I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Akina Nakamori -- D404ME

I have finally come to the scene of the crime when it comes to me and Akina Nakamori(中森明菜). Her 6th single, "Kinku"禁区 may have been the very first song of hers that I had ever heard, but it was her 8th studio album, "D404ME" that brought me into Akina World. I first borrowed a tape cassette of the album from a classmate in 2nd-year Japanese who was the biggest Akina fan, and ended up listening to it twice in quick succession. But before I ended up destroying the thing in repeated play, I decided to fork out the cash at Wah Yueh or another record store across Dundas in Chinatown to purchase the actual LP as my own copy. Then I set out to abuse the needle on my record player instead of the heads on my tape recorder.

As you can see from the photo above, it looks like the album cover decided to reflect the eclectic direction that Akina was continuing from her previous album, "Bitter and Sweet". Apparently the title (which had always sounded like something used to fix that squeaky doorknob or kill cockroaches in their tracks) was derived from the registration number of a warehouse. And it certainly looked like the photo shoot for the cover was held inside that warehouse. It looks like a 3-year-old's concept of the Batcave.

Anyways, listening to the tracks again had me realize how much I missed this album after so long. As with "Bitter and Sweet", it has a lot of dynamic songs...8 out of the 10 tracks...created by a number of veteran singer-songwriters. The album starts out with "Endless" (the above video), which starts out like something from "The X-Files" before it launches into a funk-and-groove City Pop tune. The huskiness of Akina's voice continues to develop and her delivery has that sort of Siren-like effect, enticing listeners to enjoy the temptations of the city. Looking over the liner notes for "D404ME" again, I was a bit surprised to find out that it was Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)who had composed the opening track with Ikki Matsumoto(松本一起)providing the lyrics. At the time I got the album, Ohnuki was just the name of someone who had flittered around the edges of my kayo kyoku/J-Pop mind, and it would be several years before I finally got who she was and appreciated her own brand of music.

The 2nd track, "Nocturn", written and composed by one-half of Chage & AskaRyo Aska(飛鳥涼), is a pop/rock piece driven by Masaki Matsubara's(松原正樹)electric guitar. The lyrics hint at the darker side of love. Just in terms of Akina's delivery and the arrangement, the song sounds like something that late 70s aidoru Momoe Yamaguchi(山口百恵) would have sung. Considering that in the early years of my acquaintance with Akina's music, it was often said that there were similarities between the two singers from different eras, the sound of this 2nd track is not lost on me.

When I was putting the album on heavy rotation on the stereo, my favourite track was the third one, "Allegro Vivace". Compared to almost all of the other songs, I think it's one of the two relatively slower ballads. Written by Yoshiko Miura(三浦徳子) and composed by Tsugutoshi Goto(後藤次利), it's soaring and elegant, and was one of the first hints for me that Akina was no ordinary aidoru, and in fact, by the time "D404ME" came out, she really no longer was.

The first track on Side B of the LP is "Blue Ocean". With lyrics by Reiko Yukawa(湯川れい子) and music by the rock band NOBODY, its technopoppiness comes out right from the get-go with that tinny synth and snippets of Akina on repeat mode. In a way, the song sounds like her singing a combination of an aidoru tune and an old-fashioned tropical ditty from an old Ealing Studios movie taken into outer space. The guy on keyboards was pretty interesting; it turned out to be Joe Hisaishi(久石譲) who whipped up all those wonderful scores for the Studio Ghibli movies, and arranged this particular track.

Singer-songwriting buddies EPO and Taeko Ohnuki teamed up to give Akina this fun song with a little tech and a lot of funk called "Magnetic Love", which seems to describes falling in love as a power surge through a major metropolitan grid. I wouldn't be surprised if SONY or Hitachi had actually used the song as a jingle for one of their products. The one other thing I'll say about it is how much I enjoy Akina pronouncing "magnetic love".

One of the things I also enjoyed about "D404ME" is the horn section. I've always been a sucker for a good group of trumpets and trombones accompanying the saxes. "Mona Lisa" has a bit of this Barbee Boys vibe in the arrangement and then in come the full set of three trumpets, three trombones and Jake H. Concepcion on sax. Goto was once again involved in the composition but the lyrics were provided by Ichiko Takehana(竹花いち子). Akina sings about not wanting to actively have anything to do with loving anyone else but instead just wants to be admired from afar by freezing herself like the proverbial eternally beautiful smiling titular figure. Along with the horn section, the other thing I like is the bell-like keyboard, especially when it goes off like a fire engine siren.

The piece de resistance, though, is Akina's 11th single, "Meu Amor e"(ミ・アモーレ) which has its special version at the end of the album. However, I'll save that for the next article. To be honest, it's been years since I listened to "D404ME" due to the fact that I never got around to getting the CD version of the album while I was in Japan, and although the original LP is sitting next to my feet as I type this, my stereo has long ago joined the proverbial audio store in the sky. But being able to hear just about all of the tracks again via YouTube has been very reassuring for me.

"D404ME" was originally released in August 1985 on LP (a month later on CD), and hit No. 1 on Oricon right from its launch where it spent the next 2 weeks. However, even after falling from that lofty perch, it hung around the charts for a further 26 weeks to become the 7th-ranked song of the year. It also earned an Excellent Album prize at The Japan Record Awards. I think having both this album and "Bitter & Sweet" is a must just to show the transition Akina made from aidoru to pop superstar.

Akina Nakamori -- Meu Amor e


  1. Thanks for bringing the album up and for all the extensive info. Haven't heard this one in ages either, so it was great to listen to these tracks with a fresh perspective. Always enjoyed albums with a lot of variety, and with this one, you don't always know what's coming. Take "Blue Ocean", for instance, which was odd but fun. Of course, "Endless" and "Allegro Vivace" were great too with their vibrant arrangements. All the songs are solid, though "Magnetic Love" and "Mona Lisa" are the ones that really had me on the edge of my seat.

    Beside the rich mature sound, another thing that separated Akina from an ordinary idol is that her albums and not just the singles were packed with quality songs. Now, I do like my idols, but a huge majority of them (in my opinion) just have interesting singles and not much to albums. That's why acts like Momoe and Akina, just to name a few, always stood out for me.

  2. Hello, nikala. And thanks for the comments. Yeah, I think what made this and "Bitter and Sweet" stand out was just the variety in music that Akina and the songwriters had put in them. I certainly appreciate the album even more now than when I first it.

    It sounds like you have some further commentary on the album or certain tracks. Feel free to add them through "Follow-Up", if you wish.

    1. I don't think I can write enough to warrant a post that expands on all the stuff you wrote above. :) But thanks for the offer. I do think it's a wonderful album. I first heard it when I was just getting into Japanese pop so I had no idea what kind of songwriters contributed to it. Seeing names like EPO, Taeko Ohnuki, Ryo Aska, and Joe Hisaishi really put a smile on my face. I think Akina did a great job with their songs, which were cool to begin with.


Feel free to provide any comments (pro or con). Just be civil about it.