Idol group AKB48 elicits extreme reactions from people. The unit has nurtured a rabid fanbase who are willing to buy multiple copies of a single CD to show their devotion. On the other hand, critics despise the group’s brand of by-the-book pop and the sideshow shenanigans the members engage in (or are pulled into).
Since June 2014, however, AKB48 has just been plain boring. The formula isn’t new anymore and the idol scene has expanded to bring in fresher acts. Sixth album “Koko ga Rhodes da, Koko de Tobe!” (“This is Rhodes, Jump Here!”) features 41 songs spread out over three discs and a DVD, but nearly none of it is worth getting excited or angry about.
AKB48’s previous efforts have been similarly overstuffed — since last year, all albums come in “A” and “B” editions, with different songs, in order to juice sales — but at least those releases had a few strong moments. The main “Rhodes” disc, from opener “Kibouteki Refrain” to closer “Ai no Sonzai,” features uptempo pop guided by guitars and MIDI horns with a few tiresome ballads mixed in (the final song jacks its main riff from Blue Oyster Cult’s “[Don’t Fear] The Reaper”). One track finds the group listing every prefecture in Japan. It’s as fun as geography class!
The highlight of the whole project is “Downtown Hotel 100 Goshitsu” (“Downtown Hotel Room #100”). A step away from the usual sugary pop, it’s a jittery city-pop tune that I’d rank as one of the most interesting songs AKB48 has ever come out with (and that was before realizing it’s about a one-night stand).
The album and its various versions lack much beyond that one interesting track, though. This may be Rhodes, but it seems AKB48 is grounded.