[Album] Otsuka Ai – LOVE COOK

LOVE COOK is the third album released by Otsuka Ai. The album ended up being her most successful, peaking at number one and selling over 835,000 copies. All three of the singles were successful, with two peaking at number one and selling over 300,000 copies each.

lovecook
Released: December 14, 2005
1. 5:09am
2. Haneari Tamago (羽ありたまご; Winged Egg)
3. Biidama (ビー玉; Marble)
4. SMILY
5. U-Boat (U-ボート)
6. Neko ni Fuusen (ネコに風船; A Cat And A Balloon)
7. Cherish
8. Ramen 3-bun Cooking (ラーメン3分クッキング, Cooking 3-min. Ramen)
9. Tokyo Midnight (東京ミッドナイト)
10. Planetarium (プラネタリウム)
11. Birthday Song
12. LOVE MUSIC

5:09am opens the album and it does so in a really interesting way. It starts off really soft with some light synths and Otsuka’s voice before slowly getting some percussion. It’s quite gorgeous. Then halfway through it explodes and turns into a blaring pop/rock tune that has a flailing guitar, blasting synths and more emotional vocals before returning into its quiet self only thirty seconds after. It’s such an interesting track and it is phenomenal.

In my opinion, Otsuka Ai’s best songs are ballads. Haneari Tamago is just that and it really pulls in a lot of other styles she’s done before. This one has a bit of a country vibe to it with its light guitar and strings, but there is something absolutely touching about it all. The melody is so beautiful and Otsuka’s voice just resonates here. I would say this is my favourite of all her songs.

biidama

Biidama was released as the second A-side to the album’s first single and its a bright pop tune with some rock elements. It’s not as intense as some of her other pop tunes, but I feel like it doesn’t quite have the same energy. I do like the music and there’s a charm to it, but I feel like the melody isn’t as memorable, even though it is quite cute. Not bad, although it is my least favourite of the A-sides.

smily

SMILY was paired with Biidama in the first single and is the more exciting of the two. This kind of song calls back the sounds of Happy Days and Sakuranbo with its over-the-top pop/rock style. I don’t think it has the same charms as those two songs, but it’s still a fun song and I quite enjoy the main cuteness factor. It’s the perfect song for the summer season with its bright and carefree sound.

U-Boat is another fun and upbeat pop/rock song that is very similar to the last song. I don’t think Otsuka’s vocals are as grating, which is a plus, but the chorus just isn’t as catchy as the last song. It’s still a cute song and I love how it doesn’t really take itself seriously. The rocking guitars and bouncing percussion really creates an exciting sound.

nekonifuusen

I feel like out of all the singles, Neko ni Fuusen usually got the most flack, which I’m surprised about. Maybe it was because it was stuck between the massive successes of the first and third singles, but it is my favourite of the A-sides. It slows the album down a bit and we get an acoustically driven pop/rock tune. It’s absolutely charming and I love the chorus. Otsuka’s voice is really nice even if she goes a bit more on the “cute” scale and she pulls this song off really well.

Cherish was originally released on a tribute album for the manga, NANA. If you know anything about that film and anime series, then you know this song will have some powerful rock influences and it totally does. The chorus goes full on rock. It’s a pretty dark sounding song, but the verses are gentle and then everything just gets pumped up for the chorus where the heavy electric guitar and percussion come flying in. I wish the melody was a little stronger, but the overall song is great.

Ramen 3-bun Cooking is that one song on every Otsuka album…It’s a crazy tune and I’m not quite sure what to think about it. It’s a really fun song and has some really catchy parts to it, but I don’t think I can really revisit this song that much because it is just too messy and all over the place.

Tokyo Midnight is probably my least favourite song on the album up to this point. It is a fun pop tune with ska influences, which is usually something I enjoy. However, I just don’t find it particularly catchy and it just comes off as a bit forgettable in this album. It isn’t horrible and has a decent chorus, but it doesn’t stand out.

planetarium

Planetarium was released as the album’s final single and it was a huge hit due to its tie-in. Even without its tie-in, it’s a juggernaut of a song and is one of Otsuka’s best ballads. It reminds me a bit of Kingyo Hanabi with its slow build-up for the verses, but unlike that song, the chorus is definitely more powerful with its strong percussion, touches of guitar and flute. It’s really stunning and this is one of her best vocal performances as well.

I don’t quite know what to think of Birthday Song. It has some country-vibes to it, but it just doesn’t hit the mark. It’s not a bad song, just not that strong. The chorus is basically made up of “Happy Birthday to you”, which gets a bit jarring after a while and it isn’t particularly catchy. I feel like this song would have worked better if the chorus was changed up as the verses aren’t bad.

LOVE MUSIC ends the album on a slower note, but I think it’s the weakest of the ballads. It has a nice arrangement, but it sort of lacks a strong melody and the music just remains at this decent pace but doesn’t quite push anything. Of course, Otsuka’s voice is really charming, so she does work with what she’s got. The song does get a bit better as it goes on.


Overall: This album keeps up the quality that her other albums had, although I do find this one to be the weakest of the lot. There are some really amazing songs on here and they help carry the album, but there are some weaker ones as well. I feel like she tried to play around more with her sound, but it only worked in some areas. It’s still a pretty solid album.

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[Album] Otsuka Ai – LOVE JAM

LOVE JAM is Otsuka Ai’s second album. It features four singles, with three released prior to the album and another released later as a remixed re-cut. The album proved to be another success for the young artist and solidified her as one of the most popular artists of her time. It sold over 650,000 copies and peaked at number one.

lovejam
Released: November 17, 2004
1. Superman (スーパーマン)
2. Happy Days
3. Strawberry Jam
4. Daisuki da yo. (大好きだよ。; I Like You.)
5. Sensu (扇子; Fan)
6. Mousou Chop (妄想チョップ; Crazy Chop)
7. Ponpon (ポンポン)
8. Futatsuboshi Kinenbi (ふたつ星記念日; Two Stars Anniversary)
9. Kingyo Hanabi (金魚花火; Goldfish Fireworks)
10. Kuroge Wagyuu Joshio Tanyaki 735 Yen (黒毛和牛上塩タン焼735円; Black Grilled Cow’s Tongue, 735 Yen)
11. Friends (フレンズ)

Similar to her debut album, LOVE JAM opens with a fun pop/rock tune, Superman. I love the cool guitar riffs with the touch of siren in the back and the odd clapping. Otsuka’s voice is really rough here, but it works really nicely. The chorus is faster paced and has a catchy melody. It’s not as strong as pretty voice, but it’s definitely a solid and exciting opener.

happydays

Happy Days is Otsuka’s fourth overall single and the first from this album. It continues that bubblegum pop/rock sound but does so at an even more intense level. I love how they placed distorted her voice a lot to sound like it she is singing out of a megaphone. It shares a lot of similarities to the last song, but does it even better. The chorus is much catchier and the chanted “Happy Days!” really brings a pumping up element to the song. It’s fun!

Strawberry Jam is a big change as we are given something a bit jazzier. I actually really like the music in this song though as it has a smooth and cool vibe to it without making things too slow. The melody is definitely more pop though and while it does feel a bit out of place at times, it still works nicely with the bright arrangement. I quite like the carefree nature of the chorus. A solid title track.

daisukidayo

The second single of the album, Daisuki da yo., is one of my favourite songs from Otsuka. Bringing a heartbreaking piano ballad, the song starts off rather gentle, which works great with her sweet voice. However, it’s that sparkly chorus that brings in the beautiful string-focused instrumental and earworm melody that really bring the song to the next level. I also love the last minute of the song that mainly features a gorgeous guitar solo. Definitely one of her best songs.

Sensu is a midtempo pop/rock tune and a nice surprise. I usually love these hidden tunes from Otsuka and the music to this one is definitely great. The song reminds me of a follow-up to her first single, Momo no Hanabira, with its bouncy instrumental. It’s a bit bizarre in that it has some heavier percussion and bass tied with some strings, but it is still quite charming in its own way.

Every Otsuka album needs one weird song and this album has Mousou Chop. I sometimes don’t like these kind of songs as while it does fit with Otsuka’s image, it sort of breaks the flow of the album. Mousou Chop is a funky electropop/rock tune that has a weird arrangement with its more electronic verses and explosive rock chorus. It’s not particularly catchy and I feel like the song relies heavily on the weirdness and fun of the music. Not bad, just not a favourite.

Ponpon is explosive pop/rock but takes the level of Happy Days to an even higher level. It’s just a really fast-paced and crazy song that just tries to show how ridiculous it can be. The whole chorus is literally “pon pon pon”, which is funny and odd at the strange time. It has some fun ideas, but it’s just too much for me at times and tries to add too many things in.

Futatsuboshi Kinenbi brings a bossa nova vibe and is a fun addition. I quite like the music to this song as its quite bright and the type of sound to groove to. I do enjoy the chorus melody as it’s quite sweet and works really nice with Otsuka’s voice. I don’t think it totally fits the bounciness of the music, but it is still a really cute tune.

kingyohanabi

The third single from the album, Kingyo Hanabi, is my second favourite Otsuka Ai song. It is a dark ballad that focuses on the piano and synth droplets to give an ethereal and rather melancholic feel to the song. What I especially love is how amazing Otsuka sounds here and her voice totally fits this song to perfection. She does a great job of emoting and she really does well with the gradual added power the music brings each chorus. The ending of the song is especially wonderful where the music just flies with intensity. Stunning.

kurogewagyuu

Kuroge Wagyuu Joshio Tanyaki 735 Yen was later remixed and released as the album’s fourth single. The album version is slower in its tempo and not as strong in the pop/rock sound. It does have some energy with the steady arrangement, but its the catchy melody that is the highlight of the song. I do find this version to be the weaker of the two because it just works so much better with the powerful arrangement. It’s still a decent song on here.

Friends finishes the album on a gentle note. I really love when Otsuka does ballads as she has a knack for it and this is another stellar piece. It’s not that memorable at first as it sounds a lot like some of her other songs, but the chorus does change things up with a grander sound. I love how strong the percussion is and it works so well with the soaring strings. The melody is also gorgeous too. A great ending!


Overall: This is surprisingly an even stronger album than her debut. While this album seemed to adopt many similar elements that were featured on her first album, it felt like she was still able to execute something with its own charms. There were a few weaker tunes, but they did have some fun experimental aspects to them. However, the ballads on this album are absolutely phenomenal and they are certainly the strongest songs. I just wish there was a bit more variety in the upbeat tunes.

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[Album] Otsuka Ai – LOVE PUNCH

Otsuka Ai debuted under Avex Trax in 2003 and she was well known for her cute image, which matched her songs. Despite this, she is a talented songwriter. LOVE PUNCH is her first album and it featured three singles. The most successful, Sakuranbo, catapulted the young singer into stardom and cemented her as an up-and-rising new singer-songwriter.

lovepunch
Released: March 31, 2004
1. pretty voice
2. Momo no Hanabira (桃ノ花ビラ; Peach Petals) [MV]
3. Sakuranbo (さくらんぼ; Cherries) [MV]
4. GIRLY
5. Ame no Naka no Melody (雨の中のメロディー; Melody in the Rain)
6. Shabondama (しゃぼん玉; Soap Bubbles) [MV]
7. Ishikawa-Osaka Yuukoujouyaku (石川大阪友好条約; Ishikawa-Osaka Friendship Treaty)
8. Kataomoi Dial (片想いダイヤル; Unrequited Love Dial)
9. Honey♧ (ハニー♧)
10. Amaenbo (甘えんぼ; Spoiled Child) [MV]
11. Always Together

The album opens with pretty voice, an exciting pop/rock tune. Usually with Otsuka’s more upbeat music, she tends to go for a cuter style and this is exactly what we have. It has a funky bass line and lots of percussion, while the vocal delivery is definitely more sweet. While it can get a bit annoying in some songs, it really works well with this lighthearted song. A fun opening!

momonohanabira

Momo no Hanabira was Otsuka’s debut single and brings us a midtempo pop ballad. The melody is really charming here, especially during the chorus, which really highlights the more mature style of singing that Otsuka demonstrates on ballads. I really like more traditional Japanese touch as well, although I’m not entirely sure it blends as well as it could. Very charming.

sakuranbo

Sakuranbo was Otsuka’s breakthrough track and is an explosion of energy. When I first heard this song, I wasn’t too keen on it as Otsuka’s upbeat tunes can sometimes be a bit too much at times. However, I’ve definitely started to warm up to this one a lot and I’d probably say it’s the strongest song on the album. The melody is insanely catchy and the pop/rock arrangement tied works so well with Otsuka’s childish voice.

GIRLY continues that upbeat pop/rock sound, although not in such a explosive way. This one definitely much calmer. I do like that she tries to differentiate it by including a bit more brass, although I don’t think it is as strong as the last two upbeat tunes. The melody is still well-done, but it doesn’t come off as streamlined and catchy. The hooks are a bit weaker and I find Otsuka’s vocals definitely sound more harsh here. Still a quality tune.

Ame no Naka no Melody finally brings us down to a slower ballad. I do find Otsuka works best in these songs because her voice changes to fit the more mature style. I really enjoy the beautiful musical arrangement here as it really fits with the title. It’s a bit more lighthearted than I expected, but I do like the slight rock elements that pop up farther into the song. The melody is quite charming as well.

Shabondama continues the slowed down run. Like the last song, I really enjoy the arrangement because it fits the song title perfectly. It feels like the melody is floating on bubbles. It’s calming and has some fun synths that really help the arrangement come off more original. The melody itself is quite beautiful and Otsuka is really able to capture the emotion. Definitely one of her strongest ballads.

Otsuka always has a crazy song in her albums and Ishikawa-Osaka Friendship Treaty is the one on her. It’s really cute and has a more traditional arrangement to it, but brings some interesting twists with its ‘cheering’ verses. The choruses are more standard and are rather catchy. I do like the bouncy feel of the song and it’s just a very positive song. I think I could do without the verses though.

I absolutely love Kataomoi Dial though and I still think it is one of her strongest album tracks. It’s an upbeat pop tune with some rock and dance elements to it. I love how it is also a bit crazy, but the song is just so well-executed. The arrangement is explosive and full of energy. It has so many quirks from its brass instruments, to funky guitar refrain and spiraling robotic synths. The best part though is definitely that chorus melody, which is just so intoxicating. It’s so easy to get stuck in your head.

Honey♧ really matches its name with its slowed down and relaxing sound. Definitely the shortest song (clocking in at 2:16), it’s a calm pop tune which features the ukulele. I love how dreamy it sounds, although I don’t think the melody is as strong as it could be. Also, there is a really weird part that pops up in the second verse that sort of scares me at times. It’s a cute tune.

amaenbo

Amaenbo was released as the third single and is a charming piano ballad. At first, this song does get a bit forgotten, especially among her singles. However, when I listen to it, I remember how much I love it. The song has some rock elements that really allow the chorus to bring some energy. The melody is sweet and Otsuka’s mature vocals really sound wonderful. My favourite part is definitely the ending where things are amped up. The feeling is definitely very strong and exciting.

Always Together ends the album with another ballad. I like how she tries to set this one apart from the others by adding some R&B beats to it. I like the melody, but I’m not as sold on it as I am to some of the other ballads. Actually, the song sort of makes me think of a contemporary version of Amuro Namie’s Can You Celebrate. It has a bit of a nostalgic feel, but it’s executed quite well. Decent ending.


Overall: I would definitely say this is an excellent album. There are many strong songs on here and the overall production of it is high in quality. I do like how Otsuka generally sticks to two kinds of styles, but she tries to create variety within these two styles. Most of the songs are then able to stand out and I remember quite a lot of them. Strong debut album.

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