Album review: Beni - Covers the city

Album review: Beni - Covers the city | Random J Pop

Beni had a real chance to course correct her music with Covers the city, because its in dire need of such. Covers: 2 and Covers: 3 were both lacklustre releases and every original studio album Beni has released since Fortune has been bad. With a city pop concept of covers, Beni had the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. To drop an album that she knows does well for her commercially and to also dip her toe into a style that she could adopt for her next studio album. But nope. Beni fucks it all up.

Beni's Covers the city is a strange album, because it doesn't give you what you expect it to based on the album name and the album cover itself. This album is a mess stylistically, because it has no idea what it wants to be. It most certainly isn't an album of covers in the style of Japanese city pop. But it's difficult to ascertain what exactly 'City' means to Beni within the context of this album, because it seems to be everything and anything, but it doesn't do a damn thing well.

The song styles are split between old skool sounding J-Pop / Funk ("Shin takarajima", "Sugar song to bitter step"), Tropipop ("Umi no koe", "R.Y.U.S.E.I."), R&B / Deep house ("Koi oto to amazora", "R.Y.U.S.E.I.") and EDM ("Candy"). And then you have a typical J-ballad slapped in the middle ("Himawari no yakusoku"). But there's no one style that Beni does better than the other, because she spreads herself so thinly across them. Beni does not have the vocal dexterity nor the respect for delivery to just jump in and out of styles as she pleases.

The kicker with this album is that the production is actually really good. But there is a disconnect between the music, the way in which Beni sings and Beni's vocals. The components of each song don't always fit together, so the songs either end up sounding like ragged mash-ups, unrehearsed jam sessions or Beni doing karaoke. Only a couple of the songs feel fully rounded and as though everything fits together.

The City moniker feel like a gimmicky attempt at marketing this album as something it's not. As a theme here it means nothing. Stylistically the overall sound of this album isn't a huge enough departure from Beni's standard cover albums to warrant it. She could have just called this shit Covers: 4 and been done with it. It probably would have fared better if she had, given its poor first week sales and quick drop down the ORICON chart by comparison.

As is customary for Beni's covers albums, all of the songs are sung in English. Beni is fluent, so there are no issues with her enunciation. But the flipping of lyrics into English makes some of these covers worse, because they don't sound as poetic or profound when they're translated. I applaud the writers who worked on the translations to keep the melodies of the songs intact. There are no obvious omissions of lyrics or scandalous world-play to add or remove syllables to fit the music. But some of these covers would have worked better in Japanese. For Covers: 4 she should consider doing half of the covers in English and half in Japanese.

Beni has never been the best 'vocalist'. But her vocals on this album are the worst they have ever sounded. When she worked primarily with producer Daisuke Imai, who helmed many of the songs on her albums between Bitter & Sweet and Fortune, he ensured the music complimented her vocals and would produced them to make Beni smoother and more dense. On Covers the city, Beni's vocals are left sounding raw as fuck. Beni's voice has always been as thin as spider silk, but it's really spotlit on this album. Beni is serving off vocals, voice cracks and missed notes with the up-most regularity as though folk out here are hungry for them. A key part of city pop is the tightness of the production and in some cases, complete overproduction. By being so lax with her vocals and leaving them so unpolished, she kills what little there is of a city pop concept dead in the water. Beni needs to take vocal lessons or get friendly with a recording engineer or mixer who knows how to make her sound better.

Covers the city is just another plain bad album in a chain of bad albums that Beni has released since the tail-end of 2012. The overwhelming sense that I have gotten from Beni over the past 5 years is that she has no idea what she wants her sound to be, which I think is why she gravitates towards Covers; aside from the commercial success the album series had brought her. It takes the pressure off of her having to come up with new songs and find where she slots in within the soundscape of today, something that her original studio albums Red, Undress and to some extent Fortune have shown she's struggling with. Beni not being able to nail Covers the city is worrying, because there was such a slim margin for her to get this wrong and yet she still managed to fuck it up anyway.

At this stage I'm wondering if Beni will ever be able to give me a solid, consistent album again. Covers the city was the lifeline for her to turn it around and she blew it.

RATING: 2 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Koi oto to amazora
■ Nandemonaiya ★ J's fave
■ R.Y.U.S.E.I.

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