*So* upbeat you might be turned off by the feel-good vibes!
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4 Oct 2017 - 9:44 AM  UPDATED 4 Oct 2017 - 9:44 AM

AAA have become one of Japan’s biggest pop groups by giving people exactly what they want. Which is the normal, predictable path to top-level stardom. You don’t headline the 2017 edition of the A-nation festival or instantly sell out nationwide tours by pushing the avant-garde forward. So the outfit’s newest single “LIFE” sounds like it should; positive and full of strings with a chorus designed for people to wave their hands back-and-forth.

Conflict only exists as a way to build to feel-good platitudes. It does its job, but also reveals some limitations that this approach inevitably brings:

All of “LIFE’s” most interesting musical twists happen early on. Although AAA have become huge because they know how to make sounds people want to hear, the group deserves credit for exploring unexpected styles across their career, even if just briefly. “LIFE” opens with marching band swagger, recalling outfits such as Sekai No Owari, but soon pivots to a house-worthy piano line that proves to be the song’s single best element. It runs throughout the song, but as the number goes on the group piles on more details, from violins to all-together-now singing come the chorus. Nothing ever gets too complex, it just stacks up into this busy bit of breezy radio fodder. When it strips it all back and lets a simple ecstasy through, it works best.

Lyrically, though, is where it feels like the song becomes an all-in, or out, proposition. It isn’t all bubbly optimism. The verses focus on someone going through a rough stretch, and the song could be looked at as one big pep talk, which is sweet. Yet it’s also tough to listen to the chorus, “la la la life is going on” and not wince a little bit at such generic feel-good-isms. Call me a cynic, or maybe blame a generally suffocating 2017, a year that has allowed for very little good news to sit in the spotlight for too long, but “LIFE” crosses the line between expected-optimism in pop into something that feels cold. AAA simply settling for something that sounds like what they imagine listeners want to hear. And that proves unsettling here.


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