Blue: Tears from the Sky

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Their first album without previous group leader Atsushi (from the supergroup Exile), the R&B quartet's Blue: Tears from the Sky made a statement that the newly formed group was not to be dismissed as a set of replacements. Strongly moving the group toward a Western R&B sound, the group experiments with Philadelphia soul sounds influenced by groups like Boyz II Men (indeed, a major highlight on Blue is an outstanding a cappella rendition of "End of the Road"). Not only does the quartet break away from the standard Japanese pop idioms in their choice of compositions and basic style, but they go further. Whereas most Japanese pop singers perform songs largely as an instrument -- without overdoing the emotional component beyond the lyrics -- the boys of Colör go the extra mile to add in emotion. They strive for the point where the music is a delivery vehicle for emotional intent rather than emotion being a storyline for the music. Again, this is not unlike the Western R&B format. Moreover, the band can actually pull it off. Deftly switching from Japanese to English as the song demands, the quartet harmonizes like few groups can in general, and in particular far beyond the usual fare from the highly engineered J-pop boy bands. Individually, the interplay of vocals is strong , and when they move into four-part harmonies, the focus shifts immediately to the exceptional vocal talent. Though most of the songs are strong entries, the a cappella moments (such as "End of the Road") are the real standouts here, placing more focus on the harmonizing abilities of the group, and moreover providing an extremely refreshing break from the more glittery backdrop of manufactured J-pop.