Review Summary: A fulfilling album from one of Japan's most successful 90's pop acts.
Back in the mid 1990's, MAX were one of the biggest JPop acts around. Forming in 1995, the group consisted of four young Japanese girls: Nana, Lina, Reina & Mina, all former members of the group, Super Monkey's (which featured a teenage Namie Amuro as the frontwoman). Originally formed as a eurobeat-dance pop act (taking many notes from the tremendous dance pop group Globe), they released their debut album, "Maximum", in 1996. The album was a huge success commercially, being the fifteenth best selling album of that year, and selling over a million copies. Critically, however, the group were looked upon as another Globe replicate, and that mere description was not that far-fetched. However, in 1997, the group shook off their eurobeat style, and traded it all in for a sensual, seductive R&B-styled vibe that would make TLC proud. That description would suit 1997's "Maximum II", which made MAX a unique name in the Japanese mainstream, as during this period, the group introduced a mature, seductive R&B-laced vibe that not many groups had during that period. Later on, however, groups like Earth (not to be confused with the experimental US metal band of the same name) and, most famously, Speed, replicated the style to mixed success (Earth folding after about two years together, and Speed going on to become as equally successful in the 90's Japanese pop scene). The album, itself, is a nice record, chockful of sensuality and fun, while adding highly addictive licks and choruses, making the album one of MAX's finest moments critically.
The album starts off with "Easy Easy", which has a typical R&B-pop sound to it, with wailing synth lines in tact. All in all, a plain track, with not much to say. However, the album then goes off into one of the album's finest moments, "Give Me a Shake", which has a nice, slick style to it, with the girls crooning alongside the sly track. A tremendous track, and a definite pickup from the plainness of "Easy Easy". "Harmony" is a unique track which starts off with a faded shuffle-esque styled-track, and light key stabs. However, the track picks up after about a minute, and develops into a frantic dance-pop track, and is both dark and light, battling a nice dramatic sound. Another great track, and a definite left field track for the album's direction thus far. "Really Love Me" brings the album's R&B focus back, and centers around a typical keyboard stab (the kind of R&B-esqued stab you'd hear in all of the early 1990's R&B radio tracks). Stylistically, the track is really no more than a simple R&B-pop track (similar to "Easy Easy"), but the impressive wailing of the girls, among the various elements in the track, saves it from sheer mediocrity, but the track is FAR from the levels of "Harmony" or "Give Me a Shake". "Love is Dreaming" is an interesting spin on the R&B-pop style of the album, and follows a nice piano sample, and a rattling distorted bass line. A damn good track, especially the melodics throughout the chorus and bridge. All in all, an addictive mainstream-friendly experience.
"Endless Love" revisits the eurobeat styling of "Maximum", but it works efficiently as a good middle-of-the-road track. The melodics of the album battle an acidic europop styling that was huge in the Japanese electro underground in the early 1990's. The track is as addictive as "Love is Dreaming", similarly because of unique song structure, and due to the power of the young vocalists. "I'll Be with You" is a mellow straightforward R&B track, completely bare of any dance pop, and shows the potential of the girls tremendously. The united crooning of the girls makes the track golden, and a nice addition to the mainly R&B-laced pop record. "Nobody Else" brings the track's energy back at full velocity with a stomping sound, and shows the girls ambitiously battling the club-styled track. A nicely done track which borrows a bit from the previous sounding of "Maximum" without being completely overbearing and too... well, Globe-esqued. "Shinin' on Shinin' Love" is a phenomenal track which shows MAX seductively colliding with an addictive, retro mid-90's sounding synth-fronted track. A great track, and is among the golden fields of "Give Me a Shake". "Wonderland" features an upbeat sound, with an uplifting growly bass punch. A pretty decent pop track, and has a nice powerful punch from the young vocalists once more. "Forever Song" is a tremendous pop piece which starts off with ambient-esqued humming, and has the girls maturely singing along the heartfelt pop track. A great track, and works well into closing the album up. After "Forever Song" slowly fades away, the album's true final track, "Give Me a Shake (Deep Club Mix)" slowly starts up. The song follows an acidic creeping bass line and follows a pattern of a high pitched synth whistle sample. As far as remixes go, the track is pretty good, but fails to close the album as efficiently as "Forever Song" would've. A good remix, but definitely not a solid album closer.
All in all, the album has the potential to be a guilty pleasure among many music fans. But stylistically, the album goes beyond mere cookie-cutter disposable radio territory. With all of the various melodics thrown in, the strong potential of the then-young singers and the unique pickups from the seemingly ordinary and plain tracks make the album an enjoyable experience throughout. However, the length of the album can be a problem, and after a while, the pattern of R&B-laced pop with dancy roots begins to grow somewhat tiresome. However, with all things considered, the album is pretty fulfilling in its attempts to emulate the mid-1990's R&B trend in the Americas, and putting its traditional Japanese pop spin on it. Thanks to both MAX & Speed (and Misia a bit later), the Japanese R&B-pop trend went off at full speed, and officially battled the Avex-fronted electropop style head-to-head ambitiously. In a nutshell, "Maximum II" is still a groundbreaking album in the Japanese mainstream, and served very well as one of the initial giant blasts in the early Japanese R&B-pop movement.