Nakashima Mika hit it big right when she debuted. Her first single, “STARS”, was a big hit, scoring in the top three and selling close to 500,000 copies in total. Releasing four more singles before coming out with TRUE, Nakashima was able to score a moderate amount of hits. Her debut album topped the charts, sold over one million copies, and solidified her as one of the top newcomers.
Released: August 28, 2002
1. AMAZING GRACE (album version) [MV]
2. WILL (album version) [MV]
3. ONE SURVIVE (album version) [MV]
4. HEAVEN ON EARTH [MV]
5. DESTINY’S LOTUS [MV]
6. Helpless Rain [MV]
8. TEARS (Konayuki ga Mau You ni…) (粉雪が舞うように….; Like How Powder Snow Dances)
9. TRUE EYES
10. CRESCENT MOON [MV]
11. JUST TRUST IN OUR LOVE (album version)
12. STARS (album version) [MV]
13. A MIRACLE FOR YOU
The album opens with AMAZING GRACE, which was actually released as a B-side to her second single. It’s an interesting way to open the album. Nakashima’s vocals are quite unique and her English isn’t too bad. There are times when her voice does sound a little awkward though and she gets an odd thickness to her voice that doesn’t quite match. The song itself is pretty simple and only features the piano. It isn’t that great, but it isn’t a total wreck. Not something I would play over though.
Fortunately, the album moves right into WILL (#3 / 145,000), her fifth and second most successful single from the album. I love this song. It’s a pretty standard sounding ballad from Nakashima that would be replicated in the future with its prominence of soaring strings, piano and percussion. The melody is excellent though. There are times when Nakashima’s voice sounds a bit stretched out, but she does a decent job. Her voice is quite unique and has a charm to it that fits these kind of songs well.
ONE SURVIVE (#8 / 87,000) was released as her third single and changes things up from the ballad style of the last two songs. Here we get a jazz-infused pop tune with some disco elements. I really like the fast-paced feel and the inclusion of the strings-like sound really makes the song funky. My favourite portion is the chorus opening as it just has so much energy. I don’t think the melody is exceptionally nice, but it is decent. There are a few buggy parts to it though. Not the strongest song, but a nice change.
HEAVEN ON EARTH is the first song that wasn’t featured on a single prior to the release of the album. It isn’t as fast-paced as the last song, but it’s more of a midtempo pop tune. I really like it though. It’s a different kind of style and is quite cool to hear. I like the music with its nice blend of synths and beats. It’s very 2000s. I also think the melody is really catchy.
DESTINY’S LOTUS definitely continues the funky disco-inspired sound heard in “ONE SURVIVE” but with a bit more dance elements to it and less jazz. I think this one is actually stronger though. The melody is definitely nicer and I find the bouncy musical arrangement to actually be quite fun. There are areas that could be fixed though as there are some odd notes in the chorus that could be fixed and the chorus just rushes by so quickly. I don’t think Nakashima’s voice really works with this kind of song and she does come off rather stuffy and not totally on top of the beat. It’s a catchy song, but could use some fine tuning.
I know a lot of people don’t really like Helpless Rain (#8 / 83,000) that much, but I do like it to some extent. I love R&B, so this was a nice change to hear Nakashima sing and her voice is really beautiful in the lower registers of the verses. The problems come by the chorus as while the melody is decent, it causes Nakashima to hit some harsh high notes with her head tone. Beside those notes though, the song has some charm to it and would’ve worked really well with her had parts been fixed up.
I absolutely adore I and it is probably my favourite of the album tracks. It is a laidback R&B-inspired pop tune. The thing I love most is how well the song works with Nakashima’s voice and how we get to hear her in a more comfortable range. It’s not particularly strong in terms of music, but I do like the blues elements that the song has as well. It’s really a nice change from her and fits well with the albums feel.
TEARS (Konayuki ga Mau You ni…) swings us back to a little more of a traditional pop ballad sound. There isn’t much going on with the arrangement and it is largely filled with light touches of synths that give the song a heavenly quality to it. With that said, I think this song is boring. It might have been better if the melody was catchier, but it goes on for almost seven minutes and it doesn’t really change itself up. I do like songs like this, but this is a bit too dull for me.
Luckily, TRUE EYES comes and saves the day with an explosive disco tune. I love the more lighthearted feel of the song compared to some of the other uptempo tunes as they seemed to have darker elements in their music. This one is just a lot of fun and the chorus is probably the catchiest of the uptempo tunes up to this point. Nakashima also sounds great and she isn’t straining for any notes.
CRESCENT MOON (#4 / 99,000) continues the sound of the last song with its disco-inspired sound, although this one has a bit more funk to it. Probably my favourite of the upbeat songs, I just really adore the chorus on this one. With that said, it does lose some of its flare after being placed after “TRUE EYES”, as both have such similar sounds. It’s a fun listen though.
JUST TRUST IN OUR LOVE (album version) switches things up from the original single version. Here, we switch from a slower ballad to an upbeat dance tune. While it is a fun listen and I like that things were changed up a bit, there are times when the song just feels so empty. There seems to be a disconnect from the vocals and music and they don’t really blend together all that well.
The most successful song on the album, STARS (album version) (#3 / 469,000), is my favourite song on the album and one of my favourite Nakashima songs. It’s a stunning pop ballad with some jazz influence to it. I love the musical arrangement and it’s clear that this was meant to be a big hit with its slick production and clean delivery. It’s just a powerhouse of a song. It works so well with Nakashima’s voice and she really shines during the chorus, especially when the sweeping strings, light percussion and brass instruments are added in the background. It’s just gorgeous.
A MIRACLE FOR YOU ends the album on a positive note with a gospel inspired pop ballad. Nakashima sounds exceptional on the verses and her lower register is quite breathtaking. Luckily, she swings into her higher register during the choruses and she sounds more reassured and supported here than other instances on the album. The song does go on for quite a bit, but it’s just a strong ending and Nakashima gives it her all on this one.
Overall: TRUE is a decent listen for a first album. It had a few blips and blops, but there are some really solid songs on here and the overall sound is rather cohesive. Most of the songs are still able to shine on an individual level as well. With that said, while I do think the album is good, I only think less than half of the songs are impressive. The ballads, for the most part, are quite stunning and mix so well with Nakashima’s vocals. However, while the uptempo songs are fun and help bring some variety, I don’t think they were particularly as clean in production and there are quite a few flaws in each. It’s still a fun listen in general.