If I Believe is the fourth album released by Kuraki Mai. Another success, the album peaked at #1 and sold over 440,000 copies. Four singles were released prior to the album, with all of them scoring within the top three on the Oricon charts.
Released: July 9, 2003
1. If I Believe
2. Time after Time ~Hana Mau Machi de~ (album version) (～花舞う街で～; In the Town of Dancing Flowers)
3. Kaze no Lalala (風のららら; Lalala of the Wind)
5. mi corazón
6. I don’t wanna lose you
7. Make my day ~album version~
9. Just A Little Bit
10. You are not the only one
11. Tonight, I feel close to you
Similarly to her previous albums, the title track opens the album. If I Believe is a pretty midtempo pop song that has similar vibes to her past albums. This is a bit disheartening, but the song does have some more contemporary sounds to it so it is better than the majority of the material on her last two albums. The verses are pretty nice, but the chorus just sort of springs out suddenly. It’s not particularly catchy, but it isn’t too bad. I do dislike the odd male background vocals that come in though as they just don’t fit. This isn’t the most exciting song, but it is still pretty decent.
The album’s second single comes in the form of Time after Time ~Hana Mau Machi de~ (album version) (#3 / 144,000), which is a pretty dramatic midtempo tune. This was one of the first songs I heard from Kuraki, so I have a bit of nostalgia listening to this one. It’s a pretty cool song with its more melancholic vibe. It is similar to her older ballads, but sped up a bit more, which really helps to propel the melody. It’s a pretty good song and it features one of Kuraki’s strongest vocal performances.
Kaze no Lalala (#3 / 96,000) starts off in the most cheesy way and I’m just not sure what to think of it. The verses are more ballad-like with there slower vibe and gentle build-up. However, the chorus has a bit of a blast of energy and turns into something more upbeat with its light dance-beat. I sort of wish it was a full-fledged ballad though. I do find the change interesting, but the chorus isn’t particularly catchy. Solid song, but the weakest of the four singles.
The third of the singles comes pounding in. Kiss (#3 / 112,000) is a great departure from Kuraki’s prior material in the sense that it feels much more contemporary and not chasing her previous albums’ sounds. It has a stronger acoustic focus at first, but soon focuses on a lighter dance/R&B sound. The verses have a lot of attitude are fun while the chorus’ brightness comes in with a strong melody. Definitely a highlight.
mi corazón is the first album track in a while and it is of course a Latin-inspired dance tune. I really love this change up and it’s nice to hear Kuraki finally experimenting with different sounds. I love the more sensual side of the song, especially during the verses. Her airy vocals fit perfectly here. The choruses are pretty empty and focus more on the arrangement and a few lines, but it’s still a pretty interesting change. A solid entry.
Originally released as a B-side to the album’s first single, I don’t wanna lose you is a hip-hop/R&B song. I’m not quite sure with this song because Kuraki sort of gets lost in the heavy beat, but her airy vocals do work nicely with R&B tunes. I just wish the song was stronger. The verses are a bit off and the chorus comes flying in with a brighter quality to it, but it just quite hit the spot. Not terrible, but a bit of a questionable entry.
Make my day ~album version~ (#2 / 108,000) was released as the album’s first single and it is a bit change for her as it has a little bit of heavy rock in its arrangement tied with dance and R&B. It has a lot of punch and it is probably the most aggressive song on the album, which is a nice change. I do like it’s energy and there are some pretty cool parts in the verses. The chorus’ melody isn’t as hard hitting and catchy as I want it to be, but it has its time.
I like that SAME changes things up again with its more experimental dance sound. It has a heavy beat and brings a bit of electropop and rock into it. It’s something I have never heard from Kuraki and that in itself is great. It sort of reminds me of something from Alanis Morisette, which I was not expecting. I don’t think it’s that catchy as the chorus is a bit repetitive, but the pre-chorus is really fun to hear and the change is welcomed.
Something more on the acoustic side of things is Just A Little Bit. This is a bit of a weird song because it has a more 90’s pop/rock arrangement to it. It’s not really my cup of tea though because it isn’t particularly memorable in its melody and focuses a lot more on the attitude it brings. It isn’t bad, but it sort of falls off in comparison to the last song.
The B-side to the third single comes sliding in with its fast-paced dance/pop sound. You are not the only one is another weird tune just because there are so many different sounds. I do like that the song is a bit on the faster side of things as it really brings some much needed punch. The chorus is this swirling mess with its flowing melody and tunnel-like synthed up arrangement. I do think it could be made stronger with a better arrangement, but it’s a good tune.
Tonight, I feel close to you is a song in English and a duet between Kuraki and Singaporean artist, Stefanie Sun. It’s a really interesting combination. Both of the girls have unique vocals and the arrangement really helps to bring something dreamy. I do feel like the girls get drowned out a bit though, as the music just seems so loud and their vocals are more on the thinner side. It’s a cool duet though and the chorus has some really nice points to it.
Overall: This her best album out of her first four. It isn’t an amazing album, but it is definitely a much needed entry. The first half of the album is much stronger, but the majority of the songs are pretty solid. The biggest problem I had with her last two albums was that she kept trying to replicate her first album, but she just couldn’t quite reach the same magic with some songs. Here, there are still traces of her older sound, but much more experimentation in the arrangements, which kept things exciting.