Album Review: BENI – “Lovebox”

Tracklist:
1. Lovebox Intro
2. ユラユラ (Yura Yura; Wavering)
3. サイン (Sign)
4. 瞳とじて (Hitomi Tojite; Close Your Eyes)
5. ギミギミ♥ (Gimme Gimme ♥)
6. Girl’s Night feat. JAMOSA
7. a million jewels
8. 君じゃなきゃ (Kimi ja Nakya; If It’s Not You)
9. bye bye
10. MOVE
11. break the rules
12. he is mine
13.マイフレンド (My Friend)
14.
Message
15. ずっと二人で unplugged version (Zutto Futari de; Together Always)

This is BENI’s second album under the Universal Japan label, which was released on June 2, 2010. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Chart (wow!) and has sold around 45,000 copies.

She’s seriously too pretty. I really like these covers by the way. They’re so soft and inviting.

~

The intro for BENI’s last album, BITTER & SWEET, was an unusual opener, and Lovebox Intro is similarly weird. It starts with what sounds like a carnival happening in the background, and then some twinkling keyboards with BENI singing. Things get considerably better from here, with some nice vocals and cute lyrics (“So open up your heart, it’s called the Lovebox“). I’m not entirely sure what BENI was trying to do with this intro, but it ended up pretty cute, so I can’t say I didn’t like it.

Back when I reviewed the single on which ユラユラ was featured, I distinctly remember finding this the weaker of the two A-sides. However, by no means does that mean that this is a bad song. The quick tempo and bright synths make it a good first full track for this album, so we’re not bogged down with a ballad right off the bat. I’m not ready to say that this is a standout track or anything, but it’s honestly rather good and appropriate for an opening song.

サイン is one of my favorite BENI songs, and there are a couple reasons for that. For one, it’s got a great instrumental, with a simple piano line, poignant-but-not-overwrought strings, and a pleasant beat. It’s pretty without trying too hard. Then there are the vocals; this is one of BENI’s few songs in which I feel her voice is spot-on the entire time. I sometimes feel she gets too breathy, but she seems to have kept that to a minimum here, and when she is breathy, it almost kind of fits. And third, BENI proves her ability as a songwriter with simple but elegant poetry (“I will not lose to anyone/ Even though I love you more than anyone else/ Don’t look away, notice me/ I’m sending you a sign right now“). It’s a classy and beautiful song, and my fondness for it is really strong.

The fourth track, 瞳とじて, is a simple, feminine R&B love song. It’s also pretty obvious filler. The biggest perks about it would probably be the pleasant melody and catchy chorus, so it’s not horrible or anything. It simply is not very remarkable. I actually found myself getting a little bored listening to it. So if you’re not a fan of this one, you’re not the only one.

I still love ギミギミ♥ every bit as much as I did when I first heard it. Every time I hear that beginning flourish of synth and BENI singing, “Gimme gimme your love, softly,” it’s an instant mood-lifter. Aside from the cute lyrics, definitely the best thing about this song is the total ear worm chorus. Seriously, give it a listen and I bet you’ll have it stuck in your head, big time. This is a really nicely done track, and I can see it standing out in the album’s track listing already.

Sometimes you just need a night out to forget about all the stuff that’s been getting you down. If that’s your situation, Girls’ Night feat. JAMOSA should suit your mood perfectly. I ended up enjoying this song a bit more than I thought I would, since I normally find this kind of song a bit cheesy (with a few exceptions). The music is upbeat and exciting, and the chorus with its call-and-response effect is catchy in a way you don’t really see coming. BENI sounds perfectly relaxed and comfortable with her part, and JAMOSA holds her own in her solo section. Fun song!

Next we have a million jewels, another R&B affair, and a nice one at that. Although I can’t say there’s anything oh-my-god-absolutely-spectacular about this song, BENI’s performance is quite beautiful, and the beat has plenty of swagger to go with the appropriately twinkling synths. It makes for a nice setup for the next track.

君じゃなきゃ is the second ballad on this album and it is a killer. BENI’s voice is so filled with longing throughout, it captivates you. The wintry feel of the song is really made clear through the small chimes in the chorus. I’m normally really picky about strings in ballad-type songs, since I feel like it’s easy for them to become too much, but the balance between the strings and everything else was virtually perfect. Overall, I just feel that this is a really beautiful song and I definitely recommend it.

Ah, bye bye. It’s so catchy and easy to sit back and enjoy. I’ll always think of this song as a song I can listen to when I’m in a relaxed mood, with its breezy synths and impassioned vocals. In reality, the lyrics are about lovers parting ways, so it’s not as cheerful as it may sound. However it’s no less of a pleasant song  for it.

MOVE is one of the more aggressive songs on the album and definitely one of my favorites as well. It begins with that “pew-pew-pew” sound that’s been used a lot lately, and kicks in with some synths and pretty decent bass. BENI’s vocals are appropriately taken up a notch and fit well with the song’s dance style, but do seem a bit tame at times. In terms of dance tunes, MOVE may not be your best bet if you’re looking for something heavy, but to a certain degree it is dancefloor-appropriate. Those looking for a light upbeat groove will find it here.

If MOVE left you feeling dissatisfied, look no further, for break the rules is here to fix that. By far more aggressive and sexy than the previous track, break the rules makes excellent use of BENI’s naturally husky tone against dark bass. The whole song is really catchy, but the harmonies in the bridge deserve special mention. Definitely a strong track.

Gotta be honest, I’m not a huge fan of he is mine. It’s very standard R&B fare, and it does not go beyond that. BENI sounds lovely, but not even that can save this song from its sleepy sound. And what’s that weird noise that plays every five seconds? This is just a sub-par song, and I always skip it.

マイ・フレンド is a big step up, a sweet song about friendship. Since the theme of Lovebox is the various types of love that exist, it makes sense that there would be a song dedicated to platonic love between friends. It’s a bit on the long side, just short of five minutes, but the general pleasantness of the melody more or less make up for that.

The problem I have with Message is the same one I had with he is mine: it’s just boring. This really is no fault of BENI’s but she doesn’t exactly help either. So even though I didn’t enjoy this song much at all, I had to at least be grateful for the fact that it was much shorter than it could have been.

I’m just going to put this out there: ずっと二人で unplugged version is the single most beautiful song on this album, bar none. What it does is transform an already pretty song into a sweeping live track with bells and whistles stripped away, leaving nothing but strings, piano and BENI’s lovely voice. Granted she gets a little pitchy at times, but hey, she’s only human. I was quite pleased and impressed with the decision to make this song the album closer, since it did the job very well and left me with relatively good feelings about the album as a whole.

Summary: Well, first off, let it never be said that BENI hasn’t improved – she has, and nowhere is that more evident than on songs like 君じゃなきゃ and ずっと二人で unplugged version, two very lovely but simple ballads that show off her strengths as a songwriter and a vocalist. That said, however, this is not the kind of leaps-and-bounds improvement that hurls a singer like BENI into a whole new artistic plane. It’s more subtle, and requires a patient listener to sit through the dud tracks (瞳とじて, a million jewels, to name a couple) in order to get to the gems (サイン, bye bye). In short, this is a very accessible release, accommodating old listeners and welcoming new ones, but it is nowhere near perfect.

Album Grade: B+
Recommended Tracks:
ギミギミ | 君じゃなきゃ | サイン | break the rules

4 thoughts on “Album Review: BENI – “Lovebox”

  1. I laugh every time someone reviews “Lovebox” because the weird sound in “he is mine” is always noted. I think it could have been a good song if it was re-worked a little and that sound removed. I can’t take the song seriously when that sound plays!

    • That’s exactly the issue. It literally prevented me from enjoying the song because it was distracting. Whoever made that executive decision must not have been in his or her right mind.

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