When Country Girls formed last year I was confused by many aspects of the group. Are they a revival of Country Musume? Are they going to be performing that group's back catalog? Will their releases be as sporadic? What exactly is Momoko's role in the group? Well, their first single dropped a couple weeks ago and I am glad to say that while very few of those questions were answered, Country Girls did pull off an awesome debut release!
You may recall that this single was originally going to be an indies release. That was of course changed and Country Girls get to kick off their career with a major debut. The group's talent is clear in this single as well as the fact that this single sold an impressive 45,000 copies its first week (Putting it in the #3 spot on the Oricon Chart). I admit that I always assume the worse of the younger Hello! Project members. I always assume they're vocals are going to be off-putting and their talent questionable. Well, Juice=Juice proved me wrong a couple years back and Country Girls do it again here. Before I continue let me state here that new Hello! Project lyricist, Kodama Ameko, has been doing an amazing job partially filling in for Tsuku's absence. This twenty-one year old woman has talent! The two Country Girls songs she penned are pretty amazing and let's not forget that she was also behind ANGERME's "Otome no Gyakushuu". While I lament Hello! Project's loss of Tsunku I am glad that people like her and Takui Nakajima are able to so effectively carry on the Hello! Project legacy.
Let's jump right into the single now. First up is "Itooshikutte Gomen ne" ("I'm Sorry For Being So Adorable"). I normally don't care much for songs like this, It's cutesy and has a tinge of that forgettable generic vibe to it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if this is where your tastes lie, it's just that these type of songs come up a lot in the course of idol groups and they can sometimes start to blend together. Let me stop there and mention that this song does not totally fall into that category, the chorus and retro-style melody save it in my opinion. It reminds me of some of the songs the old Country Musume line-up put out and also had me initially wondering if Takui Nakajima had a hand in its writing (He did not). The English parts are a nice touch too and the production quality itself is what you'd expect from a major Hello! Project release. I do not recommend this song for those that can't stomach the sugary sweet side of Hello! Project though especially when one watches the video! Then again is there really a fan of Hello! Project who can not at least tolerate the cuter side of things? That being said, I am pleased to note that Momoko isn't hamming up her Momochi personality in Country Girls. I know that that wasn't the purpose of having her in this group, but I initially feared that she would attempt to act in a fashion similar to the other girls who are much younger than her. This brings me to a question I asked earlier: What is Momoko's role in the group? She's their leader of sorts and performs too, but she operates in a strange position apart from the rest of the girls. I at first assumed she'd act like a borrowed member like Rika Ishikawa and Konno Asami/Miki Fujimoto did in the past. That doesn't seem to be the case as she's not only much more involved than they were, but she also has no other group to return to outside of Country Girls. I wonder if this is just a way to stall her graduation for another year. Anyhow, the song is catchy and the video is very cheerful without being too distractingly cute. The outfits in the video scream classic S/mileage to me for some reason though and I can't help but have that thought run in my mind whenever I watch the PV. There are worse things to compare a group to though aren't there?
The other A-Side to this single (Remember when Hello! Project actually had proper B-sides?) is "Koi Dorobou" ("Love Thief"). Remember how I mentioned the other video not being cute, but not too cute? Well this one throws that concept out the window and mixes in some pink. LOTS of pink. That was honestly all I took away from the video the first time. The fact that every aspect of it was tinged pink. PV aside, I actually like this song a bit more than "Itooshikutte Gomen ne". It has the same catchy vibe present in the original, but has a stronger driving beat complete with a catchy chorus and playful lyrics courtesy of the aforementioned Kodama Ameko. Gotta love the use of "love me do" in the song too, something that Tsunku used to add to several of his Hello! Project songs. I can't help but wonder if this was an homage to him. I might have to look that up. Back to the song, the song moves fast and this one also had me checking the writing credits to see if Takui Nakajima had a hand in it. He didn't, but the song is still really catchy. Try to not sing along if you can! If there is one song from this single that I'll probably still be listening to later on in the year, it's this one. Gotta love that "Oh my god!" at the end! I mentioned that the other song's outfits reminded me of S/mileage, well the ones here are reminiscent of something Juice=Juice would be outfitted in.
There you have it. Country Girls are apparently here to stay and this is not a bad thing! Hello! Project was sorely lacking in new groups and these girls fill that void very well. Being the first group to not have Tsunku-produced material did not keep them from surpassing not only this fan's expectations, but probably all those who didn't believe that a debut Hello! Project group could still command such impressive first-week sales. Be sure to pick up the single if you haven't already and check out the PVs I so graciously provide in this review!
Country Girls Are:
◆ Tsugunaga Momoko (嗣永桃子) (Play Manager)
◆ Yamaki Risa (山木梨沙)
◆ Inaba Manaka (稲場愛香)
◆ Morito Chisaki (森戸知沙希)
◆ Shimamura Uta (島村嬉唄)
◆ Ozeki Mai (小関舞)