Seventh Ave

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While they bill themselves as a dance group rather than a pop group, the boys of W-inds are still firmly in the realm of the stereotypical Japanese boy band. The album opens with a piece of standard dance fare, careful horn riffs, and repetitive chorus lines aligning just so. With "Reloaded," though, we get a different angle -- the catchier, higher-energy dance track proper. A soft ballad or two, and we get an interesting little funky beat in "New Day." The vocal delivery stays much the same (the trio of vocalists alternately singing together and taking their individual turns to show off their distinct "personalities"), but the backdrop changes to influence the tone of the song. With just a bit of Lil Jon, "Urban Dance" could have been a sibling track to Usher's "Yeah," and "Rock It" keeps the energy and synths but slows the tempo down just a bit -- more insistent, less persuasive. There's a bit of a disco turn in "Love Is the Greatest Thing," and a return to pop proper before the end of the album. There isn't a lot of material here that could really persuade a new listener to turn to W-inds as a boy band of choice, even within the confines of the Japanese pop market. Longer-serving groups like SMAP have experience and more mature abilities. Groups like Arashi have more differentiation in their styles. Groups like Breakerz have stronger rock elements and more musical surprises. It all leaves Seventh Ave as the second-best in any category and the first in none.

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