Nana Mizuki – Ultimate Diamond – 4.5/5
This artist almost feels like a dark horse in her chosen musical career, her solo work seeming to be overshadowed by her fairly impressive history of voice acting, landing roles in everything from ‘Hell Girl,’ ‘Love Hina,’ ‘Naruto,’ ‘Full Metal Alchemist,’ and many others, but lets not get off track with her other side. With a naturally harmonious voice, her age is another unexpected aspect; most successful J-Pop vocalists have ended their careers by their 20s yet it was about that age that Nana-Chan began and now, a decade on since that debut and she’s seen a steady rise in attention, culminating in this album topping the charts. In fact, she is the first artist to simultaneously top the singles charts and album charts, and after taking the plunge myself I can’t say I’m surprised.
It’s rare to find what I would consider a ‘free-thinker’ in this genre; whenever I listen to “Perfume” I am more than aware that the vocalists are just a front for the talent beneath writing the songs for the puppets to perform; I know its more than coincidence that every “I’ve Sound” performer has the same brand of technopop backing, and it is these men behind the masks that play a major hand in making an artists a success. Whilst here multiple composers and musicians have gone into making the music, it still feels as though she has retained control, and so whilst the burden is ultimately on her to perform, the flip side is an absolute freedom to do as she wants regardless of expectations, and it doesn’t take long for her to exploit it.
Straddling lines between jazz – the opening theme wouldn’t feel out of place in a bond film, adding boisterous lounge to theatrical cabaret – hard rock and techno, she also adds subtle elements of classical piano, violin harmonies and a sprinkling of almost folk-like overtones and a surprising number of solos from guitars, saxophones, piano, and indeed even herself. Taking a new set of elements in each track, she manages to create a unique feel to each emerging song and yet it is her song writing that prevents it all from feeling disjointed, more than just her utterly mesmerising vocals is her ability to create an addictive chorus line that ties together each track in a manner that feels distinct to her irrespective of what the backing is doing.
We get none of this horrendous over-production either; the music is often thoroughly unsuited for it (outside of those few occasions where a techno backbeat is used), and instead we are treated to a far more organic feel to the gentle melodies, that whilst remain simplistic, manage to provide a constant variation. It is, however, 65 minutes long and certainly towards the end feels as though it’s just dragging its heels slightly and could have benefited from a slightly tighter cut. There are also the inevitable personal complaints of balance, personally wishing for a few more jazz-orientated tracks, but the simple fact remains that this is an album that set its sights above the rest and pushed their sound to the brink of no longer being pop, and it still manages to make its mark.
Highlights: Maria and Joker, Trickster, Brand New Tops, 少年