Ai Subeki Mirai e [Jacket C] [Japan Version]

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With the new and expanded massive lineup (since adding the J Soul Brothers into their lineup), Exile took to the studios for Aisubeki Mirai E, a move toward the more pop-oriented end of the spectrum from their previous R&B basis. The expansion of the group (to 14 members) means that the songs are taken in rotations -- varying sets of members perform each piece, and the results vary somewhat in accordance. The pieces with the core Exile members tend to be somewhat more R&B-based, though that distinction melts slowly away as the album progresses. The bulk of the album is still in ballads, which are performed well here, though somewhat less outstandingly than previous albums. There's less of a focus on sheer vocal harmonies -- most of that has gone to the spin-off group Color at this point. Instead, it's fairly standard fare. Basic contemporary urban beats and clicks with light, emotional singing over the top. It's a fine set, but nothing incredible. There are a few brighter points, such as the pop harmony of the single "Fireworks," but the set is uneven otherwise. A bonus disc includes a set of Christmas songs, which is truly where the Exile of old shines -- an a cappella version of "Silent Night" is excellent, as is the light acoustic "Holy Night" (not related). Less incredible, though high in kitsch value, is a cover of Wham's "Last Christmas." The primary album is basic modern Japanese pop, but the bonus contains all of the goodness that one might expect from a megagroup on the level of Exile.