Posts Tagged 'Utada Hikaru'

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.

The Weekly Download

So you could call this an initiative to get more views. But today’s sink of under a hundred is sort of alarming (doubtlessly caused by the fact that my before-last review was five days ago), so I’ve decided to give this blog another little edge, called the weekly download. Go to the top of the post which is permanently on the front page of this blog, the “upcoming releases” post, and you’ll notice that there’s a download link. This is a download link which will be changed once every week, and will feature primarily underrated artists or hard-to-find singles, notably Nichika. This week’s is the Utada’s first English single since EXODUS, Come Back to Me. It’s quite different, more like a modern version of the stuff on First Love and Distance, but I like it. Before I review Gackt’s GHOST (out tomorrow, after a three-week period of no one releasing anything), I’m going to review it. Hope you enjoy the song as much as me!

Year in Review • Part Three: StyleJapan Picks

As much as I love making lists and preparing them graphically (well, WordPress doesn’t give me as many options as InDesign or Illustator), the chore of preparing the lists is an interesting yet time-consuming and annoying process, in particular this year, with all the stuff released this year. But here we go, the best singles and albums of the year:

Top 10 Singles of 2008

RED CLIFF - Shin Sen -, alan1. RED CLIFF – Shin, Sen – alan

#15 (Oricon weekly)

Not much of a shocker, I guess, considering I am an outspoken alan addict. I wasn’t an alan fan until Kaze no Tegami, but then RED CLIFF – Shin, Sen – came along and allowed me to appreciate her other singles. The title track is much more than just epic, it’s one of the most gorgeous ballads Japan has ever produced. And the B-Side, the orchestral version of her debut single, is almost just as good. Although I did protest against this song (and I haven’t changed my opinion), it’s an excellent song and a high-quality B-Side. Any track which is my favorite for almost four months is worth it.

watch the pv


Aijou, Nichika

2. Aijou Nichika

did not chart

This was a close call. While none of the songs needed improvement to be absolutely and utterly amazing, but I just didn’t get the same powerful feeling I get when I listen to RED CLIFF – Shin, Sen –. Nonetheless, Aijou is another step ahead for Nichika, and both songs are of the highest quality. I really enjoy the vibrant mesmerizing sound all of Nichika’s tracks are, and this song really drives that to an extreme. A must-hear for everyone.

watch the pv

 

Atarashii Mizu, Nichika

3. Atarashii Mizu Nichika

did not chart

Yes, Nichika gets two spots, and they’re successive. But I just can’t help it, this single is just so good. When I first heard it, it went straight into my “best of j-pop” playlist on iTunes and it has stayed there ever since. This song is excellent in all fields, melody, vocals, lyrics and even the PV is excellent (not eye-catching, but just very smart). This is another song that everyone should listen to, and it’s available on the internet, if that’s what you’re planning on downloading it.

watch the pv

 

romantic, Rie Fu4. romantic Rie fu

#100 (Oricon weekly)

This one can’t be much of a shocker either. Rie fu surprised everyone with this single, being pretty much the complete opposite to her conservative folk song style. But, nonetheless, she was able to perform excellently (all those who say she sounds bad on this song are crazy). A collaboration with m-flo’s producer didn’t sound good at first, but this single is definitely one of her best singles, and also worth the wait. Can’t wait for PRESENT, and it sounds like she’ll be working with the same producer.

watch the pv

 

Nexus 4/Shine, L'Arc-en-Ciel

5. Nexus 4/Shine L’Arc-en-Ciel

#2

This single is what got me back into them after listening to Lost Heaven and Link on eternal repeat for weeks, and it was quite the double A-Side. While Nexus 4 isn’t what L’Arc should be doing with their talent, Shine definitely is. This single showcased a complete overhaul of L’Arc’s more classical rock-like music. Their previous single, Drink it Down, was so dark that it wasn’t really a surprise for them to go with a lighter style of music for this one. I hope they fall out of that hiatus fast!

watch the pv for Nexus 4

watch the pv for Shine


PAPERMOON, Tommy heavenly66. PAPERMOON Tommy heavenly6

#10

This song is better than Nexus 4/Shine, but I gave that one the advantage because I liked it for a far longer time, and the B-Side was pretty bad. While PAPERMOON is a great song, I only loved it a lot for a few days before it became old. But I still think this song is really good and even better than the stuff she released for Heavy Starry Heavenly (maybe I’m Gonna SCREAM+ is better, but still). If you like rock in the least and still haven’t heard this song, shame on you.

watch the pv

 

TABOO, Koda Kumi7. TABOO Koda Kumi

#1

Insanely addctive, perfect, her best in a while, sexy, and provocative. Although I don’t think Kuu is worth much attention, this single definitely is. The PV was an internet phenomenon for a while, although I’m surprised all the ladies that felt offended about her comment in January weren’t offended by the regular (i.e. slutty) version of the PV. Ironic, no? But otherwise, this song really does kick some ass and I hope her next album delivers.

watch the pv

 

Atarashii Hibi, Every Little Thing

8. Atarashii Hibi/Ougon no Tsuki Every Little Thing

#10

Atarashii Hibi/Ougon no Tsuki may seem as a surprise, but both songs are so irresistibly catchy and happy that they had to get into the top 10 of 2008. I prefer Sakurabito and other Door era singles, but this single still remains one of my all-time favorites, and was the song that got me into them.

watch the pv

 

fairytale, Kalafina9. fairytale Kalafina

#9

While the B-Side being the A-Side annoys me, this is Kalafina’s best offering yet, featuring a latin choir music-inspired A-Side and a Chinese classical music-inspired B-Side. It differs from their two previous singles since it doesn’t feature prominent dance beats, but that’s all for the better. I just hope that they continue their work after Kara no Kyoukai is finished.

watch the pv

 

Winter Love Story, JYONGRI10. Winter Love Story Jyongri

#31

What I find great about this single is that all of the songs are on par. That may not necessarily be a good thing, but in this case, it is, since the B-Sides are just as good as the A-Side, perhaps even better. Winter Love Story was a nice R&B-inspired ballad, but the two ballad B-Sides were gorgeous. As I previously said, this is the best winter single of 2008.

watch the pv

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

WAKE YOU UP – Hitomi Shimatani

HEART STATION/STAY GOLD – Utada Hikaru

Jesus – Gackt

GREEN – Ayumi Hamasaki

WORLD END – FLOW

 

Top 10 Albums of 2008

Nichika, Nichika1. Nichika Nichika

failed to chart

One word: flawless. Another word: grandiose. It’s not for no reason that I gave Nichika’s self-titled debut not five but six stars: this album is the best album I’ve ever heard. There is a maintained flow even though each track offers a distinct flavor. But with all those great singles, what could you expect?

Sing to the Sky, Ayaka2. Sing to the Sky Ayaka

#2

It’s surprising this album only reached #2 when her debut, First Message, reached #1, considering this album is much better. While there are two or three tracks that may require improvement, this album was the best album for the year for me until I heard Nichika.

 

Van., Tomiko Van3. Van. Tomiko Van

#28

This was one of the pleasant surprises of the year, Tomiko Van’s first single-preceded album, which was long overdue, after those two cover albums (which I didn’t very much enjoy). 

 

 

Heart Station, Utada Hikaru4. HEART STATION Utada Hikaru

#1

I did criticize this album a lot when I reviewed it, but it remains one of my personal favorites of 2008. It does contain a lot of synth (too much, perhaps), but the other aspects of the songs are all perfect. This could’ve been the year’s top album, but something was missing.

 

GUILTY, Ayumi Hamasaki5. GUILTY Ayumi Hamasaki

#2

Her best, by far. GUILTY was the beginning of what perhaps could be called Ayumi Hamasaki’s most unproductive year, but that doesn’t make this album bad; quite to contrary. I like the epic feel of this album, the grunge, the sadness, and the power of it.

VOICE, Mika Nakashima

6. VOICE Mika Nakashima

#1

This was one breathtaking album, despite the fact that it was composed of, for the most part, pre-recorded songs. But with gorgeous album tracks like TRUST YOUR VOICE and Koe, you’ve got yourself one of Mika’s best albums yet.

 

Supreme Show, Ami Suzuki7. Supreme Show Ami Suzuki

#16

This was the techno album of the year, even better than Perfume’s GAME, I dare say. The album was diverse, interesting and techno goodness. I said that it doesn’t deserve “best album of 2008”, but it still deserves a place in this list.

 

 

LOVE LETTER, Ai Otsuka8. LOVE LETTER Ai Otsuka

#3

Another album that was released this year that is the artist’s best but didn’t make it to the habitual #1. LOVE LETTER struck me with the lack of cutesy Ai and the more mature themes and sounds. She should stick with this.

 

Flare, Shimatani Hitomi

9. Flare Hitomi Shimatani

#21

This one might get strong objection, but I do have to say that Flare has its charming points. Alright, so songs like Taiyou no Flare and Ame no Hi ni wa Ame no Naka wo (bla, bla, bla) are pretty weak, but I like a lot of the new songs.

 

NUDY SHOW!, Anna TsuchiyaNUDY SHOW! Anna Tsuchiya

Despite its weaknesses, NUDY SHOW! is another album whose charm won me over. There are a decent amount of weak tracks, but tracks like Style and GINGER brought some eccentric flavor which I really liked.

 

 

• • •

So that’s it! The 2008 reviews are finally finished. From now on, I’ll have a bunch of features and I’ll review GIRL NEXT DOOR’s self-titled debut, until Gackt’s GHOST comes out on the 21st. I’ll come back later when I get Adobe CS4 (I changed computers, and Adobe is smarter than I thought with installing the same program on two computers) to make these posts look a little bit better, but that may take some time. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed these posts. Here’s to a great 2008 and hoping that 2009 will serve us just as well!

 

 

Year in Review • Part Two: A Review of the Year

I have to say that 2008 was a great year for the Japanese music industry and the material released this year got better every day. If we can see just as much effort next year, I’d (well, we’d all) be very happy. And not only was the material great in quantity, but it was excellent in quality. “Rien ne sert de courir, il faut partir a point” (what meaning is there in running if one leaves late?) is a proverb that could very well apply to 2008. The first quarter was marked by the release of two albums by the two central pillars of J-Pop, Utada Hikaru and Ayumi Hamasaki, and both, while they had their flaws, were excellent material. I did express vivid aggressiveness when reviewing HEART STATION, but that was from a uniquely objective view. Although it doesn’t reach her two previous albums, Utada Hikaru did it again with her fifth album. On the other hand, GUILTY is by far Ayumi’s most unique and most excellent album so far, namely the only one by her that I can sit through. Both albums were unique and far different from anything the two had previously done (Utada Hikaru’s perhaps less considering ULTRA BLUE was ultra synth, but the tone of the album was very different to her two previous albums). Soon after GUILTY, Ayumi’s avex rival, Koda Kumi, released an album which I consider to be horrendous, but which was equally a statement: Kingdom. For although GUILTY was Ayumi’s best, it was her first to not reached #1 on Oricon. This was seen as an opportunity, most likely, to usurp the Empress of J-Pop by many of avex’s competing labels. Every Little Thing released their eighth album, Door, which was a tasteful ballad through their music, while providing some variety from what we previously heard from them.

2008 was equally the year for solo artists breaking away from well-established groups, regrouping and disbanding. HIGH AND MIGHTY COLOR, a decently established rock/punk/metal/rap band, broke up, releasing their final single, Remember, in October and drawing a line there. On a more positive sidenote, Kaori Mochida, Every Little Thing’s vocalist, while continuing her band activities, announced her going solo (her debut single, Ame no Waltz, is due late January), and Do As Infinity are, to my joy, regrouping and will be releasing a single in Spring. Urata Naoya of boy/girl band AAA also received a solo contract from avex, and L’Arc-en-Ciel lead singer formed a band with K.A.Z. (from the band Oblivion Dust), VAMPS, and they released their debut single, LOVE ADDICT, on July 2nd. Utada Hikaru’s debut in America is confirmed for spring or summer, with the airing of a song from her upcoming album in February. YUI announced a one-year-long hiatus, and L’Arc-en-Ciel is equally temporarily breaking up to return to their solo activities. This year was also one for anniversaries and celebrations. Artists debuting in 1998 and 2003 celebrated their tenth or fifth anniversary this year, and among them are Ayumi Hamasaki, Utada Hikaru and Ai Otsuka. Ayumi released two 10th anniversary singles, Utada Hikaru is expected to release two books, and Ai Otsuka released a 5th anniversary single as well as her most mature album so far. avex equally had reason to celebrate, since last year was its 20th anniversary, and a group was formed for that occasion, GIRL NEXT DOOR.

2008 was full of highlights, surprises, new bands, and just a whole lot better than 2007. Here’s to 2009 and hoping it’ll be just as good as this past year!

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: 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.