Utada Hikaru is one of the most well-known J-Pop artists worldwide, largely from the theme songs of the Kingdom Hearts series. In Japan though, she has been working up a storm since her debut days. Even though she currently on hiatus, she is still one of the most anticipated artists. I personally really enjoy Utada’s songs. She has a good idea of how to make expressive songs that cover a wide range of genres. First, I will be reviewing her debut album, which is the biggest selling album in Japan. Prior to the release of the album, there were 2 singles released, while one more was released after the album’s release.
Released: March 10, 1999
1. Automatic -Album Edit- [MV]
2. Movin’ on without you [MV]
3. In My Room
4. First Love [MV]
5. Amai Wana ~Paint It, Black (甘いワナ)
6. time will tell
7. Never Let Go
8. B&C -Album Version-
9. Another Chance
11. Give Me A Reason
12. Automatic -Johnny Vicious Remix-
First Love opens with the pounding Automatic, which was also Utada’s debut single. I really don’t know the difference between this version and the single version, but it doesn’t sound too different from my memory. This uptempo R&B jam is really amazing. The 90s beats are great and work with the mix of odd synths and keyboard chords. The vocal arrangement is also excellent for this song as the background vocals really help to give the song an extra punch, while Utada does a decent job of controlling her voice and exuding the right emotion into the song. The melody is insanely catchy and the lyrics are quite enjoyable, too. Everything just fits together so well. Movin’ on without you is a great follow-up as it continues the uptempo trend, bringing a disco influenced 90s dance tune out. The song is just as catchy as the other. I don’t think it is as explosive, as while I love the dashes of electric guitar and synths over the dance beat, I wish the chorus wasn’t as flat vocally. With that said, it is still a great song, but not as flawless as the last song. In My Room slows things down a bit with a midtempo R&B/pop song. I quite like this one, although it doesn’t have the stand out qualities of the first two songs and sounds similar to other songs one would hear from this time. I really liked its laid back feel and the chorus is quite charming. I enjoy the transition from the verses to the chorus’, as it is a little sudden but brings a much needed edge to the song. Not bad. Things really change with the first ballad and title track, First Love. Certainly a classic J-pop song, I would definitely say this is one of my favourite songs. Firstly, the lyrics are quite nice albeit a little cheesy at times, but they match well with the emotion in Utada’s voice. Also, the melody is quite gorgeous and flows very well. The musical arrangement isn’t spectacular, but it is simple and works well with the vocal placement and once the strings are brought in, it really gives the song some shine. Certainly, there are a few flaws here and there as Utada’s voice isn’t particularly strong here and she is unstable at times. Also, there are bits and pieces of the arrangement that sound very karaoke. But, it is a stellar song altogether. Amai Wana ~Paint It, Black brings us back to the uptempo sound. I really like this song and it is one of the stronger album tracks. It has funk, ska and pop all mixed into one and it is an exciting listen. I really enjoy the melody as well, since it is very catchy. My only gripe would be how overpowered the vocals get at times. Soon after, we flow into the second single, time will tell. I love this midtempo R&B pop song. It is laidback, but has a bouncy quality to it that keeps it from getting too boring (considering it is just over 5 minutes long). That and the very catchy chorus helps to keep it alive along with the cute lyrics. I also really like Utada’s vocals here as they have a sweet quality to them. Never Let Go slows things down again. It has a much darker quality to it compared to the previous songs. I want to like it, but this song just isn’t my cup of tea. Some things just don’t work together like the high-pitched vocals with the dark musical arrangement. Also, the annoying background wailing just makes the song sound strange. The first time I listened to B&C, I didn’t really enjoy it that much. Now, I like it more and I like the positive outlook the song expresses through the sound and lyrics. It’s definitely a bubbly pop song with cute high-pitched synths and the bouncy beat. There are times I don’t really enjoy Utada’s vocals, but it’s a good song. Another Chance is probably my favorite album track. I really enjoy the guitar in the background because it gives the song some funk. The vocal arrangement is decent, but I really do think it is the musical arrangement that gives the song life. This chorus is fine, but there are times when the verses do drag on for a long time because the melody is sung so flat. It’s a great song though and it definitely has the sad quality to it. The Interlude is just really short and is a weird addition to the album. It’s cute though and has a bit of a gospel feel to it, but just doesn’t fit. Give Me a Reason is a midtempo pop ballad. I really want to like this song, but it is just too long. It drags on and on and on and the melody doesn’t really work with this repetition. I really like the emotion in the song though and Utada really tries to bring it. The Johnny Vicious Remix of Automatic basically turns the charming R&B tune into a thumping dance beast. There are times where I like it, but there are also times where the melody just doesn’t fit well with the beats. I don’t quite understand why it was added at the end. Seems so out of place on the album.
Overall: I actually enjoyed this album. I think there are a few songs I wouldn’t revisit again, but the general quality is quite decent and the album is quite cohesive. Not too many strays (except the ending remix). There are certainly some classics on here and they are probably the most playable, but there are also a few gems. I do think the majority of the album tracks need some tweaking though as the execution just wasn’t as strong as the singles. I would definitely recommend tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9.