Album Review: BENI – “Bitter & Sweet”

bitter & sweet 1 Tracklist:
1. Bitter & Sweet Intro
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. ずっと二人で (Zutto Futari de; Always Together)
4.
恋焦がれて
(Koi Kogarete; Longing for Love)
5.  抱きしめて feat. Dohzi-T (Dakishimete; Hold Me)
6. Anything Goes!!
7. stardust
8. KIRA☆KIRA☆
9. GO ON
10. 信じさせて (Shinjisasete; Make Me Believe)
10. nice & slow
11. STAY
12. Beautiful World
13. もう二度と...(Mou Nido to…; Never Again…)
14. Kiss Kiss Kiss (DJ HASEBE REMIX)

BENI’s debut album under Universal Japan was released on September 2, 2008. The album peaked at the #5 position on the Oricon Weekly Chart and sold 29,581 copies.

As far as introductions go, Bitter & Sweet Intro is kind of hard to nail down. We’ve got BENI singing how it’s her “time to shine“, some obvious R&B flavorings, and even the sound of a thunderstorm in the background. I’m not exactly sure what to make of this intro, but it sounds nice, so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Kiss Kiss Kiss is one of the most American-sounding non-American pop songs I’ve ever heard. BENI’s vocals are so smooth, and the thumping beats and finger-snaps sound like they were ripped straight out of some top ten hit on Billboard. Even though I was practically waiting for Kanye West to pop up at any time during this song, BENI sounds truly great and the simple, yet repetitive hook does half of the work for her. Definitely a standout track.

Up next we have BENI’s most recent single, ずっと二人. Although it still sounds like a winter song to me, this track has really grown on me. Regardless of the season, this is just a really pretty song, and the control BENI has over her voice, especially the vibrato, is quite admirable. She tends to get kinda smudged on the pronunciation at times, but it’s nothing too serious. At the very least, this is a very enjoyable song.

恋焦がれて is another lovely R&B song with a very laid-back atmosphere to it. Once again, BENI’s voice is pitch-perfect, tailor made for this genre and this song shows it. I guess the only complaints I have are a) again, BENI, you’ve got to watch that pronunciation. You can give a strong vocal and pronounce everything correctly at the same time, and b) the music itself is a little on the generic side. I enjoyed it, but I will admit that it does get a bit stale after the second listen or so.

Taking things down a notch, we have 抱きしめて. The arrangement is notably different from that of the first few songs, leaning more toward the jazzy side of the spectrum than to straight-up R&B. BENI’s voice, with the whole sleepy feeling of the song, sounds a bit pillow-talkish and very sultry. Reinforcing this sentiment is the rather buttery sounding rap section courtesy of Dohzi-T, which fits in snugly with the hazy, flowy sound.

Anything Goes!! tries to bring us right back into the swing of things with some upbeat synths and vocals. Unfortunately for BENI, this rather obvious filler track does little to quell the listener’s desire for something, anything that can be considered special. Listening to this song, I honestly felt kind of bored. Here, it’s totally acceptable if the listener acts on the urge to press skip.

One of the B-sides from BENI’s latest single, here we have stardust. I still pretty much feel the same way about it as I did when I first reviewed it, but I must say that it sounds light-years more catchy and interesting next to the lackluster previous track. Whoever was in charge of this placement decision deserves a pat on the back.

KIRA☆KIRA☆ brings us yet another knockout dose of boring. I mean, I’m sure BENI thought she was being cute when she decided to write about some guy making her world go all sparkly “kira-kira”, but really? That’s just silly. It’s a shame, since the hook would actually be really good if the lyrics weren’t so darn stupid. If you’re going to listen to this song at all, let it be for the soothing music and not for the words.

bitter & sweet 2What a relief it was to hear GO ON and actually like it. I enjoyed the fact that it has a nice pop song, which BENI did very well (not that that was a surprise). The lyrics, written by BENI herself, were, I believe, dealing with the topic of moving on from a defunct relationship. This too was a pleasant change. Overall, I approve of this track and recommend it.

信じさせて brings us back to the R&B. It sounds a bit filler-y, and there’s just something missing between the vocals and the music that would make the whole picture stand out in my mind. BENI sounds pretty, and the somewhat spastic synths during the verse were entertaining, but I found myself forgetting this song a few minutes after I listened to it.

This is more like it. nice & slow could not have been given a better title – the beat is calm and relaxed, and the rippling effect of the synths make you feel like you’re sitting in a dimly lit club. Lucky for the listener, BENI doesn’t overplay the vocal here, sticking to the theme of relaxation and chilled-outness. The English lyrics, like Move your body close to me, are a nice touch and don’t feel out of place. This one was very nicely done.

Next, we have STAY.
I am yawning here, BENI. Yawning. The only truly entertaining thing about this song were the incredibly American-sounding interjections of ” ‘Eyyy!” during the chorus. That is it. I promise.

My chances of enjoying the rest of this album were looking pretty shot, but to my utter surprise and relief, Beautiful World ended up actually sounding kind of…worldly.  I don’t know if it’s the unnamed, uncredited male singer in the background or the slightly ethereal sounding music, but there’s something interesting and relevant about this track. Not to mention the fact that BENI sounds very strong during the chorus, like she’s actually giving a little bit extra. A round of applause for this one.

もう二度と… brings us back to the beginning of the Bitter & Sweet era, BENI’s first single under Universal J and her new name. Despite largely sounding like most of the songs from this album, this track in particular sounds a lot less like BENI is trying too hard, which I can appreciate. Her voice also sounds absolutely fantastic and she manages to inject the perfect amount of sentimentality into her performance. Very, very nice.

Kiss Kiss Kiss (DJ HASEBE REMIX) is a somewhat lame way to close the album, as it sounds pretty similar to the original but for a handful of changes. The listener needn’t feel obliged to listen to this one, although it is certainly decent. Just not great.

Summary: Suffice it to say that BENI’s singles off of this album were some of the nicest, prettiest, most enjoyable I’ve heard in recent months. There wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy listening to on some level. That’s why I was more than eager to give this album a listen, but a bit disappointed when it started to fall ill to the dreaded same-ness syndrome. Like most albums, this one has its highs and its lows, some brief glimpses at excellence and minor dips into mediocrity, but all in all it was a very coherent and pleasant listening experience. Hopefully in future efforts, BENI will find it in her to branch out and explore some genres that lie outside of her comfort zone, but for now this is more than sufficient.

Album Grade: B+

7 thoughts on “Album Review: BENI – “Bitter & Sweet”

  1. @ NyNy: On average I’d say it’s a combination of all those things, but most of the time it definitely leans toward R&B. You should try it out.

    @ aikorin: Beautiful World was great, although the title made me think of the Utada Hikaru song. nice & slow and 抱きしめて were realy nice too. I still don’t care very much for KIRA☆KIRA☆ or the Kiss Kiss Kiss remix. But ah well.

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