back number built a reputation for its sentimental love songs, but it could get playful, too. The seventh studio album from the trio strikes a balance between swelling, string-laden romantic ballads and relaxed rock inclusions. HUMOR (2023) finds back number turning to a full orchestra to further elevate its songs of devotion and despondence, but at other times, catches the act keeping it simple and letting guitarist Iyori Shimizu, bassist Kazuya Kojima, and drummer Hisashi Kurihara take total control. As the 2020s began, back number established itself as a premier rock ballad group in Japan. HUMOR found the outfit continuing to flex this strength, calling on an orchestra to add extra propulsion via string sections on songs such as “Secret Kiss” and “I Love You.” Despite a grander soundscape playing out behind back number, Shimizu’s lyrics continue to zoom in on the smaller, more granular details of relationships. Slow-burning tunes capture protagonists weighing heavy emotions in parks and outside train-station bakeries, adding more depth to back number’s work. HUMOR, however, pairs the familiar emotional fireworks of back number’s art with livelier rock songs capturing a simplified approach. Bright synth bursts add new color to the upbeat skip of “Phantom thief,” while back number dash ahead on speedy display “Soine chance wa totsuzen ni.” The trio nods to its early years navigating small rock venues via the fuzzy chug of “Emerald,” while getting downright silly on “Hero Suit,” a string-accented uptempo creation set in the world of costumed Japanese superhero TV shows. Clearly, even love-song maestros need to explore other topics, too.

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