Release date: June 22nd, 2016
At exactly five whole years after releasing her first single and becoming a solo artist, AKB48’s original poster girl Maeda Atsuko has finally released her first full-length album, titled Selfish. With some fairly typical Akimoto-esque album covers attempting to call back to the classic album covers of 1970s and 1980s idols, this album encompasses nearly every song she’s previously released so far as well as four new tracks to peruse.
I personally loved the early laid-back, acoustic pop-rock output from Atsuko on her first two singles, and most of the b-sides were top-notch quality in a similar style, but I’m not as fond of or familiar with the other two singles and their b-sides, despite listening when they came out, so it’ll be interesting to see how the whole of the album plays out.
It is of note that 13 of the 17 tracks included here were all previously released on her singles, so I won’t be focusing too much at length on those, but I’ll start with going over the new tracks unique to this album.
The first track is the eponymous album track called “Selfish,” a new song for this album. This is a pretty strange track that seems to try to pack too many styles or sounds into one song, jumping from one to another, between jazz, soft rock, and dramatic Japanese pop music, but it doesn’t do any of these things particularly well. The chorus is kinda catchy, but sounds out of place with the rest of the song.
You can hear a preview of the track here:
The next new track here is “Zetsubou no Iriguchi,” a powerfully composed rock track with a pretty simple and strong arrangement to back it up, featuring twangy distorted guitars, heavy bass, rock drums, and some organ thrown in from time to time. The emotional chord progressions and melodies really work well here, but there’s one major element that brings it down overall, which is Atsuko’s voice. It doesn’t exactly ruin the song, but makes a few lines awkward or slightly cringe-y to listen to, but the music is still well worth a listen.
Next for the new songs, we have “Yasashii Sayonara,” which is a strong contender for one of the most typical J-pop ballads you’ll hear this year. The arrangement is pretty sufficient, with some light funky guitars and heavy backup vocal harmonies, but everything else here is about as run-of-the-mill as you’d expect from an average J-pop ballad. Definitely not terrible to listen to, but the arrangement being well-done is the only thing to keep attention here against the extremely boring composition.
The final new song is “Wagamama na Bakansu,” which feels like it could have been recorded by Matsuda Seiko in her heyday, full of organic instruments and strings with a composition straight out of the 70s idol playbook but with a few, very subtle modern tweaks added. There’s a little bit of a slightly awkward attempt at darker dramatic flavor in some of the chord progressions that feels a bit mismatched with previous Seiko reference, but not enough to ruin the song. This means it isn’t the most memorable thing you’ll hear, but it’s a pretty enjoyable throwback to an era of songs past, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Now for a brief highlight of the best of the previously released songs, the first one is her 3rd single, “Time Machine Nante Iranai,” definitely one of her best singles, with an extremely sweet and slightly cute composition with a strong acoustic rock arrangement backing it up. Definitely check it out here if you haven’t heard it yet:
Next is a b-side from her first single called “Sunday Drive,” which has always been a favourite of mine from her discography. It features a pretty unusual light pop arrangement with a steady mid-paced beat, lots of guitars of various types and styles, and a set of fairly cheap-sounding synth strings that still manage to get the job done. It’s held up pretty well after not listening for years, though the synths are a bit of an oddity.
Her first single “Flower” still stands as a decent listen, as a mid-paced ballad with an almost R&B beat behind it and some really light synths in the background. I’ve always preferred alternate and live versions of the song to the studio recording, but it’s still OK. If you somehow haven’t heard it, you can check out the PV here:
Another b-side from her first single is featured here, called “Hootsue to Cafe Macchiato,” and is another enjoyable track here. It begins as a sort of a light ballad with some diverse light guitars and a pleasant melody, and the chorus kicks in some distorted guitars to enhance the emotion in the chorus composition. There’s also a solid guitar solo towards the end, rounding off a pretty well-made track overall. Worth a listen if you haven’t heard it before.
Atsuko’s 2nd single, “Kimi wa Boku da,” is also featured here, and I’d say this is her best A-side overall, with a really fun and cute composition complimented by a heavily organ-laced arrangement, also featuring a ton of layered guitars with a fun and poppy drum beat. If you haven’t heard it yet, definitely check it out here:
“Migikata” is a piano and strings-driven R&B type ballad that was a B-side on her 2nd single, and is still a pleasant listen, with a sweet and emotional composition that doesn’t go too far on the melancholy side. It’s certainly worth a listen if you haven’t heard it yet.
Most of the other songs not specifically mentioned here are what I’d consider merely OK or mediocre, and while none of them are what I’d consider notably bad or unpleasant to listen to, they just don’t do anything unique or exceptionally well, so there’s not a lot more to say about them.
It seems a little strange that they bothered to produce an album for Atsuko after two years of inactivity and fading into almost complete obscurity from the public and even from most AKB fans, and I’m not sure exactly what they were trying to accomplish with it based on this history.
As for the new songs, we got two interesting tracks and two lackluster tracks, but at least there was some value there for someone who already owns all the previous singles she’s released.
As for being a collection of her previous material, it’s a little disappointing they left out a lot of the best B-sides from her first three singles, but there’s still a few good ones included here to round things out.
While the album does flow overall since many of the songs have very similar arrangements and similar sound as a whole, many of them bleed into each other with their mediocrity. About half the songs on the album are good, if you’ve never heard her previous releases, but the other half leaves a lot to be desired.
Hardcore Atsuko fans might pick this up for their collection, if there are any left out there, but the amount of new material doesn’t really warrant a full album purchase for anyone else when you could pick up a few of the old singles and get the best of her output there.
You hardcore fans can still pick this up from the links below if you still haven’t.
Selfish (Type A)
Selfish (Type B)
Selfish (Type C)
Selfish (Type D)