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Friday, Jan. 13, 2006


Ai Otsuka "Love Cook"

Good bubblegum pop is a bridge between childhood and teenagerdom. Based in a synthetic, brightly colored pre-teen world of nursery rhymes and cotton candy, it's also a metaphor for its audience's growing sexual maturity. When Ohio Express sang, "Yummy yummy yummy, I've got love in my tummy" we all knew what they were on about.

Similarly, when Ai Otsuka's second album, "Love Jam" (2004), featured her angelic face splattered with jam, the symbolism was not too carefully hidden. By definition a teen idol's audience is growing up quickly, and it's the death of her career if she doesn't grow up with them. "Love Cook" shows a more reflective looking Otsuka, and the dreamy opening of "5:09am" seems to confirm a more mature direction.

Avex Trax didn't become one of Japan's most successful record labels by radically altering the success formula, and the album has its fair share of perky powerpop with karaoke-friendly choruses like "U-Boat" and the frankly weird bubblegum jazz hip-hop of "Ramen 3pun Cooking." Of course, there are also the usual execrable Ayumi Hamasaki style ballads, which all start off slowly and build to a bombastic power surge, but then you can't cook an omelet without breaking some eggs.

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