ULTRA BLUE is the fourth Japanese album released by Utada Hikaru. It was her first album after her venture into the American market and her first Japanese studio album in four years. The album proved to be a hit, although it did sell significantly less than her past releases. It peaked at #1 on the Oricon charts and sold over 910,000 copies. Five singles were released prior to the album, with the earliest released in 2003. Every single peaked within the top five and three were number one hits.
Released: June 14, 2006
1. This Is Love
2. Keep Tryin’
4. Nichiyou no Asa (日曜の朝; Sunday Morning)
5. Making Love
6. Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro (誰かの願いが叶うころ; When Someone’s Wish Comes True)
8. One Night Magic
9. Kairo (海路; Sea Route)
11. Be My last
12. Eclipse (interlude)
The album opens with the promotional single, This Is Love, which is absolute great song. This pretty much shows the continuation of Utada’s sound since her last album with its synthed-up pop sound. The music is largely focused on synths with a fast-paced beat, but it’s everything tied with that dreamy, yet intense melody that just makes the whole song work. It sounds like a futuristic piece and it is absolutely great. What a way to start things off.
Popping in next is fifth single, Keep Tryin’. This one slows things down, but it still has the same dreamy pop sound with its focus on synths. I didn’t really get into this song that much before, but it has only been the last few years where I can see its appeal. The verses are pretty calming, but it soon builds things up in the pre-chorus. The opening line of the chorus is probably my favourite part of the song as it just has so much punch to it and it is really catchy. Another stellar tune.
BLUE is probably my favourite song on the album. It continues the sound of the last two songs, but brings a more dramatic tone. The verses are pretty gentle and focus more on the piano and Utada’s voice. However, the chorus is an absolute juggernaut and is effortlessly beautiful. The melody has so many dynamic points to it, where every line gradually builds more intense, which works wonderfully with Utada’s voice. I love this song.
I hadn’t listened to Nichiyou no Asa that much, but there are some really great qualities to it. It brings a bit of that older R&B vibe that Utada used to have, but tried to bring a few of her later sound’s elements into it. It’s actually a Christmas song, which is a bit of an odd surprise, but there are points in that with the bounciness of the piano. It’s a nice way to blend a usual holiday song with a general sound that is not as obviously Christmas. I can see myself listening to it more.
Making Love brings us back to that full-fledged ethereal pop sound and I’m pleasantly surprised. This is another song I didn’t pay much attention to, but it’s a pretty solid tune. It doesn’t quite have the same kind of power the other ones had, but there is a softness to the melody that I really love and that lends itself well to the sparkling music. There is a bit of an odd point in the second half of the song that sort ruins the flow, but the rest of the song is quite beautiful.
One of the album’s oldest songs comes in next. Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro is the album’s first full-fledged ballads and it focuses mostly on Utada, a piano and the strings. It sort of sticks out from the other songs on the album because it is more organic in its arrangement, but I think it is a crushingly beautiful song. There is a feeling of sadness that blankets over the whole song and it makes the melody even more emotional. Utada does a beautiful job bringing this feeling out.
The album’s first single and the oldest song on here makes an entry. COLORS is one of my favourite Utada songs and despite its older release date, its sound still works surprisingly well here as it has a more intense dreamy pop sound. The verses are pretty dynamic, but its the punch of the chorus that gets me every time. The music twists and turns in ways that lends itself so well to that intense melody.
One Night Magic features Yamada Masashi and starts off with an almost 80’s element to its music, but it soon builds into something more ethereal and slightly more latin. The song makes me think of ‘traveling’ from her last album. The chorus is a cool blend between different melodies that helps to create a swirling quality to the song and the build-up to it is a transition of different sounds and tempos. I think the song didn’t really need Yamada Masashi as he just does some repetitive hooks here and there, but this is a pretty cool song anyways.
Kairo is another ballad, but this time it fits more with the rest of the album. It has some traditional elements in the music that helps set it apart as well. That and the dramatic use of strings really gives a different kind of quality. It has a bit of an unorthodox structure, but I quite like that it brings something different. It’s still a pretty beautiful song. Not one I would really revisit often as it lacks a strong melody, but the arrangement is great.
The next song, WINGS, was originally released as the B-side to the album’s fifth single. I really love how this song starts off because the arrangement is quite beautiful and works with Utada’s singing. There are some R&B influences here and there in the song, which is a nice change up, especially once the first minute of the song passes. It’s a really calming song and while the chorus isn’t particularly catchy, it does a great job of creating a soothing mood.
Be My Last was released as the album’s third single and it brings something a little different with its more acoustically-focused arrangement. At first, I wasn’t quite sure about this song and while I do think it is the weakest of the singles, it is still a pretty solid song. The verses are boring, but once the intensity goes up for the chorus, I really start to enjoy it again. It’s a pretty melancholic song and Utada’s piercing vocals fit the song nicely.
Not quite sure if I enjoy Eclipse (Interlude) that much. It has a bit of a jazzier electronic sound, which is interesting but feels like a weird place to put it.
Passion was used as the theme song to Kingdom Hearts II and I think I like this one way more than its Predecessor, Hikari. It really intensifies that ethereal pop sound by bringing a whole different mix of sounds. There is a bit of rock and a bit of traditional tribal elements that help to make the song stand out. I would say the most intense point is that bridge which does a wonderful job of flowing right into the end of the song where things get to its best. Gorgeous ending.
Overall: This is probably my favourite Japanese album because I just love every song. Each song on here is something I would repeat again and there is just such a high-quality feeling about its whole delivery. The singles are phenomenal, but there are also some gorgeous album tracks. Not everything has the strongest melody, but there seems to be more focus in each of the songs and each songs tells a story. Phenomenal.