Familiarity breeds distress

When Yaida Hitomi first debuted with her buoyant “heart rock”, she balanced the fickle demands of Japan’s pop audience with the more emotional and creative terrain staked out by the likes of Shiina Ringo and Cocco.

She wrote ear-catching, high-octane songs stamped with a individual identity.

But there’s nothing like familiarity to breed distress.

Yaida’s second album, Candlize, sharpened the pop instincts and watered down the rock exuberance of her debut. With album No. 3, I/Flancy, that exuberance is pretty much an after-thought.

Not that any of this matters to the Original Confidence charts — Yaida’s releases consistently top the charts, putting the singer between the proverbial rock and hard place.

I/Flancy shows Yaida has clearly chosen to maintain chart success at the expense of her creative growth.

She deviates not one bit from the template that’s brought her fame. She’s working with the same producers, she’s playing with the same band.

It’s a comfortable arrangement, and one that still yields something of a satisfactory listening experience.

Yaida still has a sharp ear for melody, as evident on “Mikansei no Melody”, “Ring my bell” and “Dizzy dive”, all of which were released on singles. In the past, Yaida’s singles were weaker than some of her album tracks.

“I really want to understand” and “I can fly” show influences of the recording sessions’ locale — in this case, Dublin, Ireland — to great effect. “I can fly” is probably one of the few Japanese pop song to incorporate Uillean pipes.

When Yaida punctuates the chorus of “Ashita kara no Tegami” with the English lyric “I don’t want to stay”, the heart in her heart rock really comes through.

But for all of the good songwriting on the album, it’s not enough to keep a listener familiar with Yaida’s work interested. Yaida has gone as far as she can go with Diamond Head, her backing band and production team since day one.

Her songwriting deserves new challenges, and I/Flancy just isn’t it.