Contrary to popular hemming and hawing, the big problem with Oricon chart-dominating act AKB48 isn’t their music. Their discography certainly contains misfires, but producer Yasushi Akimoto and company can pen great material for the dozens-strong group. Last year, they boasted two of the best songs in all of Japan: “Sugar Rush,” one of the best songs Shonen Knife never wrote, and the surging “Uza.” The real problem with the AKB48 model is how thinly stretched everything is. Besides the main group, the AKB empire includes many sub-groups and sister outfits based in cities across Japan and Asia. Osaka-branch NMB48′s debut album “Teppen Totande!” highlights this problem, the majority of the songs sound like recycled ideas from AKB48.
NMB48 might be based out in Kansai and feature a different cast of performers, but “Teppen Totande!” does its best to make them seem no different from the flagship Akihabara crew. Nearly every song is made up of the same chintzy sounds and gratuitous guitar associated with AKB48 (“Ha!” and “NMB48″ being particularly guilty of lunkheaded shredding). Advance single “Oh My God!” sounds like AKB’s “Gingham Check” mixed with “Ponytail to Shushu,” except with the peppiness reheated out. “Nagiichi” sounds like a less exciting “Oh My God!” Nearly everything else is either an up-tempo track or a ballad … all of them sounding like weak AKB48 cuts.
There are moments on “Teppen Totande!” where Akimoto tries to make NMB48 stand out, and these are the best moments. Despite the typical schoolgirl-in-love lyrics, “Virginity” adds horns that give the song an intriguing ska vibe. The ballad “Lily” breaks away from typical J-pop sap thanks to modern R&B production touches. These moments, though, are rare — the bulk of NMB48′s debut is less concerned with giving the group a unique identity as it is on lazily cashing in (which, mission accomplished: this is the best-selling album of the year thus far). One wishes they could just blame this on a general terribleness, but here it’s just really wasted potential.