Not Yet “Already” (Nippon Columbia)

The sun isn’t quite setting on the AKB48 empire, but 2014 has so far shown that things might be slowing down a bit for the army-sized pop group. Its singles still top the Oricon chart, but last year the group could move more than 1 million units during first-week sales. Now, it takes longer to do that.

General search-engine interest in AKB48 has also dipped. One possible reason for this could be over-saturation, in which case subgroup Not Yet might be paying the price. The quartet’s debut album, “Already,” suffers artistically from this “omnipresence” strategy and comes off like a boring collection of previously underwhelming ideas used in AKB48 tracks.

Not Yet features AKB48 members Yuko Oshima, Rie Kitahara and Yui Yokoyama, along with HKT48 standout Rino Sashihara. As a four-piece, they gain the advantage of not having to compete with 25 other women singing at once, which gives Not Yet’s songs a chance to breathe. However, that’s about the only sonic improvement from the standard AKB format. Tracks such as “Peraperapera O” and “Hirihiri no Hana” stick to the tested uptempo mix of guitars and synth flutters — the main ingredients in most of the mother group’s more mediocre singles. The back half of the album slows things down and features a surprisingly OK solo turn by Yokoyama (the springy “May”), but still nothing exciting. The closest thing to a success on “Already” is “Uminari yo,” which trades in the upbeat carnival pace for slithery R&B. Almost every song features a different producer, but you’d never be able to tell without liner notes.

“Already” is the sound of a side project given zero original ideas, cruising forward on old fumes. Far more interesting would be to read up on Sashihara, the AKB-universe’s most interesting member. She won the AKB general election last year . . . 12 months after being shipped away from Akihabara for breaking the group’s controversial dating rules. She’s reveled in her position since, brushing off critics and making money for the team. She’s a confident, subversive performer, I only wish someone could have carried her personality into this snooze of an album. (Patrick St. Michel)

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