Vickeblanka – Fearless

4 out of 5

Label: Avex Trax

Produced by: (?)

The perfect stepping stone between the honed, relentlessly catchy pop of Slave of Love and the stylistic skip-stepping of Wizard, Vickeblanka’s first full length (after three years of three mini albums!) only missteps with some questionable sequencing and, oddly, the inclusion of one of Vicke’s best tracks – the Queen-tribute title track from that previous release.

Leading into that, though, we get a similarly imaginatively kooky intro track before a slew of amazing singles make good on all the promise that’s led to this point: all boybandyness is gone, and layered, lush piano pop takes us up through nearly 2/3rds of the disc.  Hints of the experimentation Vicke would use on Wizard are here, but they’re more seamlessly integrated with his style, from the 80s-sprinkled electronics on Stray Cat to the pop-rap of Broken, with all of these tracks being utter highlights that automatically get stuck in yer head and demand repeats, except there’s the next song to get excited about…

While Vicke does include some slower tracks (Postman; さよならに来ました), the emphasis is still very much on memorable tunes and the lushness of Vicke’s singing over piano and guitar and drums and etc.  But, perhaps as a buffer to the irrepressibly catchy Slave of Love, which reappears here, tracks 9 and 10 (幸せのアーチ, Like A Movie) are a bit more minimal and, unfortunately, simple.  They’re expertly performed, and good songs in and of themselves, just not really standouts.  Mixed in early on the album, they probably could work, but back to back it’s a sudden slowdown in the rush of the disc, and it then makes Slave’s inclusion stick out.  I totally get giving the song its due, but it doesn’t sound “right” here.  (Not that it doesn’t make me smile when it plays, regardless of the context…)  The song is thankfully backed up by another great track, closer Thunderbolt, which has a joyous and celebratory feel to it that makes for a good conclusion.