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A vinyl of Beni’s single “Ride on Time”, laid on a 2D texture of illustrated water.  The cover art features an illustration of Beni sat in an old shool Cadillac with her arm out the window and the door open; her feet hanging out in shallow water.

After the surprise release of her cover of Yasuha’s “Fly-Day Chinatown” in 2022, we then got a cover of Meiko Nakahara’s “Kimitachi Kiwi Papaya Mango Dane”. Followed by a cover of Naoko Gushima’s “Candy”. And now we have a cover of Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Ride On Time”.

Yep. Beni’s back on her covers shit again.

“Ride on Time” is considered a classic to many. But despite this, there’s no real pressure for Beni when it comes to covering it, because “Ride On Time” has been covered so many times over the years. City pop gal, the late Junko Ohashi had even covered it in 2009. But the thing with all of these “Ride on Time” covers, whether released by signed acts or YouTubers, is that they are all so safe to the point that there’s no one cover which really stands out in any way. And Beni’s is just another to add to the pile. So I’m sat here like ‘Why even bother to cover this?’.

I could honestly just end the review here, but let’s keep going.

Beni’s cover of “Ride on Time” is not bad. It’s just incredibly boring. Everything about this cover is so by numbers and void of feeling. It’s background music. It’s a ringtone. It’s just there. It’s fine. But there’s no real point or purpose to it creatively, because it is so void of creativity. No cover of a song is bound to having to sound the same as the original. Some people want to be respectful to the original, so they will keep everything the same. Some will keep the musical arrangement more-or-less the same, but will approach singing it differently, which greatly differentiates their versions from the originals (i.e Mariah Carey and “Without You” or Whitney Houston and “I Will Always Love You”). Some will say ‘Fuck it’ and transform the whole thing (i.e Crystal Kay and “I Love…”). And some like Beni will treat it like karaoke.

Beni has always been a pretty vanilla type of artist. But even so, Beni really did the work to find a lane for herself and in 2009 she succeeded in that. With the help of Daisuke Imai, Beni had a sound I could identify as being hers. To such a point that when Daisuke’s raggedy ass gave the sound to other acts, I’d point like Leonardo DiCaprio and say ‘That’s a Beni song!’. And during this period Beni gained greater confidence in her singing and gave herself licence to stopped being afraid to try for a note or try a run. But then there was this sudden shift where Beni seemed to lose sense of her musical identity, which funnily enough is the period at which she found success with cover albums. And ever since then, Beni has really struggled to find her way back to that place where her music felt like her own and she had a sense of who she was musically.

Covers can be a great way to find out what works for you. They can reveal a lot about your voice, the ways in which you interpret music and they also can reveal the arranger in you. But Beni isn’t using the opportunity to experiment or seek any answers when it comes to what her musical identity should be at this point of her life. She did a whole city pop themed cover album and fucked that up, so why am I even surprised? It’s just really unfortunate and disheartening to see, because Beni is talented. And this is what makes her cover of “Ride on Time” so disappointing, because I know she is so much better than this. This cover should have been a home run for her. And the foundations of a great cover and a great rendition are here. The arrangement is nice. Beni’s vocals are nice. But nothing about it pops and the whole thing is so void of feeling. Two of the most defining characteristics of the original. The whole song pops because of the arrangements and the way the musicians are playing. There’s longing and passion in Tatsuro’s voice. The whole thing feels like it’s alive. Beni’s version has NONE of these things going for it.

I mean, shit. Beni could have made a full version of the short a capella version of “Ride on Time” which featured on the original single release, backed with nothing but finger snaps and an orchestra. But this is too creative of a swing than Beni seems capable of at the moment.

“Candy” is the only cover Beni has put out where it managed to both capture the essence of the original, whilst reimagining it slightly. Beni not only found a song which suited her own style, but she bent the arrangement and production style of the original to meet it; which resulted in a really great cover that Beni took complete ownership of. And whilst Beni’s cover of “Fly-Day Chinatown” was safe as hell, she at the very least sounded great singing it.

I wonder what the point is in a cover such as this, because I can’t see what space it will occupy in pop culture or within Beni’s own discography, aside from it being just another cover. The version of the cover you like will purely be based on the preference you have for whomever is singing it. So in Beni’s case, her fans will probably like this cover, because it’s Beni. Which is fine. Except her cover is dusty. So if the fans aren’t even excited about this, then what are we even doing here aside from fulfilling a contractual obligation? The original version of the song is not available on streaming either. So Beni coulda been getting all of those streams, but nope. The astral projection of Namie Amuro is smiling with a cigarette hanging out the corner of her mouth, like ‘Yes girl. Give them nothing.’

Beni is so much better than a lot of the material she puts out. And it’s unfortunate that she’s tapping back into covers which did big things for her commercially and could still, even now, open up her audience more than an original single release. And yet she’s squandering her shots. “Ride on Time” is a classic song from an artist who has experienced a massive surge of popularity around the world over the past few years, thanks to the resurgence of city pop, in part because of Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love”. A song he produced. An artist of whom also happens to be his wife. So Beni has a real chance to not only let her fans know ‘Bitch. I’m back.’ But she had an opportunity to have Tatsuro Yamashita and city pop ride for her on the back of how amazing her “Ride on Time” cover was. But this isn’t what happened. She instead put out the driest cover possible, which neither her fans or Tatsu fans will care much about. And given Yamashita’s comments in regards to Johnny Kitagawa, it’s probably just as well her cover is so bland and easy to brush under a tatami mat. In this context, the song got the cover it deserved.

But I need Beni to put in more effort and stop phoning in covers like this. Because if you can’t even get up for some city pop, then girl, just stay sat down and don’t bother. And we know Beni can get up for some city pop, because of how good her cover of “Fly-Day Chinatown” was.

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Single Review: Beni – Ride on Time