Dream Alive

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Ultra-supergroup Arashi are at the forefront of the Japanese boy band craze, as engineered by the Johnny & Associates folks. On Dream Alive, Arashi stay in their comfort zone, using their individual stylistic elements toward a unified, highly harmonized whole. There are a couple of stray ballads and a couple of short instrumentals on Dream Alive, but the key to the sound is, as always, light and poppy works. The boys of Arashi don't disappoint on that element. The album opens with a slight circus instrumental (a surprisingly common element in live performances), then moves immediately into a high-energy dance track complete with brief harmonizing, rapping (courtesy of member Sho Sakurai, whose delivery sounds strangely like Falco despite the linguistic differences), and the echo of female fans screaming in the background. "Happiness," a strong summer-themed song, invokes some mainlined, concentrated "Walking on Sunshine"-style energy. Some more basic pop numbers flow easily from the quintet during the next few tracks, with stylistic accentuation by way of pass-the-mike methods and turn-taking among the members. The ballad "Sirius" provides a chance for the boys to show their requisite softer side, but connects fairly well -- nothing surprising or new, but a well-crafted bit of pop candy. There is more rapping in "Flashback," this time with a strong touch of worthwhile jazz riffs and Sakurai mixing a little bit of Gerardo's delivery in with the aforementioned Falco sound. Mixes of English and Japanese come out regularly, shown off with decent effect in "Dive into the Future." Again, more basic boy band material is paraded through its steps, all hitting its intended marks (female fans, many having grown up listening to Arashi), ending the album with a few tracks anchored by the strong dance single "Step and Go." Dream Alive is a decent album throughout, well-crafted and well-performed. The basic J-pop aesthetic won't fulfill the strongest desires for authentic emotion and songcraft, of course, but in the realm of J-pop there are few groups with a sound sweeter than that of Arashi. [One edition includes a bonus disc featuring solo tracks from each of the five members.]

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