[Album] Utada Hikaru – ULTRA BLUE

ULTRA BLUE is the fourth Japanese album released by Utada Hikaru. It was her first album after her venture into the American market and her first Japanese studio album in four years. The album proved to be a hit, although it did sell significantly less than her past releases. It peaked at #1 on the Oricon charts and sold over 910,000 copies. Five singles were released prior to the album, with the earliest released in 2003. Every single peaked within the top five and three were number one hits.

ultrablue

Released: June 14, 2006
1. This Is Love
2. Keep Tryin’
3. BLUE
4. Nichiyou no Asa (日曜の朝; Sunday Morning)
5. Making Love
6. Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro (誰かの願いが叶うころ; When Someone’s Wish Comes True)
7. COLORS
8. One Night Magic
9. Kairo (海路; Sea Route)
10. WINGS
11. Be My last
12. Eclipse (interlude)
13. Passion

The album opens with the promotional single, This Is Love, which is absolute great song. This pretty much shows the continuation of Utada’s sound since her last album with its synthed-up pop sound. The music is largely focused on synths with a fast-paced beat, but it’s everything tied with that dreamy, yet intense melody that just makes the whole song work. It sounds like a futuristic piece and it is absolutely great. What a way to start things off.

keeptryin

Popping in next is fifth single, Keep Tryin’. This one slows things down, but it still has the same dreamy pop sound with its focus on synths. I didn’t really get into this song that much before, but it has only been the last few years where I can see its appeal. The verses are pretty calming, but it soon builds things up in the pre-chorus. The opening line of the chorus is probably my favourite part of the song as it just has so much punch to it and it is really catchy. Another stellar tune.

BLUE is probably my favourite song on the album. It continues the sound of the last two songs, but brings a more dramatic tone. The verses are pretty gentle and focus more on the piano and Utada’s voice. However, the chorus is an absolute juggernaut and is effortlessly beautiful. The melody has so many dynamic points to it, where every line gradually builds more intense, which works wonderfully with Utada’s voice. I love this song.

I hadn’t listened to Nichiyou no Asa that much, but there are some really great qualities to it. It brings a bit of that older R&B vibe that Utada used to have, but tried to bring a few of her later sound’s elements into it. It’s actually a Christmas song, which is a bit of an odd surprise, but there are points in that with the bounciness of the piano. It’s a nice way to blend a usual holiday song with a general sound that is not as obviously Christmas. I can see myself listening to it more.

Making Love brings us back to that full-fledged ethereal pop sound and I’m pleasantly surprised. This is another song I didn’t pay much attention to, but it’s a pretty solid tune. It doesn’t quite have the same kind of power the other ones had, but there is a softness to the melody that I really love and that lends itself well to the sparkling music. There is a bit of an odd point in the second half of the song that sort ruins the flow, but the rest of the song is quite beautiful.

darekanonegaigakanaukoro

One of the album’s oldest songs comes in next. Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro is the album’s first full-fledged ballads and it focuses mostly on Utada, a piano and the strings. It sort of sticks out from the other songs on the album because it is more organic in its arrangement, but I think it is a crushingly beautiful song. There is a feeling of sadness that blankets over the whole song and it makes the melody even more emotional. Utada does a beautiful job bringing this feeling out.

colors

The album’s first single and the oldest song on here makes an entry. COLORS is one of my favourite Utada songs and despite its older release date, its sound still works surprisingly well here as it has a more intense dreamy pop sound. The verses are pretty dynamic, but its the punch of the chorus that gets me every time. The music twists and turns in ways that lends itself so well to that intense melody.

One Night Magic features Yamada Masashi and starts off with an almost 80’s element to its music, but it soon builds into something more ethereal and slightly more latin. The song makes me think of ‘traveling’ from her last album. The chorus is a cool blend between different melodies that helps to create a swirling quality to the song and the build-up to it is a transition of different sounds and tempos. I think the song didn’t really need Yamada Masashi as he just does some repetitive hooks here and there, but this is a pretty cool song anyways.

Kairo is another ballad, but this time it fits more with the rest of the album. It has some traditional elements in the music that helps set it apart as well. That and the dramatic use of strings really gives a different kind of quality. It has a bit of an unorthodox structure, but I quite like that it brings something different. It’s still a pretty beautiful song. Not one I would really revisit often as it lacks a strong melody, but the arrangement is great.

The next song, WINGS, was originally released as the B-side to the album’s fifth single. I really love how this song starts off because the arrangement is quite beautiful and works with Utada’s singing. There are some R&B influences here and there in the song, which is a nice change up, especially once the first minute of the song passes. It’s a really calming song and while the chorus isn’t particularly catchy, it does a great job of creating a soothing mood.

bemylast

Be My Last was released as the album’s third single and it brings something a little different with its more acoustically-focused arrangement. At first, I wasn’t quite sure about this song and while I do think it is the weakest of the singles, it is still a pretty solid song. The verses are boring, but once the intensity goes up for the chorus, I really start to enjoy it again. It’s a pretty melancholic song and Utada’s piercing vocals fit the song nicely.

Not quite sure if I enjoy Eclipse (Interlude) that much. It has a bit of a jazzier electronic sound, which is interesting but feels like a weird place to put it.

passion

Passion was used as the theme song to Kingdom Hearts II and I think I like this one way more than its Predecessor, Hikari. It really intensifies that ethereal pop sound by bringing a whole different mix of sounds. There is a bit of rock and a bit of traditional tribal elements that help to make the song stand out. I would say the most intense point is that bridge which does a wonderful job of flowing right into the end of the song where things get to its best. Gorgeous ending.


Overall: This is probably my favourite Japanese album because I just love every song. Each song on here is something I would repeat again and there is just such a high-quality feeling about its whole delivery. The singles are phenomenal, but there are also some gorgeous album tracks. Not everything has the strongest melody, but there seems to be more focus in each of the songs and each songs tells a story. Phenomenal.

A+

Advertisements

[Album] Utada Hikaru – DEEP RIVER

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.

deepriver
Released: June 19, 2002
1. SAKURA Drops (SAKURAドロップス)
2. traveling
3. Shiawase ni Narou (幸せになろう; Let’s Be Happy)
4. Deep River
5. Letters
6. Play Ball (プレイ・ボール)
7. Tokyo NIGHTS (東京NIGHTS)
8. A.S.A.P.
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)

sakuradrops

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

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.

finaldistance

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.

hikari

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.

A

[Album] Utada Hikaru – Distance

DISTANCE is the second album released by Utada Hikaru. The album included four singles and was released with high anticipation. It sold over 4.4 million copies and is one of the highest selling albums in Japan.

distance
Released: March 28, 2001
1. Wait & See ~Risk~ (リスク) [MV]
2. Can You Keep a Secret? [MV]
3. Distance
4. Sunglasses (サングラス)
5. Drama (ドラマ)
6. Eternally
7. Addicted to You (Up-in-Heaven Mix) [MV]
8. For You [MV]
9. Kettobase! (蹴っ飛ばせ!)
10. Parody
11. Time Limit (タイム・リミット) [MV]
12. Kotoba ni Naranai Kimochi (言葉にならない気持ち)
13. Hayatochi-Remix (早とちリミックス)

wait&see

Wait & See ~Risk~ was released as the album’s second single. It continues the R&B sound that was present in Utada’s last album, but in a more aggressive and faster way with its dance-pop . I enjoy how the beat is a bit lighter and it matches the fast paced feel of the choruses. The melody is really catchy, but I do find Utada’s vocals are a bit weak at times and she does incredibly shaky at times. It’s a fun tune, but it does drag on a bit too long by the end.

canyoukeepasecret

Musically, fourth single, Can You Keep a Secret, pretty much continues from where the last song left off, although I would say it isn’t as aggressive as the last song. I do prefer the melody in this one because it’s much catchier. Utada still sounds a bit shaky, but there are times when she sounds more assured, which are the highlights of the song. I also enjoy the bridge where Utada speaks instead. It’s a fun addition.

DISTANCE continues the pop/R&B sound, but here we have a nice lighthearted, mid-tempo style. I do feel like the music could be a bit better as there are times where it sounds incredibly pop and a bit too bubbly for me, especially with the touch of piano in the background (it’s fine in the instrumental breaks though). The melody is really nice though, especially in the chorus, which works very well with Utada’s vocals. Pretty good title track!

Up to this point, Sunglasses is the most relaxed sounding song. I love the smooth R&B sound this one has and the beat is quite nice, although quite a bit similar to the other songs. I like the chorus melody and I especially love the use of the breathy vocals, but I don’t think it’s as catchy as I want. However, the cool synth that pops up during the instrumental break is really cool. Not bad.

Drama is a total switch. Here, we have something with a rock sound to it. It’s totally different from the last songs and I wouldn’t mind, but it sounds so messy. I do not like the whiny sounding chorus with the overly aggressive music. It gets drowned out and Utada’s vocals just don’t sound that good.

Eternally is definitely better. Brought back to the R&B sound, here with have the first ballad. It’s not bad, but this song isn’t really quite my tastes and that’s largely because of Utada’s vocals. Her singing is so  whiny and sort of ruins the melody. The music is also a bit dull with its dragged on beat.

addictedtoyou

Thank god there is Addicted to You (Up-in-Heaven Mix). Released as the first single, it is easily one of my favourite songs on the album. It has a much stronger R&B sound than many of the songs and sounds similar to the material from her first album. The beat is nice and the music doesn’t do too much, unlike some of the other singles. It’s pretty bare, but effective. I love the chorus as well and Utada sounds much more confident here.

foryou

For You cools things down again with a darker R&B tune. I know not as many people enjoy this one as much as her other singles, but it’s one of my favourites. I love the darker sound and the little touches of synths is really cool. That and the guitar in the chorus just makes the chorus. The vocals are much smoother and Utada sounds like she is in her comfort zone. It’s cool.

Kettobase! was released as a B-side from the Can You Keep a Secret single and it brings us back to the rock sounds, although with a bit of an electronic edge. The verses are pretty cool and I like the electric guitar and the vocals. The chorus is really weird though. The lyrics are super odd with the “I Want Your Baby“. The music is interesting, but I don’t think I completely buy this song.

Parody was used to promote the album with Sunglasses. However, unlike that song, I don’t think this one is as streamlined and executed as nicely. I do like the bouncy sound of the chorus, but the melody just doesn’t fit with it. There are some really cool elements to the music, but it doesn’t entirely fit together. Average.

One of the strongest songs on the album, Time Limit brings a light-hearted mix into the game and I love it. As the second half of the third single with For You, Time Limit has similar elements to that song, but in a lighter way. The chorus is simple, melodic and effective. It works as a good base for Utada to add some nice adlibs. My favourite part of the song is definitely the bridge, where there is a bit of a transition and a nice display of vocals. It’s the best song on the album.

Kotoba ni Naranai Kimochi is a midtempo R&B ballad and it’s not bad. I do like the relaxing and mysterious sounding music, but I get a bit bored with the melody. It isn’t as strong as I want and it sort of drags on a bit longer than I would hope. I feel like it doesn’t get stuck in my head and it doesn’t really make much impact in general.

The HAYATOCHI-REMIX is a remix of Hayotochiri from her Wait & See ~Risk~ single. I don’t quite remember how the original sounded, but this one has a nice R&B beat to it and the melody fits much better here. I do like the ideas used in the music like the cleaner percussion and the cool piano riffs. It’s not bad.


Overall: I wasn’t overly impressed with this album. I feel like it had some cool ideas, but the production just isn’t as clean as I would hope and some of the songs do sound a bit outdated now. With that said, the album tracks were quite weak and the album was saved by the singles, which were all quite good. It’s not a bad album, just a bit of a letdown.

B

[Album] Utada Hikaru – First Love

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.

firstlove
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
10. Interlude
11. Give Me A Reason
12. Automatic -Johnny Vicious Remix-

automatic

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.

movinwithoutyou

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.

firstlove

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.

B