Various Artists

Ai no Uta 2

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The follow-up to a massively successful compilation of love songs (Ai no Uta translates to "Songs of Love"), the production crew at Universal Japan upped the ante for melodrama on this one. The various singers here hail primarily from the J-Urban end of the spectrum (with overwrought R&B vocals and swooning string arrangements over light urban-rain beats), or from more a energetic pop arena. Hitmakers like Thelma Aoyama and A.I. contribute particularly safe and lilting pieces that showcase elements of their vocal abilities well. Hyper-energetic pop outfits with hip-hop influences such as the Funky Monkey Babys and Greeeen contribute major hits from other albums, primarily in slightly lower tempos than their signatures, but that fit both the bill of being a love song and the bill of showcasing their unique call and response, melody and chorus interchanges. Tossed in between the two standard formats, though, are some pieces both intriguing and off-putting. Intriguing is carried by slightly folk-based groups like crazily off-key shout-and-response from Chara. And theoretically, it's all based around the theme of love. The album is a fair way to get a read on contemporary light pop out of Japan, though it deliberately focuses heavily on one or two subgenres within the pop realm. There's plenty more exciting music out there in the same genres, but for a basic modern torch compilation, Ai no Uta 2 covers the bases.