Sakura Gakuin - 2011 Nendo~Friends~ review

Long overdue, despite saying last week that I'd be reviewing all these albums really quickly by the end of November, I've done exactly nothing since (due to having my left ear rather helpfully decide that it really didn't want to work anymore), but I'm getting around to reviewing all these bloody things now I'm fixed. Eventually. Next up will be either Super Girls I guess. Or Passpo. Or BiS. Oh, who the fuck knows. But I'm not reviewing SKE's album anymore. Any original album with so many tracks, so few of which are new, is nothing more than a best-of album masquerading as a real album. Anyway, SakuGaku tiem.

Preamble: So, with this album I'm a good eight months late with the review. Good start. The cover looks sort of like you'd expect, the graduating girls in the middle and everyone else elsewhere. The logo design is horrible though. Anyway, with hope onwards to the music.

1. ベリシュビッッ. Never been entirely sure what to make of this title. Why the double ッ? In any case. The music. Bell rings. Weird accordion melody. Then guitar melody with bells and drums, then chorus. With a very good vocal melody, it must be said, and a decent guitar chord progression. Second part of chorus is also quite good. Verse dials it down a notch or three and has some decent melodies, but the background noises are where the fun happens. Prechorus has some building brass band or something, then straight back into chorus. Some weird sound effect brings us eventually to the second verse, which departs just as quickly as the first. Prechorus vocal melodies are good. Vocal strength is pretty weak though. Guess that's what happens when you insist on graduating girls when they reach 15. Mid-8 has some weird buildup thing, then random craziness on accordion melody again with techno-ish background. Buildup chorus is okay. Little synth riff to the end. Good start. 8/10

2. FRIENDS. Drum craziness, then some interesting riff which isn't very normal. Verse has some really nice, slow interplay between the guitar, bass and keyboards. Vocals are decently strong. Riff into the prechorus is a nice little build. Prechorus is pretty weak though. Chorus, on the other hand, is pretty anthemic. If you could ever get away with yelling "BABY GIRL!" without getting arrested, anyway. Lots of vocal layering make it pretty epic vocal wise. Chord progression not amazing though. Pretty much the same through the second verse and prechorus. Guitar solo is slow and boring. Buildup prechorus is cool. 7/10

3. プリーズ!プリーズ!プリーズ!Dat title... Seems as persistent as a three year old, not middle-schoolers. Still, this is the first of the Twinklestars songs on this album, written by the same guy who did Dear Mr Socrates on the first album, which I gave a rather good score. This is more of the same, and Henkka sums up my feelings on Twinklestars in general here, but some in depth stuff: Starts with a lush little piano+guitar riff, adds them singing nonsense, then we get some winning verses with the same riff behind it, prechorus has some more piano winningness. Chorus is again, quite anthemic. Back to main riff, then suddenly, keychange. Then rhythmically changed extended prechorus? Then chorus again. All over the place and win to the extent I lost my track of thought and now it's nearly the end of the song, and still winning. 10/10

4. ラピカム. The second Twinklestars song, and this is not written by the same guy. No, this guy is not fit to shine the other's boots. Some high-pitched cutesy-dance piece. This is horrible. Verse is boring. Melodies lack imagination. Same in the chorus. Scale descents only, pretty much. This destroys the nice rating this album was building. Oh well. Mid-8 does nothing particularly interesting either, though I suppose the little guitar chords there that are masquerading as a solo are better than the rest of this song. Then they list the days of the week. *yawn* 2/10

5. 走れ正直者. Well, this is the Go Home Club, with a cutesy, upbeat marching song. Not particularly complex. Ska feel on the instrumentation during the verse. Chorus has an interesting vocal melody, but can't save it from being dull. However, post-chorus there's some weird don-don-don bits with silly dialogue which rescues some marks. Mid-8 has much the same which is pretty cool. 5/10

6. よくばりフィーユ. Another Miniparty song, both of which I hated on the first album. This... continues in the same vein. Though at least this has a tune. Even if it is of the chip variety. Sounds like Mariokart original one or something. Vocal melodies aren't terrible this time, in the verse at least. Prechorus is uninteresting, until it forgets the chorus and goes back into the verse. Interesting structural choice. Second time of asking, prechorus does actually hit the chorus. The first choice was the right one though, the chorus is horrible. Should have stayed away, prechorus. Song doesn't get any better. 2/10

7. いいね! (Vega mix ver.). Oh look, it's Babymetal. I suppose there goes the run of terrible ratings. This is the "Vega Mix Version", which means they've just changed the dialogue in the mid-8 into a wry observation that going "yo yo mic check" over a hip hop beat isn't actually metal; and altered the mix slightly. Still, metal and techno elements still dominate. Still has eleven sections in a row without repeat, making this one of the more rhapsodical songs in Jpop and idol history. Metalwise it's not great. Dancewise it's not great. Hiphop wise it's not great (though hilarious). But as a pop song it's head and shoulders above most of the rest of this album. Plus, epic points for the post-rap breakdown, post-breakdown riff, and post-post-breakdown-riff techno incredibleness. Plus, Su-metal's always improving. Really hope they don't make her graduate in April. Really hope. 10/10

8. オトメゴコロ。So, back to Sakura Gakuin after so many fucking subunits. Decent riff to start, and synth pulls us into the first verse, which has a nice stripped down rock feel. Prechorus is okay, I suppose. Chorus is decent in the instrumentation, but the vocal melodies seem pretty naff. Too much unison, maybe some harmonies would have worked. Guitar solo is at least decent, and then there's a funny synth riff in the mid-8. Buildup chorus is much nicer as they're singing solo. Still, not bad. 6/10

9. ピクトグラム. Some weird synth sounds at the beginning. Then it turns into something that sounds a bit like the Karen Girl's songs without a guitar. Then some dropped bass synth takes us through the verse. The verse has some naff melodies, but dialogue. Prechorus is good, then chorus is pretty decent. Random keychanges and phaseshifting in the mid8 is cool. Buildup is quite pretty. Even has some harmonies. 7/10

10. 3.a.m. The three girls leaving at this juncture give us a slow ballad. Or at least, that's what it started like. Then there's a guitar and bass and drums. Verse is cool, guitar melody especially. Vocal melody is decent. Prechorus vocal melody I like. Chorus is a bit keychanged. Sounds more like a Christmas single than a graduation one. But still nice. wtf. Second verse is now all techno synth like. And slower. Prechorus is okay. Chorus is different. All different. Weird. Doesn't flow between too well. Mid-8 has happy synths and is all like pop synths. How to mix three genres in one and fail? At least mix them. Or intersperse them, don't just have three genres in a row. Oh wait, four. Now there's some rap. Then upbeat fast dancepop for final chorus. This is pretty rhapsodical though. Completely insane. Shame it makes no fucking sense. 6/10

11. See you... Strings and rock instrumentation. This is the Sakugaku I know. Good riffs. Verse has some nice riffs and vocal melodies, guitar sounds like it's been droptuned massively. Prechorus is nice and slow, then builds into decent chorus. Same second time around. Guitar solo is the best the whole album. Nice and sexy. Then we get a nice synth bass and strings buildup chorus. Some nice lead guitar in final chorus too. 8/10

12. 旅立ちの日に. Last single for the graduates and finally this is actually a ballad. Nice piano, unison vocals, before we get to call and response harmonies choir style with an organ backing. This is awesome. Then piano again in a little solo, plodding along until we get a second verse. This time the second group are going "lululululu" instead of singing the lyrics. Still, some harmonies. Pretty as hell, this song. Like a far better Sakura no Shiori. Mid-8 with almost instantaneous call and reponse is win. 10/10

Overall: Pretty album. Not as good as the first, and some of the subunit songs really need to be quality checked, but the Sakura Gakuin songs are good. Also Babymetal. But yea. Hopefully Suzuka graduates Sakugaku but not Babymetal or something. Would suck for them to get a major label, release one single and then lose the only member who can actually sing. Anyway, this album's decent.


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