I don’t know what the exact intentions behind this first album from Morning Musume members Ai Kago and Nozomi Tsuji were, outside of having them do some duo-oriented Showa-period kayokyoku classic hits, but I can tell you one thing they hadn’t counted on that this CD did – it got me even more interested in older Japanese pop music.
See, I knew of Pink Lady because of their short-lived American TV show and their “Kiss In The Dark” single, but I knew very little about what came in Japanese pop before Morning Musume, Whiteberry, Mai Kuraki, and Chihiro Onitsuka. The fifteen covers that Aibon and Nono did on this album – The Peanuts’s “Koi No Vacance” and “Passion Flower”, Pink Lady’s “Southpaw” and “Nagisa no Sinbad”, Amin’s “Matsu Wa”, Wink’s “Samishii Nettaigyo” – ended up being my introduction to all that.
In the months after this album became a frequent visitor to my CD player and a permanent resident in my iPod, I would find myself doing as much research as possible into the original artists that were represented and covered by Aibon and Nono here, to the point where I was buying anthologies from The Peanuts, Wink, and Amin as well as snagging mp3s of the original versions of other songs that W had covered from a LiveJournal trading community. When I got a turntable at the end of 2007, I found myself searching out Japanese vinyl on eBay, scoring albums from Akina Nakamori, Hiromi Iwasaki, and other kayokyoku icons as well as a slew of enka singles that put me on the path to the Japanese balladry known as enka.
That is not to say that Aibon and Nono’s performances on Duo U&U are lackluster – they aren’t. This album and the rest of their output as W remain their finest hours as vocalists, with their almost telepathic harmonies and a rapidly maturing range. These aren’t note-for-note copies of the originals – tempos get taken up a few notches throughout (W’s version of “Koi no Vacance” shows some serious punk influence compared to the original recording’s fox-trot tempo). and compared to the originals W and their in-studio collaborators took a few other liberties with the arrangements. If they hadn’t taken such an investment in these recordings, who is to say that I wouldn’t have been interested in checking out the original recordings in the first place?
By now, quite frankly, we should be on our sixth or seventh W album by now. But some of Ai Kago’s indiscrections just as their third album W3: Faithful was about to head for the mastering studio held up their collective careers considerably. A year after that, Kago would be released from her contract with Up Front Works, her agency since her Morning Musume days, for a similar indiscretion, while Tsuji would find herself becoming a premature Morning MILF several months after that. While Tsuji found some stability, Kago’s own life was full of ups and downs; even though she did record a pop-rock single in 2009 and a jazz album the year afterward, her personal life hit several potholes until, after a severe low point, she settled down and announced that she was going to be following her fellow ex-W into Morning Motherhood.