Winter of Love

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Less than a year out from their previous album (Face to Face), Japanese pop duo Chemistry returned with Winter of Love, a winter-themed album that moves them even further toward the R&B end of the spectrum. The album opens with a hint of what's to come this time around, large-scale a cappella harmonizing being the order of the day. If this is what the album indeed sounds like, the listener should be thrilled -- these boys actually do have the singing chops to pull off some outstanding work. However, the songs are indeed highly constructed pieces, straightforward R&B concoctions and balladry. Which isn't to say that they are necessarily bad, only that they don't live up to the promise laid out by the opening track. As the album progresses, the duo goes over new recordings of a handful of their older songs, and at one point at least go into some surprisingly good a cappella solfege (in "Christmas Eve"). When they drift into English lyrics, the delivery can go awry, but in general Winter of Love works better than some of Chemistry's previous albums. The songs largely stick to a ballad base (and often enough with a winter or Christmas bent) rather than spending too much time in the overwrought pop territory that brought Chemistry to the forefront in the first place. More importantly, though, with the preponderance of ballads, there's a greater focus on the vocals, which works in the band's favor. The boys can sing, but they appear to need something pressing them into service in order to do so at a higher level. The periodic jumps to more sparse a cappella sections on Winter of Love do just that. The constant use of church bells as an instrument may need to be tailed back a bit, but the band put together a solid album this time around.

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