Gesu no Kiwami Otome. (the full stop is included in the name) entered the year fresh off a Japan Record Award nomination and a solid debut on NHK’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen,” the country’s defining music program. With the band’s second album, “Ryoseibai,” set for release in mid-January Gesu was in the middle of a true high. The mood soured in the first week of 2016.
Days into the new year it was revealed that the band’s creative force, Enon Kawatani, was secretly married and embroiled in an affair with TV personality Becky. While Becky bore the brunt of the scandal — in what some have pointed out is a prime example of sexist double standards in Japan’s entertainment industry — Kawatani and his band weren’t immune to the fallout. While Gesu’s album debuted at No. 1 and was the best-selling studio album of last month, sales were less than what was expected given how big of a year the quartet had in 2015. The monthly total for “Ryoseibai” was reported at just under 96,000 units — fewer than the opening weeks for both Hoshino Gen and back number, acts that released their albums in December and which saw similar breakthrough success in 2015.
Kawatani coincidentally (or not) references his affair in the album’s title, “Ryoseibai,” and promo single, “Ryoseibai de Ii Janai,” which loosely translate as “Both are to Blame” and “It’s OK That Both Are to Blame” respectively. However, the biggest issue with this release isn’t Kawatani’s personal scandal, it’s the way the record is put together — Gesu just isn’t an album act.
The band made a name for itself making quick, quirky songs with flourishes that featured Chopin bridges and jazzy bass, which sound great as singles and in mini-album formats. When it comes to a full-length, though, there’s no focus. This was also the case with debut album “Miryoku ga Sugoi Yo.” The pre-release singles generated a hype that the album didn’t live up to, and “Ryoseibai” suffers the same fate.
Some of the fat that could’ve been cut includes the previously released “funky version” of “Parallel Spec” and “Psydentity.” They’re good songs but “Ryoseibai” would be a better listen if it were slimmed down and focused more on the new offerings, which are great. There’s a haunting combination of piano and strings on “Muku,” and the bouncy, synth-heavy “Ikenai Dance” would have stood out more if it weren’t for the 17-song tracklist. In the end, if Kawatani is guilty of anything, it’s needlessly padding “Ryoseibai” with filler.