one song to make it on this album from her summer single "GOSSIP CANDY", and was considered her summer hit of the season. However, "Lollipop" is a divisive song. It's minimalistic pop both in sound and nature, especially when compared to "POP DIVA", but that's because the focus on this song is the sultry composition and the naughty lyrics. Speaking of the lyrics, I'm sorry Kumi, but these are your most hilarious "Engrish" lyrics yet. She's talking about dodging bullets, but it sounds like she's saying "I touch a booty booty!" In fact, that's what most people thought she was saying until the official lyrics were released. Otherwise, the oral fixation of this song is on "licking my lollipop". We see what you did there, Kumi. It just isn't a summer song unless it's all about getting your whatevers licked, now isn't it? (Also, be warned, one listen and this song is in your head for the rest of the day. Be careful who you decide to sing about touching booty's and licking lollipops around.)
VIDEO: What a ridiculously hilarious video, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't intend to be. Kumi's dressed as a cowgirl with her horse posse on the beach. Her clothes are hilariously horrible. Because zebra-print cowboy pants are totally in. And what's with that hat? No self-respecting American would wear that hat! (Then again...) Kumi and her girls are dancing seductively on the beach while the male dancers....oh Lord, they're crawling around on the ground at their feet looking for lollipop scraps. (But be quick, if you blink they'll disappear!) Otherwise we get the ladies sitting around holding lollipops although not much licking goes on. Overall, for an apparent destination video, this thing is low budget as hell. Hilariously low budget. Did I mention everything about this video is just hilarious? (Especially that part where they stutter the video at her licking the lollipop. I think I woke up my cat with how loud I laughed.)
Track #4 - Okay
Music & Arrangement: HIRO, Ice Mike, Noel "Detail" Fisher
Things slow down for this mid-tempo electro-RnB (quick, we need more hyphens!) ballad that serves as our first album-only track. The star of this song is the arrangement, that happily combines RnB sensibilities with electronic instruments. Kumi's vocals are also on par for this. The only thing seriously lacking is the unmemorable composition. Once the song is over, you think, "Wow that was really good! How does it go again?" Aside from Kumi saying "It's okay" over and over and some male voice crooning "show me what you got' here and there, there's nothing memorable about this song - and yet it's really good? Just goes to show that at least the arrangers weren't sleeping on the job for this album.
Track #5 - Aitakute (逢いたくて)
Music & Arrangement: Izumi Noritaka
We're going even slower now, which isn't a surprise with a song title like this (Trans. I Want To See You, But...). If there's one thing Kumi's good at, it's really slow RnB ballads that all sound the same and tend to just drag on and on and bring everything else around it down. Hey, look what "Aitakute" did! Just that. Hopefully this will be the only time it happens on this album. (Yeah, right. This is a Kumi Koda album we're dealing with.) Filler filler filler. Moving on.
Track #6 - Passing By
Music & Arrangement: B. Howard, Ice Mike
We're now at the slowest song yet in this downward spiral into Ballad Town, but finally "Passing By" is here to save the day. Written and produced by American co-singer "B. Howard" (whom I have never heard of until this album), "Passing By" is probably the most "Western" song on this album, and although Kumi sometimes sounds like she's song-bombing another artist during Howard's all-English chorus, the song is affectionate and touching. The harmony between Howard and Kumi is actually very sweet (or at least better than I thought it would be.) To tell the truth when I first heard this song a year ago I thought it was boring. But now it's grown on me quite immensely and I find myself going out of my way to listen to it a lot, which is as good as a mark you can get from me. (I especially love that piano now, and I usually ignore pianos.)
VIDEO: Goodness, is that what B. Howard looks like? Whoever styled him in this video did not do him any favors - but Kumi looks glorious as usual. The story of the video revolves around Kumi and Howard being unable to see or even touch each other, as much as they want to and as much as they try. They seem to be in the same space at separate times (lots of fun split filming going on here - it's entirely possible these two have never met in real life before either. I'd believe it) and are pining for one another. There's also shots of Kumi standing on a desolate building dropping off what appears to be an engagement ring. The vibe of the song is that Howard's dead, but I'm ignoring that because it's been done to death. In all honesty, it's really difficult to keep my attention during a ballad video, but this one had me gripped the whole way through. The artistic direction is beautiful and the directing and editing are top notch. I actually felt REAL HUMAN EMOTIONS when they were pretending to dance with each other; likewise, I also laughed inappropriately when they super stiffly fell away from each other. Ha.
Track #7 - AT THE WEEK END
Music & Arrangement: Nathan Duvall, Hiten Bharadia, Allan Eshuijs
Suddenly we depart from the ballad related tempo decline and get smacked in the face with a brand new club banger. "AT THE WEEK END" is a short and sweet dance song from the dance factory - meaning it's hot and gets the job done, and is memorable, but sounds just like most of her club bangers but not as good. But "AT THE WEEK END" is good, I swear! It's just if you put it on a playlist of all her other hot dance songs it would get lost in the midst of them all. Clever job by avex putting this song after all the ballads. I see what you're doing there.
Track #8 - Interlude to Dejavu
Music & Arrangement: Lil' Showy
Time to chop this album in half and realize that we're done with the first. "Interlude" picks up with the atmosphere of "Prologue" with Rihanna-esque "Eh eh ehs". But unlike the first track this one finishes at just the right length. Let's see what the second half of this album has in store for us.
Track #9 - Melting
Music: Daisuke Mori
Arrangement: Yūsuke Tanaka, Takashi Kondo
Let me get this straight - we went from that dark and moody interlude to...oh, God, it's a cutesy filler song. Why does Kumi do this? Whenever she whips out the high-pitched "omg i luv u!!!" vocals set to empty percussions and inane faux-brass I just kind of tune everything out and wait for it to be over. "Melting" is a pretty good example of this. The verses are bearable, but once we hit the "MELTING CHOCOLAAAATE" chorus I want to go in a corner and plug my ears. Alright, I'm giving this song more issues than it really has. It's the kind of song that fares much better in your memory when the chorus is stuck in your head later (and your brain auto-adjusts Kumi's vocals) but when you listen to it it's "blech" time.
Track #10 - Hey baby!
Music: Shinjirō Inoue
Arrangement: Nao Tanaka
Trading in one cutesy for another one, this one is at least one with a purpose: "Hey baby!" is a theme for the super popular anime show "Crayon Shin-chan". It's a cute song that actually packs a punch and is the kind of cute song Kumi should always be doing if she insists on doing them. My favorite part about this song is the solid beat backed up throughout the march-like composition. I can see this song being a great concert staple, the kind to get the crowds going with smiles on their faces. Otherwise it''s "middle of the road" in terms of Kumi quality, but at only two and a half minutes it's not long enough to get on your nerves.
Track #11 - Choi Tashi Life (ちょい足しLife)
Music: Hideya Nakazaki, Ice Mike
Arrangement: Yoshimasa Kawabata
Well, I think this may be a first for a Kumi album - three "cute" songs back to back in their unholy glory. Unlike "Hey baby!" though. "Choi Tashi Life" (Trans. Fulfilling Life) doesn't have any punch to it. It's more like "Melting" in its filler quality, but thankfully not quite as annoying. But that doesn't mean it's better. It's still an unmemorable cute song. There may be greater sins in the music world, but when it comes to Kumi I need to see her in the confessions box for all these cutesy songs.
Track #12 - Anata Dake ga (あなただけが)
Music: Markie, Sizk
Oh, of course. It only makes sense to follow up the cute song block with my second-least Kumi pattern, the Wall of Ballads. But! Kumi's ballads, although cookie-cutter, are usually top quality and lot more bearable than the cute songs. Anyway, "Anata Dake ga" (Trans. Only You...) is a solid ballad, with whispery choruses and strong vocals and arrangements. It's off her ballad single "Suki de x3" and plays as the sequel to that song. (Why it's first here, i have no idea.) It's a lovely ballad with basic lyrics but an overall nice song. It's a great break from the cute songs, at the very least. But if this keeps up...
VIDEO: Nothing much to see here, just your standard "why are we fighting omg why are you leaaaaving baaaaw" ballad video that Japan just adores. The catch here though is that it stars Kumi's little sister, Misono. If you think Misono is adorable like I do (and of course, shots of beautiful Kumi everywhere singing her sad song) then it's worth to watch for four minutes. Otherwise, eh. You've probably seen it before.
#13 - Suki de, Suki de, Suki de (好きで､好きで､好きで｡)
Music: Katsuhiko Sugiyama
Arrangement: Shinjirō Inoue
Going back in time here to the song that's supposed to come before "Anata Dake ga". "Suki de" (Trans. I Love You.) is the big Kumi ballad of the year with its mournful composition and moody strings arrangement. The song tells a story of unrequited love. My favorite love song topic! Now, I usually mouth off about how cookie-cutter Kumi's ballads tend to be, with one rolling right into the next without any sign of where one ends and the other begins. But when it comes to the main single ballads, "Suki de" is probably my third favorite to ever come out. ("you" and "Ai no Uta" come first and second). The repetitive title gets stuck in your head and you can't help but sing along. Good enough for me at this point.
VIDEO: Welcome to Kumi's brain, where she's convinced that the cute waiter at her local kisse is just as much in love with her as she is with him. They even go on a couple "dates"! But who is this other woman moving in on her man?! Quick, Kumi, write a letter declaring your love! D'aw. Rejected. Go sing about it on a porch swing and collapse in baaaawwws. Your sister's got this.
Track #14 - Bambi
Music & Arrangement: Kumi Koda, Miriam Nervo, Olivia Nervo, Anders Bagge, Andreas Carlsson
The ballads suddenly stop for...more cute songs. Oh Lord. This whole second half of this album is just kind of a mess, isn't it? But "Bambi" (...lol) isn't the worst song on this album, and is possibly the best "upbeat" pop song on this album. It has a very slight country western feel and atmosphere to it, but not enough to make you go screaming and running in the other direction. It's just enough to make it stand out as "hey, 100 songs later, here's something different!" I have no idea what the lyrics are talking about, though. What does "we should be together!" have to do with "I'm a baby Bambi!" Do I even want to know? Probably not. I'll just let this song put a little smile on my face and move on.
VIDEO: It's a green screen dream here in the "Bambi" video, with lots of foreigner dudes stealing Kumi's heart. Her and her friends (including one guy who just kinda flails around) are following her around Green Screen City as she tries to get up the gumption to ask Mr. Foreigner out on a date to the movies. Eventually we *gasp* find out that Mr. Male Friend has the hots for Kumi, and the gurlfranz decide HE MUST CHANGE (sic) and give him the most hideous makeover ever. (I literally laughed out loud). But it works on Kumi and they live happily ever after. Whatever. It's cute and funny. Already better than every other video from this album.
Track #15 - I Don't Love You !??
Music & Arrangement: FAST LANE
The album closes with "I Don't Love You!??", a flashback to older Kumi styles. Why this album closes with a mid-tempo wannabe club banger I have no idea, but it does. There's nothing particularly special about this song, but it's not bad either. It certainly doesn't deserve "final song" credits, but I guess they couldn't think of anything better to close out with. Maybe they thought that if they made this song last it was the only way to get the listener to remember it later, because otherwise there's no impetus to give a crap. What a weak way to go out, especially after the great opening of "POP DIVA". "Bambi" would've been a better ending with as much thought that actually went into that song.
AVERAGE SONG SCORE: 6.8
Listened to this album? What do you think?
Rate This Album
"Dejavu" tries hard to emulate the style and success of "TRICK" from two years before, but falls flat in its attempts. The first half starts off strong with the dance hits "POP DIVA" and "Lollipop", as well as strong tracks "Passing By" and "AT THE WEEK END", but completely falls apart in the second half with the cutesy/ballad snorefest that can't even be salvaged by the couple of gems scoured in there. Yet overall it's hard to walk away from "Dejavu" with a sense of "that was a waste of my time". Kumi fans who love her cutesy songs will be all over this album, while ballad fans will also find a lot to love here. I am really neither, so this album is almost a complete miss for me. Almost. "POP DIVA" is one of her best tracks yet and I can't overlook the strengths of "Lollipop" and "Passing By". You will either completely adore this album and find it incredibly "meh" depending on your overall tastes and what you want the most from Kumi Koda. My personal feelings are to listen to her better albums first, but not to completely throw this album in the trash. Every once in a while the desire to listen to the whole thing pops up. But only once in a while.