Marginal#4‘s “Star Cluster 2” is finally out. Rejet‘s seiyuu unit releases their second Best of since their debut back in 2013. In this overview of M#4‘s second half of 2014 in music, are we impressed or a bit underwhelmed?
Album: “Star Cluster 2” Release date: 08/04/2015 Label: Rejet Genre: J-Pop
01. 恋のAKQJ10(ロイヤルフラッシュ)! 02. CHU CHU LUV ▼ SCANDAL 03. DREAM★JUICER 04. HURRICANE X 05. 愛パラドックス 06. 熱愛(RED HOT)SAGA 07. SUPERNOVA-I'm HEADLINER!!!!- 08. キミとFARAWAY 09. MyFirstLove 10. Bingo!!!! 11. ZIG★ZAG 12. 純白(しろ)い恋人 13. Missing you(2014) 14. Rock★Scissors★Paper Go!!!!
Track by track analysis:
It looks grandiose with that big intro with classic elements and a female choir but it soon sounds like “Masquerade” (released on 2013) mixed with some Diabolik Lovers “essences”. It’s refined, way more powerful than anything they’ve released in the last quarter of 2014. The piano is the major drive force in this track alongside the powerful guitars and unstoppable drums and strings. The top vocal performances that we’ve craved so much in these past few months of wait are back and as great as ever. This track demands a powerful delivery while sounding soft and what a better lineup than this one to deliver it? Although everyone’s efforts and performances are great on their own, KENN is the one that deserves to receive some extra praise. Did you listen to his parts on this track? It’s impossible to not notice the falsettos in those medium notes. On the other side the vocal surprise is Yuto‘s vocals that are more lowered than usual, he’s certainly not a natural high note striker nor he is a low ranged singer, so it came as a surprise how lowered his vocals sounded in his solo parts – a nice change. A classy track that brings back all the good elements Marginal#4 had on their debut. 5/5
02. CHU CHU LUV ▼ SCANDAL
We get steamier, staying true to its name, CHU CHU LUV♥SCANDAL goes all out with teasing the listener in its very beginning (this is MARGINAL#4‘s trademark). The setting set for this track seems to be the simplest ever (an after school confession) but that doesn’t even take an ounce of the entertainment this track provides. Putting the setting aside, this track has a bit of everything, without any exaggerations. As many might know MIKOTO‘s melodies are almost 90% written around the guitars and drums and those are the main foundation to this track, to be more precise, the main foundation for this unit’s sound. The raging guitars and the unstoppable drums set the pace for a track that, here and there, resorts to some drops in the tempo provided by the dubstep synths. It might sound insignificant but the cowbell sets the rhythm in the very beginning of the track and does the honors of closing its very curtain. It might have sounded bad in many other situations but turns out great in this track. It’s an energetic, captivating instrumental piece, a typical pop-rock track that will be playing in loop for many people. Taking the focus away of the instrumental towards the mesmerizing vocal track, we find Naozumi, KENN, Toshiki and Yuto giving their best showing us why they are the best vocal leveled units in the business (all baritones). In their individual parts each of them brings a bit of charm and energy to the track and in the chorus they do justice to the name “unit“, because they really sound incredibly well as one. Also a bit of rap in the outro provided by all the unit. A truly solid performance in a track that will, for sure, be replaying in our heads for a long time. 5/5
Yeah guys, we’re really kicking off with juice on this one! Completely unusual start to this track but that doesn’t, in any way, make this track a bad one. Intro aside this is one of the best matchups in the unit. We kick this track with the first matchup of the day: KENN and Toshiki Masuda. It’s amazing how they really complete each other’s vocals. DREAM★JUICER is a rock track to its core with the guitars taking the spotlight with little to no use of synths which is great for a change. The instrumental is upbeat, not too speedy with a lot of melodic parts here and there throughout the track. Props to the guitar work in this track that really outshines all the other instruments, the riffs are heavy, the solos are over the top and overall it brings all the performance together. On the vocal track we have KENN and Toshiki delivering a energetic, entertaining performance. These are the two unit members that best fit into the rock genre and this track couldn’t have been the best choice for them to show off. DREAM★JUICER really shines in this single with KENN showing off his vibrato throughout the track and Toshiki delivering once again an intense performance. 5/5
04. HURRICANE X
A storm leads the path in this intro, HURRICANE X goes towards a more electronic rock sound, a different side to this unit. HURRICANE X brings us the powerhouses in this unit together: Naozumi Toshiki and Yuto Suzuki. Without a doubt the whole unit is full of talented individuals but these two guys really stand out a bit too much in singing compared to Toshiki and KENN that really are the ones responsible for the unison this unit shows in every performance, they are a sort of “vocal levelers” (taking, sometimes, background work in some tracks), blending with the Naozumi and Yuto‘s duo, well versed in those high notes, falsettos and vibratos. Naozumi and Yuto could be called the highly technical side of the unit if we wanted to.
Yuto kicks off this track with slightly low vocals making way for Naozumi to join this hurricane of a track a deliver a powerful performance. It’s important to add that Yuto is as fast as lightning in this track delivering some of his verses with a pin point accuracy and speed that is unmatchable in this unit, his vibrato is there in full force in the chorus blending perfectly with Naozumi‘s vocals. A big wow for his performance that really stands out in this track. Naozumi on the other side is as mesmerizing as Yuto with his vibrato and powerful vocals, delivering each and every verse with a precision beyond amazing. When these two guys are together there’s possibly nothing that could go wrong and that can be proved with this track only. An excellent matchup making us crave for more. 5/5
Shots, ambulances, troops and the sound of water dripping in the tunnel make this an intriguing intro. A milder track in comparison with the previous ones. The guitars (deliver an interesting solo in the outro), drums (and the cowbell is back) with a bit of latin percussion in the outro, the strings, the bass and the piano make this instrumental track an interesting piece to listen to. It’s not aggressive like the previous ones or highly danceable like on some of M#4‘s singles. It goes towards a more mid tempo, melodic sound to bring out the vocals. The pre-chorus is one of the strongest parts in this track building up momentum towards a sweet, gentle chorus where Naozumi, KENN, Toshiki and Yuto deliver a powerful and melodic performance. 4.5/5
06. 熱愛(RED HOT)SAGA
We’re presented with a mid-tempo pop-rock track with lots of electronica elements, not only in the intro but also in between main verses. Red Hot Saga is featured as the opening theme for PSvita game “Marginal#4 – Idol Of Supernova“, scheduled to be released in November. The whole unit makes a solid performance with the vocal track being one of the best things out of the whole product. The fade-ins and fade-outs between the verses (related, of course, to the changes between singers), was an excellent choice to add fluidity to the whole vocal track. The instrumental doesn’t have MIKOTO behind the guitar work instead he worked in the music composition leaving all the other work for other guitarists. On this one we have Yocke taking the wheel and giving a different flavor to this unit’s rock edge. It doesn’t sound like your usual Marginal#4‘s guitar work but it still is catchy, energetic, enriching the overall sound. But with all these changes – be it in the guitars or even in the vocal track with the unit singing way too much as a “unit”, having little solo parts in comparison with previous singles – of course the track’s quality suffered and “Red Hot Saga“, didn’t live up to the high expectations set by the previous singles. It’s entertaining but a bit dull, repetitive and lacks some enthusiasm, especially taking into account that this track was designed to be featured as a opening theme for a game. Weak compared with most of their previous tracks but not that big of a setback in the single. 4/5
07. SUPERNOVA-I’m HEADLINER!!!!-
Naozumi Takahashi and Toshiki Masuda headline this rocking track, a complete turn of events in comparison with the previous track. This is the first pair track in this single and what a way to kick off this pair tracks! Something that really goes well in a rock track are piercing vocals and aggressive guitar riffs and this one has it all. On the vocal side it’s a tough track to perform with lots of English and fast changes between the verses, adding to this there are small increases and decreases in speed that make this track all the more to perform but Toshiki Masuda and Naozumi Takahashi fair incredibly well in their performance, managing to make everything sound right from start to finish. On the instrumental track, the song could have been more addictive. The speedy aggressive guitar riffs alongside the unstoppable drums and fierce bass make for the lack of synths, turning out to be way more exciting and engaging than the previous track. Still, it lacked something really new or relevant to make this track take a big step towards a perfect 5. 4.5/5
KENN and Yuto Suzuki kick off one of the best tracks in “Red Hot Saga” ‘s single and also in this album, what would be best called as one of the best rock ballads presented to us by this fabulous seiyuu unit. Only by taking a good look into the instrumental piece we find a track that has as its main engine, the bass. A bass line like this one makes any bass lover grin like a manic in self satisfaction. It’s a completely well outlined bassline giving an incredibly big amount of depth to the track, ensuring a solid base for the rest of the instruments to join in. The guitar work is also on the same level as the bass work, delivering aggressive guitar riffs, on the other side the drums don’t resort to any tricks and play it simple making this formula the best so far in any Marginal#4 track. These aren’t noisy, splashy drums, these are drums played with care, making each and every small change in the tempo sound assertive and fun to listen to. To add the final touches to this instrumental, we have the piano and synths giving an extra bit of sweetness to the track and enriching the slowest parts in the track that put the guitars, bass and drums completely away, making room for a flawless vocally emotional showdown where the piano and synths fit the best. The vocal track is on a completely different level. There’s something about this particular match up – KENN, Yuto Suzuki – that always makes me think that they’ll be up for some good performance and so far I haven’t failed predicting this. This track features two amazing voices, two singers that perform their best when presented either sweet tracks, pending more for ballads, or those riskier, seductive ones. This track fits the first description completely well and, as expected, their performance is simply mesmerizing. If there’s something better than your typical emotional pop-rock ballad, it’s when the singers perform the track with an incredible amount of emotion, giving the right amount of sadness but also the sweetness needed for this kind of track succeed. If they weren’t melodic singers, this kind of performance would have been impossible to turn out so well. Overall it’s a well structured track that doesn’t fail to impress. 5/5
Now it’s time for the proper, classic ballad in this single, “My First Love“. Once again we have the whole gang together ready to deliver a chillingly beautiful performance. This is already well known terrain for Marginal#4 that so far have performed a multitude of ballads, ranging from the rockiest ones (like the previous track), to the most emotional, stripped of any aggressiveness ones.
The instrumental track is led by the acoustic guitar, the strings and the piano giving the perfect background for an emotional track with flawlessly sweet lyrics. It’s a beautiful love declaration without a doubt, and the perfect story tellers are ready to deliver each verse as blow to our emotions. Their gentleness handling the verses is unprecedented, making this track, something without comparison to any of their tracks. It might be a close fight for their best ballad especially since their breathtaking もう涙を隠さないで made a lot of people run for some tissues but this one really wins in the end. A simple instrumental always works the best with ballads, especially because you’ve stripped the track out of the electric guitars, in consequence leaving a lot of room to showcase the vocal performance without being overwhelmed by the instrumental piece.
The vocal track is outer worldly performed with a depth and precision that few have, just pay attention to the track, especially to the backing vocals where there are so many high notes performed as if the whole unit consisted of angels. It’s that beautiful of a performance that deserves as much attention as the main vocal track. As previously said in one of our Marginal#4 reviews, this seiyuu unit has some pretty unique traits that really make them unrivaled: be it for the impressive lineup of experienced mid-toned singers or for their versatility and control of their emotions, making them able of switching between the hyper fun tracks to the overly emotional, sad, sweet ones, they have it all. Adding to this mix please also add their looks. These are 4 voices to die for and four names to remember: Naozumi Takahashi, KENN, Toshiki Masuda and Yuto Suzuki, four brilliant stars in the seiyuu music business. The goosebumps that they managed to give to most of the listeners with this performance go beyond anything normal, all singers sound on top of their game in this performance and they really deserve props for it. “My First Love” is, hands down, the best piece that we can take from this single. Leaving a hint here: this track seriously needs to be performed live. 5/5
“Bingo!!!!” is a mid-tempo pop track that puts away the heavy guitars and aggressive drums that have graced us throughout the many releases the unit has made so far. It’s obviously milder, keeping a good pace and not rushing things but at the same time is nothing out of the ordinary – both vocally or instrumentally -, this is a track that goes in the same way as “Red Hot Saga” – a lot of hype but a track that eventually fails to impress. Mild as well as the interest that it strikes on the listener. Not a bad track but not memorable at all. 4/5
Well, here it is a duo that often brings us original sounds and unexpected tracks. Kicking off with Toshiki Masuda and Yuto Suzuki rapping this track simply lacks emotion – with other words – it lacks the addictiveness that really marked their tracks: “Galaxyliner” is a good example of how great this duo could perform but ZIG★ZAG simply sounds like it was a bad choice for this pair. It’s plain, like not enough effort was put into it and the vocal performances suffered alongside the weak instrumental piece. Putting that aside the instrumental gets some interesting parts here and there but it really goes out of the box in the outro where, while the guitar is on its solo we’re presented with retro synths to complete the overall feel of the track. This duo certainly is always presented with a lot of originality behind but this time that originality was what almost killed the track. 3.5/5
Vocal powerhouses Naozumi Takahashi and KENN gather once again to perform. We all remember how great “O/Z” sounded and we expected that, on their second time pairing up for a track, they’d show us a great time.
純白(しろ)い恋人 (White lover) is probably one of the best tracks on “Bingo!!!!“, this is a song that lets both singers shine on their own ways and without that much cheesiness – there’s still some cheesiness in here but it’s overwhelmed by the quality of the vocal performances – or overwhelming instrumental to distract the listener. KENN and Naozumi Takahashi sound great in this track with both of them putting into good use their vocal traits – Naozumi‘s high and low notes, plus the gentleness in his singing and KENN‘s pin point vocal precision alongside his kind of seductive way to sing – plus their not so secret weapons – their vibratos -, all of this together turned out to be interesting, giving us the first opportunity to say “this is a good song” while listening to “Bingo!!!!“. 4.5/5
13. Missing you(2014)
“Missing you” wins the award of “Best song in “Bingo!!!!” ” and that is because we were lacking the melodic vocal performances in which this unit excels and the simpler instrumentals where we can listen everyone clearly. The instrumental sounds better in comparison with the previous tracks resorting to a beautiful piano and strings alongside some castanets to make this sweet and emotional track the highlight it turned out to be in the end. The vocal performances are of top tier with some pretty moments throughout the track and some mesmerizing bits – provided by the unit’s ability to hit high notes while sounding cool at same time. Highlight in this single and the perfect way to finish their 2014. 4.5/5
14. Rock★Scissors★Paper Go!!!!
To conclude this trip through Marginal#4‘s 2014 music repertoire, we find the last new track. Rock★Scissors★Paper Go!!!! brings us a new, danceable approach to Marginal#4‘s music. Although it sounds incredibly good at the get-go, the initial synths sound just like the Japanese release of “Blue World” by K-Pop royalty Super Junior – why bring something that has nothing to do with Marginal#4? Well just listen to both intros into their songs. Those are identical – the tempo might have changed in Rock★Scissors★Paper Go!!!! – with the synths being slightly faster on this version – but both sound similar in the beginning (only there). Coincidences aside, this track shows Marginal#4 turning towards a more danceable sound, away from the heavier pop-rock tracks or their slow, emotional ballads. Still this track brings some original MG#4 elements like the trademark guitar solos that never fail to bring something new to the table. It’s an entertaining track that doesn’t bring that much challenge to the vocal performances, putting the focus in the mid-tempo beat and fun performance. It’s interesting? Yes, of course. Different? Yes. Memorable? Not that much. 4/5
The unit certainly has grown a lot in the past year, the only problem might be the slight decreases in quality starting of from “Red Hot Saga” back in September. That release sounded more banal, with nothing interesting to offer – except for some minor nice surprises in some tracks – but what really blew Marginal#4‘s golden year away was the poor “Bingo!!!!“, a sorry excuse for good/interesting music. It failed its purpose and dropped our expectations regarding future releases, luckily enough the two new tracks 恋のAKQJ10(ロイヤルフラッシュ)! and Rock★Scissors★Paper Go!!!! kind of pick up the unit and put them on the right track once again.
But this Best Of pretty much goes downhill starting with the black hole titled “ZIG★ZAG“. There’s no way that mess of track can sound better than when it was in the single because this album overall is incredibly strong – but yeah, this is a Best Of so this track had to come along. Putting that aside the unit had its fair share of great, addictive music: CHU CHU LUV ▼ SCANDAL and キミとFARAWAY are the first ones to shine in this album respectively as the best danceable track and the best ballad in this release.
“Star Cluster 2” sums up a year that turned out to be a roller coaster for Marginal#4. But it seems that besides what we call a “slump”, the unit picked itself up and is finally advancing towards their initial destination. That detour with the singles “Red Hot Saga” and “Bingo!!!!” it’s best to remember as being a time where neither MIKOTO nor Daisuke Iwasaki had any fresh ideas and decided to bombard us with overproduced tracks with all over the place instrumentals and lacking lyrics. The vocal performances suffered along with it and suddenly everyone was sounding awful, lacking – which teach us a lesson – bad instrumentals can really reflect later in the vocal performance. It seems that managing the lyrics and instrumentals for two units at the same time took a toll on them and the overall quality of one of them suffered for the other to sound stellar. Can we mention that there is a third unit on its way: Unicorn Jr.? It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this, once golden duo, is going to fare with multiple releases at the same time. On the other side 2015 seems to be a fresh year for Marginal#4. Lets hope they can keep the momentum gained with the new tracks on this album.
“Star Cluster 2” is available for purchase on CDJAPAN for all overseas fans.