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Arashi “Love”

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

At the time of writing this review, Arashi’s “Love” has been bought more than any other Japanese album this year. Barring a sudden full-length LP from AKB48 or a cash-in compilation from Mr. Children, the group’s 12th CD should end 2013 in the same position. There have been a lot of nice developments on the Oricon Charts this year — No. 1 albums from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Sakanaction and Miwa doubling as legitimate great listens — but with this Johnny’s & Associates outfit bound to claim this year’s top spot, all those surprises are for nought.

Arashi aren’t bad. Johnny’s outfits Sexy Zone and Kanjani8 are the nadir of boy-band J-pop today, groups with too few sonic ideas trying too hard to stand out. Arashi are different and maybe something worse — they are boring. There are no surprises on “Love,” the song titles laying out what to expect before you even click play. “Hit The Floor” and “Dance In The Dark” imitate smooth disco. “Rock Tonight” features electric guitar. “Funky” is funky. The rest can be narrowed down to mid-tempo pop made in the mold of tepid balladry.

Small moments of promise sneak in. “Sayonara no Ato de” flips typical ballad material into a bouncy bit of longing pop. Opener “Ai wo Utau” is a dramatic, swelling number worthy of an album that’s far more epic. The rest of it, though, is tedious — all good musical sense abandoned in favor of occupying every available second of the CD with lazy fill-in-the-blanks pop.

An album as limp as “Love” topping yearly sales isn’t just a Japan-centric problem — the best-selling album of 2013 in America at this point is an equally bloated Justin Timberlake release. But he also happened to make some of the best pop music of the past decade.

“Love” is the same-old routine from Arashi, a hyper-popular group that only sound good when acting like total goofballs (“Troublemaker,” “Monster”). It’ll be the talk of December, but “Love” is barely worth mentioning at all.