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Day 15: Nana Mizuki – “SUPERNAL LIBERTY” (2014)
Genre: Pop / Rock / Anison / Electronic / Jazz
Nana Mizuki? Haven’t you reviewed her just about 2 weeks ago? ….well, yes…I have. But I couldn’t resist the early leak of her oddest, most mature and fun album yet. SUPERNAL LIBERTY is so full of delightful surprises, I just had to review it!
The opening seconds of the album very much establish the mood of the entire record, mashing together electronic elements, synths, a full string backing and your usual band instruments for the extended intro to VIRGIN CODE, before Nana joins the song and delivers devastatingly powerful vocals spanning a dynamic range fitting for the playfully ridiculous grandeur of the track. It’s unabashedly over the top and the short moments of simplicity exist mainly to force you into a fake sense of security before blasting right back.
By the time you reach GUILTY, the intensity is firmly set at highest level, as you can’t quite tell if you’re supposed to be dancing to the early 00s urban pop beat or shout along to the oddly smooth delivery of the punk-y chorus. The arrangement is full of little details that give texture but never stay long enough to be gimmicky, the vocals go from serenading headvoice to jumping around on a staccato beat. It’s bloody amazing.
アパッショナート has been released as promotional song for the album a while back and I’ve been adoring it ever since. After briefly hinting at a folksy midtempo ballad, アパッショナート jumps into riff-heavy power metal accentuated by the occasional Celtic instrument and a chorus that is just to die for. It’s glamorous, stunningly beautiful, yet manages to be one of the heaviest rock songs to ever come out of a mainstream pop career. A friend of mine described it as “ADD Post-Rock” as it used rock instruments rather creatively and I can definitely see where he is coming from. A true masterpiece of modern pop music.
I was taken a back a bit by the inclusion of Dreams Come True cover 笑顔の行方, which by itself is a great song, but is drenched in a classic style of J-Pop that is very, very out of place in the context of SUPERNAL LIBERTY, even more so when you realize the song following it would have flown absolutely perfectly from アパッショナート.
Another odd little chimera, アンティークナハトムジーク, opens on a ticking clock and has a certain aura of progressive rock around it, switching between different time signatures multiple times. It retains elegance while also showing off Nana’s quirky, experimental side. The production is fantastic, same as the rest of the album, and Nana’s delivery is just getting more impressive every passing year.
I’m usually quite critical of the extremely optimistic, cute tracks to be found all over Japan and Nana is no exceptions. The last of these songs I truly enjoyed was 2008’s DISCOTHEQUE, which unfortunately never made it onto one of her studio albums. Fun Fun★People is a contender for that title now. I would call it Nana’s most realized and fully fleshed out attempt at the style, borrowing elements from jazz and swing and keeping the melody at an enjoyable pitch rather than forcing a soprano onto us. There’s just a hint of seduction in the vocals and the arrangement feels like mature fun rather than coming off as childish.
FATE is an enjoyable mellow pop midtempo, Nana has about 200 of those in her discography already, nothing special here.
As with Synchrogazer – Aufwachen Form – on her prior album, the album’s only single Vitalization got an extended introduction, amptly titled Vitalization – Aufwachen Form –. The intro samples the melody that was used in Synchrogazer‘s intro, but slows it down significantly and backs it with strings and drums rather than synths, a wonderful little throwback. The song itself is still a gleefully frantic piece of pure Nana madness that is not for everybody, but you will love if you’re into the style.
After giving a favorable review to IU’s Modern Times album a few days back, it just seems fitting that I’d love the one all-out jazz pop track on SUPERNAL LIBERTY. And I do love it! 哀愁トワイライト just goes with the flow, nobody is trying to hurry it along or hide the jazzy roots. A successful experiment of the type I expect to hear on a Nana album nowadays.
セツナキャパシティー is rather typical Nana fare and obvious Elements Garden work. Her vocals can be a bit grating in it, but it’s a decent enough song.
Ladyspiker follows suit, but has an oldschool rock feel to it. It reminds me of 70s poprock hits, I believe I hear some Rock n Roll Widow here. It’s an energetic, fun song, very clean production and all in all just unlikely to offend.
I’m not fond of Rock you baby!, it’s just somewhat annoying and too sugar-coated. But even here I seem to find some more maturity than her previous albums had, the melody is a bit more relaxed and the whole thing is less flashy.
If you’re looking for a soft rock version of アパッショナート, Million Ways=One Destination is the place to go. It’s beautifully arranged, but suffers from a weak melody that fails to pack the punch of some of the stronger tracks on the album.
One last signature Nana track comes in the form of 僕らの未来, a song highly reminiscent of the composition on Nana’s early singles. It’s an updated, improved version of songs like TRANSMIGRATION from Nana’s debut album, featuring a melody almost eerily similar to some of her old work. It makes you wonder if the similarities are intentional or if it’s an accidental self-reference.
The final song on the album is a rerecorded, rearranged version of a Vitalization B-Side. 愛の星 -two hearts- switches out the generic pop ballad backing of the original version for a harp – to great effect. It’s the most bare-bones, dialed down song of Nana’s career and as such a wonderful contrast to the bombast of the first songs on the album. It’s an absolutely stunning song and may just be her best ballad thus far.
SUPERNAL LIBERTY is a gorgeous, fresh and fun album filled almost equally with successful experiments and nods to the past. The first 40 minutes or so of the album are almost a bit too perfect if you skip FATE and the latter half is still good on its own, but disappointing in contrast – that is until you reach that spectacular finale. Definitely Nana’s best album so far and almost a fantastic one.