Archive for the 'Ai Otsuka' Category

Ai Otsuka: LOVE LETTER

LOVE LETTER, Ai Otsuka

LOVE LETTER

Rocket Sneaker

Bye-Bye

Kurage, Nagareboshi

Ningyo

Kimi Fetch

Creamy & Spicy

Do☆Positive

360°

Shachihata

One x Time

Pocket

Ai

*****

Songs in bold are previously released singles. Songs in blue (with a link) have already been reviewed. Those songs will, however, be reviewed in context of the album once more.

*****

LOVE LETTER is Ai Otsuka’s fifth studio album, released on December 17th, 2008.

Opening the album is the title track itself, LOVE LETTER, and her first ever title track. I thought it was pretty daring to put the title track, that special highlight usually put in the middle or at the end of the album, but this song wasn’t all that good, so it’s good to get over it right away. Because this album is so eclectic, it doesn’t really set the mood, but it does serve as a decent introductory track that I liked enough to want to listen to the rest of the album.

Another daring act is putting a really hyped-up song like Rocket Sneaker after a soft and relatively dull song like LOVE LETTER. It doesn’t sound bad, it just sort of shocked me she would place this particular track after the title track. On a more positive side, though, I have thoroughly changed my opinion of this song, and have come to like it.

I have to admit that the flow is giving me trouble already at the third track. Although the transition from Rocket Sneaker to Bye-Bye was better, it’s still a pretty different track. Otherwise, I think this is a nice acoustic-guitar based, somewhat Ikimono Gakari-like track, and I actually liked Ai’s really weird voice.

Kurage, Nagareboshi (jellyfish, shooting star) is still my favorite single of this era. Although I was very disappointed by the few changes they made, because the vocals aren’t quite as good and the song is slightly sped up. Otherwise, I really like the soft music and then the sweet chorus, and this is one of Ai’s best vocal performances, much like in songs like Planetarium and Kingyo Hanabi (goldfish fireworks).

Here is where the flow gets better: Ningyo (doll) is a song very similar to the previous track, although the chorus features some very powerful vocals, even more powerful than I thought Ai could reach. I really like the strings and Ai’s dramatic performance. It’s like a more dramatic rendition of Kurage, Nagareboshi.

Kimi Fetch (you, fetch!) is a far less cute song than the title may let you believe. It’s a mellow song based on a gentle drum and acoustic guitars. The verses lack a particular appeal, but I found the chorus to be particular entrancing and very relaxing. Although I would’ve preferred to hear more ballads like Ningyo, this is a welcome addition to the album.

Just when it was getting good, Ai returns to her usual cuteness with Creamy & Spicy. But perhaps I got off on the wrong foot; this isn’t all as bad as certain of her tracks where she sounds horrible, but it’s half way there.

Do☆Positive (positive degree) jumps right back into that horrible cuteness schtick she’s had going for her ever since her debut. The only reason this song was chosen as one of three promotional tracks was to satisfy the fans of her obnoxious nasal-ness, which I loathe. One positive thing though: the flow is almost perfect after the four initial tracks at this point.

The next track is by far the best of this album. 360° (sanbyaku rokujyuu do), a song about the controversies of love and life, features a really great piano and some addicting beats with an almost echoing voice and gives this song a unique feel compared to the rest of the album. The only thing one could hate about this song is the constant repetition of kanransha, merry-go-round (ferris wheel, merry-go-round), but even that is part of the very essence of this song, which is a repetition of the same verses and chorus, both musically and vocally, for just under five minutes.

Although it’s an enjoyable track, Shachihata is bizarre in two ways: firstly, and most obviously, it’s not sung by Ai. Secondly, it’s out of nowhere, and destroys the flow which the album had maintained until the last track. It’s a gentle lounge-type track featuring a brass section, a saxophone notably, and a jazz piano. The vocals, dabadada, go on for the first two minutes, and then disappear for a minute, before suddenly continuing. Indeed a bizarre track. But not too bad in the end.

One x Time is the next track, and has many common points with the previous track, having a (half) lounge-sound. Along with its companion A-Side, Rocket Sneaker, I have come to like it a lot more, in part because singles sound a lot better in the context of an album.

Pocket is still one of my favorite ballads, although it sounds a lot like Kurage, Nagareboshi,to the point where not only the structure is the same, but also the dynamic level and the notes, almost. Remains that I really like this song.

Pocket sort of got us ready for the final track, the charming Ai (love), our final track. It’s a pretty long song, but it maintained my interest for all of that time. It’s a cute ballad about, like most of the songs on this album, life and love. This song also has a gorgeous vocal performance on Ai’s part (yes, it’s a self-titled song of sorts). A suitable end to her LOVE LETTER.

I can see why most people won’t like LOVE LETTER. It’s confusing, some of the songs are somewhat boring, and Ai’s nasal voice destroys some of them. And I’d have to say I agree. But I was still pretty impressed by this album, and I think it’s better than both LOVE PIECE and LOVE COOK. It’s a pretty sincere album, and at the limit the only really cute song was Do☆Positive. The very presence of only one song as such was a massive redeeming quality for this album. The really big problem this album is the flow, and the album is divided into three parts by it: the first four tracks are completely different; then comes the coordinated part, with different types of songs but an appropriate flow; and finally, the ballad section, which was the best part. Had the flow been better, this album would’ve been better.

Ai Otsuka: Kurage, Nagareboshi

1. Kurage, Nagareboshi

2. H2O

3. Ame no Tsubu, Waltz – Love Music –

Kurage, Nagareboshi is Ai Otsuka’s eighteenth single, released on September 10th, 2008. It reached #4 on Oricon, and has sold 39 901 copies so far. It was released as a celebration of Otsuka’s fifth anniversary in the music industry.

Kurage, Nagareboshi (Jellyfish, Shooting Star) is a soft ballad commemorating the end of summer. It opens with a piano piece and minimal strings in the background. I absolutely loved Ai Otsuka’s voice on this song, even though it’s never grown on me. The beginning gave me the wrong idea about the song, since the strings in the background were absolutely fantastic. Yet another great end-of-summer ballad!

H2O is more rock-oriented than the A-Side. It has a cowboy-ish feeling to it, and I didn’t really like Ai Otsuka’s voice on this song too much, but it was enjoyable, cute, and a good coupling song for this single. But that’s pretty much all this song has to it. AI: GET OUT OF ROCK, NOW. YOU AND YOUR VOICE AREN’T AT ALL SUITED TO IT!!!!!

Ame no Tsubu, Waltz – Love Music – (rain drop, waltz – love music -) is another ballad which follows the same model as Kurage, Nagareboshi (soft piano almost alone, and then comes the addition of other instruments). I think this is a remake, but I can’t confirm that since I haven’t heard her earlier albums yet. Ame no Tsubu was a beautiful ballad, which perhaps symbolizes the beginning of Autumn.

Ai Otsuka: Rocket Sneaker/One x Time

1. Rocket Sneaker

2. One x Time

Rocket Sneaker/One x Time is Ai Otsuka’s seventeenth single, released on May 21st, 2008. It reached #2 on Oricon and has sold 44 428 copies.

As I said in my review of Pocket, Ai shouldn’t venture into rock, and even though Rocket Sneaker doesn’t go into rock fully, it puts one foot into the genre, and that’s its main problem. Alright, the song is fun and uplifting, and the very name of the song evokes all that, but this song is just so… off. Ai Otsuka’s area is definitely ballads, and she should, kindly enough, please stay there. A massive step down from Pocket.

One x Time features a more attractive ensemble of instruments, notably strings, but stays as uplifting as the first A-Side. The vocals and the flat music during the verses was a big mistake, and the chorus isn’t enough to make up for it, because it isn’t much more outgoing. Too bad, actually.

Sora to Kujira (sky and space) was sooooo boring. I mean, fine, it’s a ballad-type song with pretty much nothing more than an acoustic guitar for the first half, but come on; after two really bad A-Sides can’t you produce a decent B-Side?!

Ai Otsuka: Pocket

1. Pocket

2. Ticket

3. Life – LOVE CiRCLE –

Pocket is Ai Otsuka’s sixteenth single, released on November 7th, 2007. It reached #4 on Oricon and has sold 61 350 copies.

Pocket is a warm winter ballad with a very nice vocal performance by Ai. Her voice is always a big problem for me, but she does very well on ballads, adding an element of cute to it. It isn’t the best ballad ever, but the chorus is very well-executed, and the guitar in the back was a nice addition. The sublime ending, with strictly the piano, was pretty much the perfect cherry on the cake.

I think Ticket is better than Pocket. It uses the same ensemble of instruments as Pocket, with the addition of a more funky guitar in the back, and a fantastic use of the strings in the back. It reminds me very much of Flow’s Days, which was my favorite song for a very, very long time. I’m a big sucker for funky, uplifting songs like this, so it obviously gets a great rating. The only problem with this song is that Ai Otsuka’s voice isn’t quite suited for this type of song.

Life – Love CiRCLE – nears rock with its predominant use of the guitar. It’s really a weird song and feels like it doesn’t fit at all on this single. But arrangement isn’t the big deal on singles. It was really hard to enjoy this song because I don’t think Ai should be venturing into rock with her voice.