They’re so big in their native Japan that Fall Out Boy are supporting them on their upcoming tour. But you’d be forgiven for not having heard of ONE OK ROCK before now, as they’ve never earned as much attention from Western listeners as Babymetal or even Crossfaith. The game plan of new album Ambitions is to change that, and the hugely accessible FOB-esque pop rock that ONE OK ROCK trade in means they’ll probably be a far more lasting export of Japanese culture than Pokémon Go. Such is their desire to please that they’ve released a separate American version of the album with a distinctly different tracklisting to the Japanese edition, and it’s the American one we’ll be reviewing (so you’re spared any further mention of Avril Lavigne from here on in.)
As with most pop rock, the focus of Ambitions is on big vocal melodies that get stuck in your brain for hours on end. “Bombs Away” is as strong a start as you could hope for in that sense, singer Takahiro Moriuchi immediately demonstrating a knack for the slightly nasal arena rock singing style that so suits this genre. The focus for the entirety of the album’s length is so strongly on his performance that there’s little musically to grab onto aside from the odd ravey synth as pops up on “We Are”. You wouldn’t be at all surprised if this were an American radio band, though there are Japanese elements sprinkled here and there (“Bon Voyage”) to remind you of the band’s heritage.
Ambitions is chock full of catchy hooks and lean, to-the-point songwriting, but it comes drenched in more cheese than you could fit on a pizza the size of Shamu. The ballads are the worst offenders for this – “Hard to Love” and “Take What You Want” are sickeningly sugary sweet, the latter even roping in 5 Seconds of Summer to add bonus angst. You can almost here the tears of fangirls crashing down around you. A less conspicuous guest appearance comes from Alex Gaskarth on “Jaded”, whose brief vocal contribution is about as lasting as the random final few seconds of electro-trap tacked onto the end.
ONE OK ROCK fare far better when they’re going full party pop, as on “Bedroom Warfare”, the lost club banger that the last OneRepublic album was sorely missing. The easiest way to enjoy Ambitions is turn your brain off, tune out the ridiculous adolescent lyrics and let the huge choruses fill you with the feeling you could punch through walls. A lack of interesting instrumental canvasses (there isn’t really anything you could describe as a riff) drags things down at times, and the couplet of “Listen” and “One Way Ticket” adds little. If you’re looking for anything vaguely challenging or with real rock bite, this is not the album for you.
If on the other hand you’re in the mood for quick pop thrills, step inside. Ambitions is like a teen comedy – it’s not in any way clever or groundbreaking, but it’ll make you feel good and is a perfectly pleasant way to spend your time (the band even provide the music for the trailer in “Start Again”.) It’s basically American Beauty/American Psycho, but actually good. An effective microcosm of the whole album is 2017’s guilty pleasure anthem-in-waiting “American Girls”. The lyrics are very silly; it sounds like it was written by a 14 year old on a sugar high from eating too many Lucky Charms; it should really suck. But it’s actually great. As is the album it comes from.