Two weeks ago, C-ute's 38th single (has it really been that long since their debut?) dropped. It's a triple A-side single titled, "The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~ / Gamusha LIFE / Tsugi no Kado wo Magare". This is the first single from a major, established Hello! Project group to have songs not written by Tsunku to be the solely featured tracks. That doesn't detract from it though, if anything it adds new life to a group that was already achieving something like a resurgence in popularity recently. After its release, the single went on to sale an impressive 60,000+ copies and hit a respectable #3 position on the Oricon charts. This is an interesting time to be a Hello! Project fan and there is lots to say about these songs so let's just jump right in!
Up first is "The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~". This song is amazing. That could be the end of the review right there, it is THAT good. I honestly thought that no C-ute song this year would top "I miss you", but I am pleased to say that I was wrong. This song is now the front-runner for idol song of the year in my book though I wonder if C-ute's next single will take that honor away. It's catchy, mature, edgy and has the kind of driving, danceable beat you expect from C-ute. With this said I must stop for a second and point out that this song may have amazing writing and production, but it is probably the most over-credited song in Hello! Project's catalog. It has five songwriters. This is a far cry from the days of just Tsunku or when just one person wrote the lyrics or music on any given track. I guess the song can't really be faulted for that, but I can't help but wonder just who to thank for this amazing song or feel that perhaps this song is good by way of over-production. This isn't so much a fault either, but I almost feel this song would have suited Morning Musume a bit more. I have no real reason for saying this except that it's something that I feel. Anyway, back to topic at hand. I mentioned the production values of the song and they definitely make their presence felt in the PV itself. While it still has the "budget" feel that one comes to associate with Hello! Project, there are some interesting locations used here and the bar was a nice touch. Shall we talk about the dance? C-ute has always been something of the "dance group" within Hello! Project and this song only serves to strengthen that notion. Choreography is spot-on here and the girls never miss a beat. Okai Chisato as center was an interesting choice too. Well, C-ute has grown up and it's nice to see them finally receive a truly mature song and PV!
Next, "Gamusha LIFE". This is one of those songs that I don't care too much for on the first liten, but will assuredly grow on me over the years. It's a nice fun song that has the kind of hooks that burn into you slowly. This song is written by SHOCK EYE, DJ from reggae band "Shonan no Kaze", and he delivers a powerful song that makes me hope that he contributes more to Hello! Project in the future. I mention the non-Tsunku songwriting a lot in these recent reviews, but that is to be expected as Hello! Project was practically defined by Tsunku for over a decade and it's interesting to note when a song comes along to fit the existing groups like a glove, but is written by a Hello! Project outsider. Back to my impressions on the song. Actually when I set out to write about this song I found it good, but a little forgettable on its initial listen. I mentioned a bit ago that I think it's a slow one to catch on, but as I sit here writing about it I am realizing what an amazing song it really is. The bridge in the middle is something that Tsunku never really tried before and brings back memories of some of Buono's later ballad material. There's something in the song that makes it feel like it'd be a good song for a graduation. The potential is there, but I am glad it is not being used for that purpose. It also strikes me as the kind of song that will be amazing to see performed live. The video is beautiful as well. It follows the simple Hello! Project format (which is basically a modified dance shot) but the location and setting are great and simplicity isn't always a bad thing. Dance is spot on here too, but it's the girls that really push the song forward and they look great doing it.
Last up we have "Tsugi no Kado wo Magare". I will admit that I am going to be very biased on this song right off the bat. This one is written by my personal favorite musician of all time, Takui Nakajima. This song (and ANGERME's "Taiki Bansei") were originally written and recorded for his latest studio album and exist in more rock-oriented versions there. In the past he's also composed "My Days for You" for Mano Erina and "Lady Mermaid" for DiaLady and I hope this is only the start of a long song-writing partnership between him and Hello! Project. With that in mind, you can really hear his style in this song, more so than in ANGERME's "Taiki Bansei". Very little was done to his original arrangement here. The song is an excellent choice for C-ute though and I almost wish this was the lead song on the single. It ties in well with the other two A-sides and helps give the entire single the proper "mature" feel that C-ute has deserved recently with being the current senior Hello! Project group. The heavier string section and additional layers in the vocals make this version unique from Takui's and I have to say that I think I prefer C-ute's version despite my bias. Let me add, that it's refreshing to have an idol song that a male fan can sing along to! Line distribution in all these songs is great and is fair here too, all the girls get a good amount of screen time and no one girl takes the spotlight for too long. Even though "Middle Management" has the catchy pop hooks and "Gamusha LIFE" is the song I want to hear live, this is the song that I feel truly stands out on the new single. It's subtle in its power and the message of its lyrics is just a notch above what you see in the others. Lyrically and thematically it's a fitting song for the new face of Hello! Project and C-ute. There have been many changes lately, Tsunku's career-ending illness, Berryz Koubou and Sayumi Michishige's graduations, S/mileage's image change and the addition of two new groups. If there was ever a time for H!P to be turning a new corner, it is now. Let's move onto the PV now. It's simple too, but the location here has a certain beauty in its simplicity and the way it's lit. The subtle play on colors is actually what makes this video unique. The variance of colors, from their complete absence to over-saturation, is something that most people might not be completely aware of when watching first watching the video, but it adds to the overall power of the song and video. Also, Kenshuusei in a PV in 2015? Truly Hello! Project is entering a new era! I'm sure Takui Nakajima didn't have a dance in mind when he wrote the song, but the one that we see here is perfectly fitting and it can't be a C-ute song without a strong dance. This song is the perfect way to wrap up the single.
There you have it, I remember just a few months ago raving about "I miss you" being the be-all-end-all C-ute song and here I am citing three that are equal, if not better, than that one! If you haven't checked out the single do so now, you won't regret it! Listen, watch and enjoy!
◆ Yajima Maimi (矢島舞美, Leader)
◆ Nakajima Saki (中島早貴)
◆ Suzuki Airi (鈴木愛理)
◆ Okai Chisato (岡井千聖)
◆ Hagiwara Mai (萩原舞)
◆ Rin Rigoni