Mariko Takahashi

No Reason/Otoko Gokoro

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No Reason/Otoko Gokoro is not an original album, but a set of covers spanning almost half a century of music by male Japanese performers, replayed here by a person ultimately qualified to do this job: Mariko Takahashi has been around the J-pop scene for almost four decades herself -- and began her career as a cover artist. She handles the business well, making No Reason a highly pleasant slice of Japanese adult contemporary pop; granted, the date stamp doesn't matter much for this type of music, but the album is still mildly versatile, at least from a technical point of view (emotion-wise, it's sweet and soft all the way). Some songs draw on French chanson -- not exactly typical for J-pop, which tends to look up to Anglo-Saxons -- but in fact this is a perfectly logical thing, given how pop culture in both France in Japan values sentimentality. Still, exercises in Joe Dassin/Mireille Mathieu crooning are mixed with soft pop songs that evoke Barbra Streisand or Chris de Burgh (in a female interpretation, obviously), and a handful of upbeat tunes prevents No Reason from being a strictly nighttime listen -- those songs are nothing if not spry, although in a retro way, fitted with elements of plastic ‘80s teen hits or early Euro-disco. But although the album veers between lounge jazz, Cold War pop, and the Carpenters' legacy, it still sounds integral -- partly because of Takahashi's voice, which is not very varied, but strong and convincing throughout, most of all thanks to the impeccable arrangements, from strings and pianos to fiddles and an accordion, which underscore the selling points of the songs, smooth out the rough edges (a couple of choruses are "restaurant music" in a derogatory sense, although the track selection is mostly well done), and negate the stylistic differences, making No Reason a worthwhile pick for those into mature, if safe, music.

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