DEEP RIVER brought in a change of sound to Utada’s music. While she did have the R&B elements of her earlier albums, it also gave a bit more variety. The singles were especially interesting as they added different elements that brought a more “futuristic” feature to her songs. While the album didn’t sell as much as her first two, it was still a major success, peaking at #1 and selling over 3,600,000 copies. There were four singles released prior to the album, with three being number one hits.
Released: June 19, 2002
1. SAKURA Drops (SAKURAドロップス)
3. Shiawase ni Narou (幸せになろう; Let’s Be Happy)
4. Deep River
6. Play Ball (プレイ・ボール)
7. Tokyo NIGHTS (東京NIGHTS)
9. Uso Mitai na I Love You (嘘みたいなI Love You; An Unbelievable “I Love You”)
10. FINAL DISTANCE
11. Bridge (Interlude)
12. Hikari (光; Light)
SAKURA Drops is the perfect opener. It’s still my favourite song by Utada and for good reason. It is absolutely stunning. It still has a few of the R&B elements underlying the song, but the general sound is one of ethereal synthed beauty. It has so many layers to it that it is really the kind of song that can paint a picture in my mind. The verses are pretty calming, but it’s that opening into the chorus that really gets the energy going and Utada’s vocals sound breathtaking. Gorgeous fourth single. traveling continues this futuristic kind of sound, but brings something a little more uptempo. It’s the type of song that is easy to sing along to, but like the last song, it has so many interesting layers to it. My favourite part of the song is the pre-chorus that sort of feels like you are going through a tunnel. The chorus is catchy and while the melody isn’t in your face, it does a good job of growing more intoxicating with each listen. Another great single. Shiawase ni Narou starts off as a gentle piano ballad. Once the chorus starts, the song brings in some stronger R&B elements and the song goes for a more dramatic take compared to the lighter verses. I think it is a really interesting combination, but I don’t think the song really reaches its max potential until the very end when English lines cross over with melody. Not bad. The title track, Deep River, comes flowing in right after. At this point, this is the slowest song, but it’s still a stunning tune and easily a standout tune on the album. It focuses on the guitar at first, but brings in more instruments as it goes on. The melody is beautiful and I love how the overall atmosphere of the song is one of peace. Utada’s vocal performance here is also one of my favourites from her as she sounds so emotional. Letters was the second A-side on the fourth single. Unlike its counterpart, SAKURA Drops, this song has a bit of a different flavour to it with its slight latin elements and gentler delivery. I love how full the musical arrangement sounds and there are so many small little quirks in the music that it keeps things interesting. The chorus adds some percussion and Utada is a bit overpowered by the music, but I actually think it’s a really clever way to play around with the sounds of the song. Another solid song. Play Ball brings back the R&B sound and has a darker edge to it. It reminds me of something from her last album, however, this is definitely on the stronger side of things. My only problem with the song is there is a very annoying, piercing bell-like noise that comes in during the prechorus that sort of ruins that part. Luckily, it disappears in the chorus. The melody has quite a few hooks, but they aren’t particularly standout. It’s still a pretty good album track though and does have some charming points. Tokyo NIGHTS is the weakest song for me up to this point. It’s not a bad song by any means, but I just feel like there is a disconnect between the melody and the music. I love the music and there are some really cool elements to it as it goes on a more contemporary mixed with classical style. The melody just isn’t that strong to me. It doesn’t really fit the energy of the music. I like the darker vibe of A.S.A.P. and it has some really interesting sounds that it plays with. I feel like the chorus is much stronger than the last song, but I feel like the beat sort of gets in the way of the song as it would have been better if the melody was pushed more to the forefront. The beat just overpowers everything and it gets a bit difficult to really hear the song itself. Uso Mitai na I Love You has the same chorus as Simple and Clean (the English theme to Kingdom Hearts). Of course the melody is changed just slightly, but it’s pretty obvious. The main difference between the song though is the rest of it. It has a very powerful rock thing going on that ties in with the R&B elements. I think it is an interesting combination, although I feel like the essential parts of the Simple and Clean melody that were changed are making the song miss something. FINAL DISTANCE is the “ballad” version of the title track from Utada’s second album and was the album’s first single. It is much more dramatic and brings a really interesting take on the already gorgeous melody. Especially when the chorus comes in and the strings enter and really give the song that extra boost, does the song bring that intensity. It’s emotional and beautiful and just shows that Utada has a knack for stunning ballads. Bridge (Interlude) is just what its name says. It’s actually quite beautiful with the floating synths and violin. Right after, things blast into the album’s third single and theme to Kingdom Hearts, Hikari. This song shows a bit of a difference from the other singles because of its stronger acoustic elements and airier atmosphere. It has a great melody that is among the most memorable on the album. I do feel like the song is really missing that extra punch in the chorus, maybe in the way that the song is edited, but it’s still a fun tune to sing along with and a strong ending.
Overall: This easily trumps Utada’s first two albums. I think it was largely because the singles to this album are just so phenomenal. I did find the album tracks to be a bit on the weaker side of things and there was a slower point midway through the album, but there were no “weak” songs. I felt like this is a good continuation of the sound from her last album as it still had the R&B elements in a lot of songs, but also introduced a lot of different kinds of sounds. It’s one of my favourite J-Pop albums.