Fight the Blues
Flavor of Life – Ballad Version –
Gentle Beast Interlude
Prisoner of Love
Boku wa Kuma
Flavor of Life (bonus track)
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.
Heart Station is Utada Hikaru’s 5th album, released on March 19th, 2008. It reached #1 on Oricon and has sold 982 874 copies, making it her second album not to reach the platinum mark.
Opening the album is the powerful Fight the Blues, with obvious hints of synth there and the trademark Utada Hikura moans a little bit everywhere. I have a lot of love and hate relationships with the songs on this album, and this song starts it off. On one hand, Fight the Blues has a fresh feeling and does feel like “fighting the blues” because of the beats in the back; on another hand, I found this song to be relatively repetitive and eventually boring.
Heart Station (single originally released on February 20th, 2008) was a great single. Definitely not her greatest ever, but the repetitive music is, for the first time in my life, I’m going to say this, nice. The ambient of this song is relaxing, and her singing equally so. The verses are pleasant, and the chorus was kind of surprisingly low-key, but not necessarily in a bad way. The vocals are kind of strained—she’s obviously not meant to be singing really high notes—, but at the limit, I’ll let it pass, just because it’s my first Hikaru Utada song and also spawned my love for J-Pop.
Next comes the epic Beautiful World (single originally released on August 29th, 2007), which is probably the most memorable of her Heart Station era singles. The vocals are a lot more relaxed, but also a lot more articulate, slower, and that would probably make my rating of this song higher than that of Heart Station, even though I prefer the latter. The chorus was very catchy, even though it didn’t stick out that much from the rest of the song.
I don’t get the fuss about Flavor of Life. I really don’t. Why it’s the most downloaded digital single of 2007 makes me question the public’s taste. But to the point. The Ballad Version of Flavor of Life (released on February 28th, 2007 along with the original version) was unquestionably better, and far more suitable, more dramatic, than the original. This is a song about her divorce, it shouldn’t be a fast-paced pop song. Because this version stresses the strings a lot more, in particular the “crying” strings, it really makes the drama stand out more than in the original.
Why she puts five singles in a row, I don’t know. I just know that at least they seem vaguely consistent. Stay Gold (single originally released on February 20th, 2008, along with Heart Station as a double A-Side) is more on the cute side, and makes for a stark contrast between it and Flavor of Life. It’s another synth-inspired track, but the addition of a piano in the back makes this song softer.
Kiss & Cry (single originally released on August 29th, 2007, along with Beautiful World) is a really powerful but bland song. Really, there’s not much to the song except for the fast vocals which make this song catchy in the slightest bit. This might sound harsh, but no wonder Utada’s sales have dropped, this song really sucks. It’s trying to be fun and serious at the same time, but it obviously can’t make it.
The Gentle Beast Interlude is a 1 minute 13 seconds-long interlude featuring Utada moaning and little blurred clips from her other songs. It makes the transition between the singles and the album songs.
Celebrate is a dance-inspired song with strong disco elements. Certain moments sound like 70s music, but the rest is pretty urban. Like all the other songs on this album, it features element of electro-pop in the background, although luckily no vocal distortion.
Ah… the song that took us all away in a sweep, and one of the best album tracks I have ever heard, Prisoner of Love features dramatic vocals and powerful beats which seem to emphasize the drama rather than remove it, which is what they usually do. The chorus was absolutely fantastic, and the strings ensemble in the back was beautifully done. And since I’m at this song, I’ll take the time to say that I will not be reviewing the re-cut single because it features nothing new, except for the “Quiet Version”, which I didn’t really like. Let’s stick to the original, shall we?
Take 5 took me off-guard. I was expecting something in the style of Celebrate and Prisoner of Love, and then she makes this wonderfully catchy and slow track about death. And it stops, without warning, at 3:43, but that was definitely on purpose, to symbolize death. The vocal work was impressively well-done and the synth and thumping was great.
To represent life, after “Take 5” and death, comes Boku wa Kuma (I am a bear—single originally released November 22nd, 2006), the post-album let down of a children’s song. The ambience is enjoyable, the vocals are cute, and the lyrics are fun. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with song. But, I’ll repeat it: it’s a child song, and it’s not meant to be a children’s song. Come on…
Nijiiro Bus (rainbow-colored bus) is an urban experience which really reminds me of Traveling. What it is is Prisoner of Love without the drama, a slightly faster pace and more fun vocals. “Everybody feels the same” is one of those great lines, even though I don’t see what it means in the context. It makes for a good ending to a pretty neat album.
Flavor of Life is the “bonus”, which is the only way to acceptably place this song on the album, because it wouldn’t really fit anywhere. I’ve already said everything I wanted to say about it above, so that’ll be it.
Heart Station was actually kind of a let-down after Ultra Blue. It lacks the glory, the power and the great music that was on Ultra Blue. As usual, it features great vocals and absolutely fantastic lyrics, but the album just lacks that particular excellence that was contained in Ultra Blue and Deep River. She’s not progressing very well recently, perhaps emotional stress from her divorce, but that should create even better songs. Instead, she produced the wonderfully shaky and unstable Flavor of Life, and singles which used even more synth than on certain Ultra Blue songs, a step down, if you ask me, from the style of pop that she masters. Or mastered. Frankly, this is the Viva la Vida of Utada Hikaru—not bad, just her worst in a while. I was expecting a lot more for her tenth anniversary. Let dropping sales be a warning to you, Utada!