Archive for the 'Utada Hikaru' Category

Utada: Come Back to Me

Come Back to Me, Utada1. Come Back to Me

Come Back to Me is Utada’s fourth English single, released on February 9th, 2009. It reached #28 on Billboard’s Japan Hot 100 Singles.

If you were looking for a catapult ride back to First Love, Come Back to Me is exactly that. The only difference is that I actually like this song. I’m not one to like R&B, but I absolutely love this song. Utada bias? Perhaps. But I am definitely fond of this song. It may the most mainstream song Utada ever wrote, it may be nothing quite like Easy Breezy, Exodus ’04 and You make me want to be a man, it remains better than half of the songs on EXODUS. I’m surprised it failed to chart, but with the only promotion being her MySpace site, things are clearer. Although she may have better chance than with her previous English album if she continues with this type of song. Come Back to Me is a mellow R&B ballad that jumps out of a classical piano piece played both at the beginning and at ending. The lyrics are substandard for Utada Hikaru, but I guess they’ll do for an American-style song. All this song needs is more exposure, and I’m sure it would’ve been really popular.

Utada Hikaru: Heart Station

Fight the Blues

Heart Station

Beautiful World

Flavor of Life – Ballad Version –

Stay Gold

Gentle Beast Interlude

Celebrate

Prisoner of Love

Take 5

Boku wa Kuma

Nijiiro Bus

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!

Utada Hikaru: Heart Station/Stay Gold

1. Heart Station

2. Stay Gold

Heart Station/Stay Gold is Utada Hikaru’s twentieth single, released on February 20th, 2008. It reached #3 on Oricon and has sold 76 762 copies, making it one of, if not the, lowest-selling single by Utada Hikaru.

Being the song that made me into a harcore J-Pop fan, I have an emotional attachment with Heart Station, also being the song that gave me 100 at karaoke. The repetitive beats, as in Chinese classical music, aids to make this song extremely catchy; but it still relies on powerful beats and synth. On the other hand, the vocals are nice, somewhat forced at certain points, but nice.

Stay Gold is more on the cute side, with a piano forming the spine of the music. It’s not great, but it’s an acceptable A-Side, with less tense vocal work and, as a result, a far less tense melody, a more “lie back and relax” melody.

Utada Hikaru: Beautiful World/Kiss & Cry

1. Beautiful World

2. Kiss & Cry

3. Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) – 2007 Mix –

Beautiful World/Kiss & Cry is Utada Hikaru’s nineteenth single, released on August 29th, 2007. It reached #2 on Oricon and has sold 235 050 copies. Beautiful World was used as the theme song for the first or four Rebuild of Evangelion movies (which, by the way, I really want to see when, if, they come out in North America).

Beautiful World is epic, but not as epic as the stuff on Ultra Blue. Here again, the song relies highly on the thumping beats and synth bleeps in the back to give it form, which I think she should drop the moment she gets the chance, and go back to Utada Hikaru from 2003-2005. The chorus is actually quite disappointing, but it’s hard to make it better than pretty good verses.

What is this?! Kiss & Cry is absolutely tasteless for Utada, and a massive disappointment. Not only does it rely so much on beats that that’s pretty much the only thing this song is composed of, but it also features rap-style vocals, and I hate, despise, wish that it burns in hell, rap.

At least there is one saving grace preventing me from giving this single only three stars because of Kiss & Cry, and that would be the pleasant surprise by the name of Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) – 2007 Mix –. Back when she released Wait & See – Risk -, she had a version which was used in the original series of Neon Genesis Evangelion as one of the twenty-six different versions of the same song put at the end of each episode (sounds crazy, but it’s actually quite awesome what came out). Anyway, this song is pretty nice, and an improvement over the original.

Utada Hikaru: Flavor of Life

1. Flavor of Life

2. Flavor of Life – Ballad Version –

3. Flavor of Life – Antidote Mix –

Flavor of Life is Utada Hikaru’s eighteenth single, released on February 28th, 2007. It reached #1 on Oricon and has sold 650 027 copies.

Flavor of Life is nothing special. I love Utada, but this is just not the old her. A song about her divorce sounded good (sounds mean, doesn’t it?) for a moment, but then this? No, this is not the Utada Hikaru I like to listen to. First of all, what’s with the fast pace which seems like the vocals can’t even keep with? This is (supposed to be) a sad song! Then there’s the synth. A “synth ballad”: that’s new, and really awful, as a matter of fact. So let’s skip to the next track…

The Ballad Version of Flavor of Life is much, much better. It features strings, typical ballad instruments, and a slower, better pace as well as more suitable vocals. No wonder this version was used for the PV, not the original. Otherwise, this is still nothing much to look at.

The Antidote Mix is the better version, with more flavor to it (oh, an unintentional pun). It’s not exactly as suitable as the Ballad Version, but I’ll let it pass since this is a really nice mix.

Utada Hikaru: Boku wa Kuma

1. Boku wa Kuma

Boku wa Kuma is Utada Hikaru’s seventeenth single, released on November 22nd, 2006. It reached #4 on Oricon and has sold 141 041 copies.

You know someone’s popular when they release a children’s song and it reached not only #4 on Oricon but also sells over 100 000 copies (that’s 100 000 really, really, really hardcore Utada fans). I won’t drag on with my review for this single: it’s a children’s song, and it took her three months to make. The lyrics and vocals are fun, and it’s sort of catchy, but… Nothing impressive, except for the sales and ranking, and I hope she releases real singles in the future.

Utada Hikaru: Ultra Blue

Ultra Blue, Utada Hikaru

This is Love

Keep Tryin’

Blue

Nichiyo no Asa

Making Love

Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro

Colors

One Night Magic, feat. Yamada Masashi

Kairo

Wings

Be My Last

Eclipse (Interlude)

Passion

*****

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.

*****

Ultra Blue is Utada Hikaru’s fourth studio album, released on June 14th, 2006. It has sold 905 049 copies and reached #1 on the Oricon charts.

This is Love, a song released as a radio single to promote Ultra Blue, is my favorite of the new songs, and is a great way to introduce the album. It doesn’t really reflect what comes later, but still. I really liked the speed of the song, and I liked when the song tuned down for a while. The lyrics are pretty good, too.

Since we’re into the fast beat of This is Love, Keep Tryin’ (single originally released on February 22nd, 2006), my all-time favorite song, seems to fit perfectly. The moderately explosive beginning, after a slow synth prologue which remains in the background for most of the song, really caught me. I liked the ups and downs of the song (the first verse is very joyous and second is slower, more depressed), which fit with the lyrics, demonstrating the ups and downs of life. I didn’t particularly like the ending, but it’s OK; my favorite part of the song isn’t the music, but the lyrics. One of the elements of taste in music is my dislike of typical love song lyrics, because they’ve become cheesy over time. But Keep Tryin’ is a song about life, and that, no matter how many times you may be pushed down, you must keep tryin’!

Next up is Blue, which is slower than Keep Tryin’ but still stays in the same style as the two preceding tracks, as we make our way down to Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro. I liked Blue like an average song, which is to say that it’s nothing exceptional. The end was kind of fuzzy and I didn’t really that.

Nichiyo no Asa (Sunday morning) isn’t a good song, in every respects. For those who like rap, this might be a good song because it relies almost solely on powerful background beats, but I don’t.

Making Love, which isn’t about “making love”, but about separation, is an interesting and beautiful song, although it doesn’t brag about it. My favorite part was the chorus, with beautiful vocals on Utada’s part.

Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro (single originally released on April 21st, 2004) is second only to Final Distance when it comes to ballads. It’s a moving song, linked to Making Love by its lyrical content, with vocals which express the desperation and sadness of the song.

Colors (single originally released on January 29th, 2003) is the oldest of the Ultra Blue era songs, released three years before the album, separated by the rest due to the release of English album, Exodus (which will be reviewed later). Colors is slow and fast at the same time, which made it very attractive to me. Some have called this song dull, but I persist to think that this song is one of Utada’s greatest.

One Night Magic, feat. Yamada Masashi is one of my least favorite songs on the album. Although Yamada Masashi’s voice does fit with Utada’s, I didn’t like the actual song.

Kairo (sea road) is something else. (Note that it should be pronounced kai-ro, and not ka-iro; the second one would mean “flame color” or many other things.) It takes a while for it to pick up, and it almost immediately stops again, but the vocals are just plain gorgeous.

Wings (originally the B-Side on Keep Tryin’) isn’t really all that great a song. It’s a relaxing song, but there’s something about it, perhaps all the “la la la la…” and the beat that comes in after a minute or so.

Be My Last (single originally released on September 28th, 2005) is an acoustic ballad which fits into the theme of Ultra Blue, with the opening lines asking her mother why we destroy that which we have made. It’s got a lot of non-lyrical lines and repetition, but those lines were the best in the album. Toward the end, it becomes kind of repetitive, but it doesn’t prevent this song from being fabulous.

Eclipse (Interlude)… what can I say? I don’t like interludes very much, so I won’t say anything particular about it. Well, it does manage to introduce Passion from the strongly contrasting Be My Last.

Passion (single originally released on December 14th, 2005) opens with a few seconds of slow music, then a guitar is added, and then the song so-to-say “explodes” (don’t turn the music high because you can’t hear the first few lines very well). The song’s sound reflects its name: it’s a powerful song about something which can be very powerful. After a lot of listens, I’ve kind of my interest in it, but I’m still going to give it a good rating.

Ultra Blue, although it was Hikaru’s first album not to reach the million-line in sales, is definitely her best album, including her best singles. Her album songs are a lot better than those from Deep River. I didn’t like the Heart Station era singles quite as much, especially not the massive fuss about “Flavor of Life”, and I hope she turns back. Needless to say, Ultra Blue is not a “happy” album; it conveys, to me, the feeling of “alright, you might’ve just hit rock bottom, but there’s always the possibility to climb back up”/”down looking up”. One last thing: if you have the time, go an look at the music video of Keep Tryin’, because I find it to be the best of Kiriya Kazuaki’s music videos (for those who shouldn’t know who he is, he was Utada’s husband to the time, and, as a movie director, he directed his former wife’s music videos, creating stuff that North American stars will never get—you hear that, Coldplay?!).