Wednesday, September 2, 2015

[Album Review] ayumi hamasaki - A ONE

When you can't sell records, titties are always a solution! ;)

"While I was living overseas, I guess I realised that I really craved the subtleties and detail of the Japanese language. That feeling of 'I want to express it in Japanese' built up inside me and I started to write lyric after lyric. To be perfectly honest, it wasn't that I purposely sought out to make an album that sounded like the old me. It just happened."

ayumi hotmesssaki has somewhat admitted that she really is some kind of a mess. Secondly, I think we all wish Namie Amuro would "crave the subtleties and detail of the Japanese language" too, no?

A ONE is more or less yet another safe, #throwback #throwahoetotheback album as per her pattern since 2010's Love songs, followed by 2013's horrendous LOVE again. But thank god the use of the word "love" isn't in the pattern.

It's like ayumi hotmesssaki stirs a little shit up (Party Queen, Colours) before cowering back into her little corner to create something more subdued, more classic J-Pop. And this is why to many fans, A ONE comes across as a familiar record with little surprises.

Putting aside a Bell, a one-minute instrumental piano introduction – with no actual bells – that we can all agree is a waste of everybody's time, WARNING starts off the album on the right track – an explosively synthy, rock track with equally fierce lyrics; a sharp jab to the haters – very unlike Ayu, yet a very real situation over at Ayumi Hamasaki Sekai (You should've done this like that / You should've done that like this / I know I can count on you never being satisfied). Already established as a #throwahoetotheback album, it checks all the right boxes – cheap computerised instrumentation, likeness to similarly anthemic tracks like 2010's Lady Dynamite, adding an "i" behind all the "la la la"s, for God knows why. But as a long-time fan, this works for me. With real instrumentation in a live setting, this song will be amazing, as proven in her latest arena tour.

WARNING gives the best opening
expectation for A ONE – cheap
instrumentation but overall
It doesn't take a genius to figure that NO FUTURE is composed by Tetsuya Komuro, because you guessed it – horrific 300 B.C. synths! Like Like a doll given a makeover, NO FUTURE carries a heavy LOVEppears vibe with omnipresent synthy beats and melodious verses before Ayu starts whining like a banshee in the chorus – some can find this annoying, but I think it adds a nice touch to the emotion being displayed here. However, the key change after the last chorus comes as a nice surprise, although it only proves that she is never performing this song live.

After these two tracks come a long section of ballads – some hit the G-spot, some were yet another waste of time. But here's what's good – Last minute, very reminiscent of Memorial address musically, yet lyrically about being separated from herself rather than somebody else. You know who she should separate herself from, though? The person who mixed this track.

This song is amazing, make no mistake about that – the build-up is perfect, but it lacks a dynamic rock sound that's present in other songs in the album. It's amazing how something that seems so explosive can sound so incredibly flat on the ears. Plus, the back-up vocals are actually louder than the lead vocals. It's most distracting in the chorus where the "Oooooo"s completely snatch the attention. Whose dick did the mixer suck to get the job? But nonetheless, I tout this as one of the good songs because it really is a good song if you negate all the technicalities. Just listen to it live. That's when it's really done properly.

I fell in love with Out of control on first listen, and it's easily my favourite track off this record. It starts off calm and moody with a piano and string introduction accented with strums of the guitar, followed by the addition of some synths (or whatever those bloopy sounds were after the first few lines). Then the marching percussion comes in before heading full-on rock – now that's capturing the mood perfectly. There wouldn't be a better way to do this. Not to mention, everything sounds lush on the ears, unlike similar songs she's done before such as Letter and reminds me where they're mastered so poorly, they actually sound muffled.

Story is very similar in the structure and arrangement as well, but this time with a gentler, more forlorn delivery to it. I would say it's a "prettier" version of Out of control. If anything, Ayu could've toned down on her cutesy voice in this one a little. But nonetheless these two tracks go great together.

It might suffer from bad studio
mixing, but Last minute proves
to sound amazing live.
With a number of good ballads presented, it has its equal share of bad ones. Anything for You is one of them – clocking in at 7 minutes, the verses are very forgettable. The chorus, in turn, is memorable to me for being so melodically draggy. Just like NO FUTURE, it comes with a surprise key change at the end for a "happier-sounding" chorus, but doesn't change the fact that it's draggy as hell. Zutto... barely adds any value to the already-saturated basket of winter ballads in J-Pop. Ayu may have done plenty of those, but even if it were a song done by someone else, I would've glossed right over it as well.

The GIFT was composed by Singaporean JJ Lin as, well, a gift, to Ayu because they are apparently acquaintances now. I say acquaintances, and not BFFs, because nobody would give their best friend a throwaway demo dug out from his old Mac. And based on the fact that Ayu named the song this literally doesn't really help the situation. For some reason, Ayu sounds most like her real live voice here, which unfortunately also means that Ayu sounds the worst in the whole album here. Walk unofficially closes the album (because we all know it's an open secret Movin' on without you was never meant to be there) and my feelings towards it are the same as Zutto...'s. And stop it with the La-la-lais!!! I don't get it!!!!!!! Who even says that!!?!!?!!?!?!?!

The Show Must Go On is an interesting one. Yet another fierce, anthemic track but in a different light – this time, it's a song for her fans sticking by her (I was able to see them today too, your lovely smiles / I was able to hear them today, your lovely voices / No matter how much the times continue to change / There is one thing right here that'll never change / The show must go on!). Arrangement-wise, it's very snowy kiss – a fast-paced percussion beat and synth line gives a very tense atmosphere, but goes from 100 to 0 during the verses. Not a big fan of the contrast, but the chorus is really what gets me going, especially that big instrumental break after the chorus vocals where the beat goes double time, and with that bridge which is basically an extrapolation of that. Consider me slain at that part.

Fan-inspired The Show Must Go On
actually features 2 fans' vocals as a
result of a lottery. Nobody knows
where they can be heard, which makes
us wonder what's the fucking point.
Movin' on without you sticks out like a sore thumb because, well, IT DOESN'T EVEN GO HERE! It's a great track, but I'm not going to review it because I already have.  Basically, it's a hot EDM Utada Hikaru cover that made me bald when I first heard it. TeamAyu-exclusive Tell All (2015 mix) simply slows down the first half of the song with a piano and orchestra arrangement that gives a smoother build-up from the original, but the second half of the song is business as usual – a Mirrorcle World-esque, stomping electric guitar riff for pretty much the rest of the song. It's better than the original in that it's more varied and built-up arrangement-wise. You actually want to listen to the song all the way.

As many fans would agree, A ONE is a return to the usual hodgepodge of "ayumi hamasaki" songs – rock ballads, gaudy TK synths, explosive rock opener, J-Pop cheesy ballads. And this return is nothing new to us. As a whole album, A ONE is what LOVE again should've been, but that was 2 years ago. The long-time fans like myself will enjoy this for the nostalgia – this is THE ayumi hamasaki sound that we are fond of, that was what made us fall in love with her in the first place. But for the casual fan who's never heard of her work, this is going to come across as bland, dated, and a record one would be slightly embarrassed to be caught dead listening to. Nonetheless, it's a comprehensive retrospect on the sound Ayu is known for with a little something to offer to everyone, though this album is a fan service more than an artistic progression. But we already know that's what she's headed for now.

Listen to previews here.


Album highlights: WARNING, NO FUTURE, Last minute, Out of control, The Show Must Go On, Movin' on without you, Tell All (2015 mix)


  1. I hope you will post more often. Blogs writing about J-Pop are so rare nowadays :(

  2. I agree with most of the review! But I would say Anything for You is top tier ayu ballad! Really like the progression and her voice really tests its limits. But it isn't an instant favorite, I must admit only in 2k18 it actually clicked on me almost by accident (because I used to skip it all the time in 2015) and went to become my most played song this year xD


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