Review Summary: An album that lacks serious depth, but is a great sunny album from one of Japan's most upbeat 90's pop rock bands.
A great sugar rush, essentially.
Towards the mid-to-late 1990's, pop rock in Japan was starting to develop girly sugar edges. Thanks to critically successful bands like Judy and Mary and Puffy (Puffy AmiYumi to some), various bands fronted a female vocalist, in hopes to break in the Japanese Oricon charts. This was also around the time where the "bandol" concept popped up (cutesy schoolgirls playing in a pop driven band). And this band, Whiteberry, was one of the very first bands to completely coincide with the "bandol" concept. Seriously. The band was literally in the age group of 9-10 when it was conceived in 1994, and were only 14-15 when they went major with Sony Records in 1999, thanks to the aforementioned monstrous Japanese pop rock band, Judy and Mary, discovering them through one of their gigs. Initially, their sales were quite sluggy and pretty disappointing, but in 2000, the band released their breakthrough album, "Hatsu". The album was an overwhelming surprise success, charting at number 3 on the Oricon charts. While their second album, "Chameleon", fares better in terms of critical success, commercially, "Hatsu" was Whiteberry's brightest moment, and with the album's theme of overwhelming feelings of joy, wonder and happiness, it only makes sense that is how it works out.
The album opens up with "Tsuugaku ro", which does a great job at putting the listener into the pop world of Whiteberry. The track itself has a pretty good power pop-rock feel to it, and is a good track to start the album off with, due to its effective guitar and synth bridge lines, which has a nice nostalgic feel to it, which is another nice appeal of the majority of Whiteberry's material. The next track, "Taiyou wo Buttobase!!", is a wonderful track that takes the spacy nostalgic bits of "Tsuugaku ro", amplifies it, and laces it together with a catchy pop synth and rhythmic chorus, which will leave you humming the harmonies for a few hours minimally. A very effective track, and immediately one of the stand out tracks on the album. "Negai Hoshi" is a softer track, but follows the hypnotizing pattern of "Taiyou wo Buttobase" quite well. A softer pop track that is a bit plain compared to "Taiyou", but still is a nice track by itself. "Natsu Matsuri" immediately follows, and cranks up the album's potential to the max. If all the tracks were as solid as "Natsu Matsuri", the album could very easily slide by as one of the most solid pieces of mainstream Japanese pop rock in recent history. It follows a frantic jungle-like rhythm, making the song's basic outline resemble modern age enka to some degree, only over-injected with the bubblegum pop rock style of Whiteberry. This mixture along makes the song one of Whiteberry's signature tracks, and it's easily one of, if not the best, track on the album.
The following two tracks, "Ai Raku Ningyou" and "Marugoto Test" are decent tracks, but definitely weaken the album's potential with its straightforwardness, with little-to-no signature Whiteberry spunk added (at least when compared to the first half of the album). The next track, "Whiteberry no Chiisana Dai Bouken" picks the album back up and is one of the last standout tracks on the album, ranking alongside "Natsu Matsuri" and "Taiyou wo Buttobase!!" as one of the definitive tracks on the album. However, technicality nor signature addictive song structure makes it a keeper. It's the straight feelgood tone of the song which makes it so good. The innocent vocal style of frontwoman, Yuki Maeda, adds to the track's appeal, and it's overly upbeat style makes the track another one of Whiteberry's signature songs, along with being one of the signature tracks on "Hatsu". I would go so far as to say that "Whiteberry no Chiisana Dai Bouken" sums up their main catalog quite well. So, if you're still reading, I would recommend that song primarily to any of the curious. "Dearest" ranks along "Ai Raku Ningyou" and "Marugoto Test" as a less memorable track, and doesn't quite fit in with the bubblegum sunshine of "Hatsu". The final track, "Yuki", however, fits in with the sound of "Hatsu" quite well, and is one of Whiteberry's most recognized songs. The track follows a simple poppy pattern, like "Chiisana Dai Bouken" before it, but the innocence and uniqueness of Yuki's vocals, as well as the transition into the chorus, solidifies the track individually and makes for a fitting closer to one of Japan's most sunniest pop rock albums.
In short, the album is a great audio sugar rush, full of bubblegum pop rock and a bit of filler, but nothing too serious. One of the album's main faults is that it is... well, very immature. Immature in the sense that the majority of the tracklist, literally, follows a ray of sugary sunshine, with very little-to-no serious album progressiveness. However, it does work great for its purpose, and since the album only winds in at 37 minutes, you can't complain about the time. If you're looking for a straightforward Japanese pop rock album done right, look no further than "Hatsu" by Whiteberry. If you're looking for a serious pop album that has an impressive progressiveness to it (Zard, Mr. Children, etc.) stay clear away from "Hatsu" by Whiteberry.