Monday, March 26th, 2018

AKB48 – Ja-Ba-Ja

As the video helpfully reminds us, this is their 51st single…


Jonathan Bradley: Whether in the form of high-energy punk-pop or high-energy dance-pop, AKB48 songs tend towards the interchangeability characteristic of a product line with a solidified customer base that it wants to keep it happy. That doesn’t have to mean the music is awful: when all the components sync up correctly, this group makes sense as a phenomenon for reason beyond canny chart manipulation or dubious deployment of adolescent sexuality. Songs like “Aitakatta” or “Gingham Check” still sound absolutely fantastic, even while the formula, as manifested in something like “Labrador Retriever,” produces music too banal to last until the next release. “Ja-Ba-Ja” is welcome for mixing the formula up a bit; it’s not so out there as “Uza” was, but sounds a touch more distinct than the average AKB48 release. With its tinny brass and funk-R&B vibes, this retro pastiche recalls the disco ebullience of “Koi Suru Fortune Cookie” — and even if it isn’t quite as marvellous as that was, it remains a charming effort from a group that always benefits from straying from its set path. 

Tim de Reuse: The arrangement is undeniably exuberant, and the constant presence of that brass part does a lot to make sure every single second feels overstuffed — in a fun way, generally! Unfortunately, there’s a gigantic hole in the mix between the bass and the vocals, and the brass exacerbates this by making the whole construction even more top heavy. I can excuse bad ear-feel if there’s a good groove under it, but the presentation here is so papery that it’s hard to ignore.

Alfred Soto: Was the brass arrangement written for the song or were chords and singers found for the brass arrangement? Ebullience as end in itself.

Will Adams: The energy is there, but unfortunately the mix is so canned that it feels like I’m listening to it with cotton stuffed in my ears. 

Katherine St Asaph: I will never love this, or anything, as much as “Dr. Jabaja, PhD” would (if they remembered writing that 10 years ago). But I love it way more than I expected from the J-pop version of “Calling All Hearts.”

Edward Okulicz: Perky and energetic, but not in a “massive pop orgasm” sense, more in a “get some girls to make up a song on the spot to a zippy bit of canned brass and hope for the best” sense. You don’t get the best, but it’s certainly listenable.

Nortey Dowuona: Nice synth trumpets. Nice punchy bass. Sharp and barely audible drums. Nice harmonies by AKB48. Really nice in a way that seems too unreal. Not in a nice way, though.

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