[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.

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. 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. 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. 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. Kuroge Wagyuu Joshio Tanyaki 735 Yen was lated 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. 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.



[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.

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]
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! 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 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 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.