Ayumi on ViVi, January 2006 Issue
|Artist: Ayumi Hamasaki
Product Code: AVCD-17837/8
Release Date: 2006.01.01
Highest Ranking: #1
Label: avex trax
Format: CD or CD+DVD
First Press: Photobook
J-Pop diva, Ayumi Hamasaki has walked into 2006 with a brand new album which has again topped the charts and has sold over 817,162 copies to date. avex trax released two versions of this album which were a CD-only and a CD+DVD version. Both had a different cover. The first press edition came with a coloured photobook for each version. The photobook of the CD Version was titled “off my day” and was based on Ayu’s daily life, while the CD+DVD edition photobook was titled “on my way” and was more artistic.
Unlike her previous albums, (miss)understood boasts of having a variety of genres ranging from eighties pop, techno, R&B and even rock which has shown a colourful side of Ayu. In this album we have definitely seen a bolder and more daring side of this singer who has experimented with different genres and broken down the stereotypes of music making this album sound so unusual and transgressive. This album focuses more onto her career, her take on feminism and life itself.
To be honest, I was surprised to see this track as an opening song of this album especially since it’s so bizarre and so different from her past releases. Nonetheless “Bold&Delicious” is quite enjoyable. It has a funky, gothic feel to it, like a really intense oil painting, which is rather infective and addictive. Having an R&B and gospel style, with a lively chorus yelling “Bold and Delicious!” this song has left many Ayu fans beyond perplexed. Nonetheless, even though this genre is pretty new for Hamasaki, she deals with it with a lot of confidence and energy. I was impressed to see Ayu experimenting and having fun while singing this song. I agree it’s not a gem or even brilliant but it’s obviously one catchy song which will make you want to sing along the chorus and dance along the song like a lunatic.
2. STEP you
STEP you is a playful song with a powerful composition. It’s full of energetic rhythms and has an extremely catchy chorus. The lyrics are quite simple and describe a girl’s ongoing thoughts while she started dating. The rock genre is recurring within this song with a dance feel within it. Overall it’s really well done to create a lively atmosphere within a dark one. Also it’s a firm favourite within many Ayu fans for having a trademark Ayu theme and for its addictive melody.
3. Ladies Night
I admit that I do have a soft spot for this song, especially since I’ve always enjoyed techno-pop songs. This song is reminiscent for the eighties, electronic techno-pop tracks, with a retro touch, released by artists such as Madonna. The rap part is also extremely infective and addictive which is similar to “Fly High”. Also the disco and upbeat feel to this song gives this song a spicy, funky and a daring feel. The use of synthesizers has definitely made this song more focused on the genre rather than on the vocals so it’s no surprise that Ayu’s vocals are not so well defined within this song. I’ve really enjoyed how original and unique this funky track is.
Also the promotional video is brilliantly portrayed to reflect the lyrics and has a lot of symbolism hidden within the imagery presented with it. It’s quite disturbing, especially when one considers the concepts of all those different women. Throughout the ages women have followed trends blindly without asking any questions and this has stripped them off their individuality and character. Thus we are left with every era with the ideal female and each woman trying to reach this impossible goal to be “the ideal female” which is actually an illusion, a fake concept full of superficiality. Quite an interesting clip, which will make any person stop and think carefully.
This song is simply brilliant. The raw emotion presented within this song is just impressive. “is this LOVE?” is about an unrequited love which perfectly reflects the feelings of not having your emotions returned by somebody who you really love. There is also an underlying hint of jealousy within her vocals which are apparent when one notices how much this girl in this song yearns to be loved by this guy, instead of his actual lover. The heavy sounding rock ballad, which mainly makes use of guitars, fits the mood perfectly making it a powerful and artistic song.
This song is neither extremely good nor it is mediocre. In fact it’s a pretty good track. Nonetheless I expected something better since her title tracks are usually quite brilliant. I just felt that it unsuccessfully tried to be a replica of “Memorial Address”, “Heartplace” and “I Am…”. But then maybe I expect too much from Hamasaki since she has the reputation of producing fantastic tracks. Anyhow, this song has a really powerful tone with the use of guitars, and it’s impressive to see an improvement in Hamasaki’s vocals which manage to overpower the powerful use of guitars, unlike the tracks seen in MY STORY. Also this song has the “wow” factor. It really reminds me of a singing style of an Italian artist, Laura Pausini. The use of excellent composition and a lot of mixed emotions put just into one song make this song simply stunning.
6. alterna (Album Mix)
“alterna” is powerful, heavy-sounding and strong, which are made apparent by the use drums and guitars. This is a song which relates to her career. Thus it is no surprise that the tone of this song is so angry and bitter and her vocals are even more sour and powerful. “alterna” is surely one of those songs I’ve really enjoyed, however I really am disappointed at the album mix which has made the edited parts where she sings “hey” sound extremely obnoxious. Nonetheless the Album Mix is better in having the volume evened out. I suppose this song was shocking when one considers how Japanese artists are not supposed to have a say in what happens in their career, but I suppose it does sign the start of a new era where an artist can speak out and become more than just a “singer”.
7. In The Corner
This song is possibly my personal favourite out of this album. As soon as I heard the preview clip of this song, I automatically became addicted to this song and wanted to listen more. I wasn’t disappointed after hearing the full version. It has an addictive chorus which will have you humming while listening to it. The tone of this song is dramatic but not too overwhelming to sound dark or desperate. I would think that it’s more of a song which displays emotions of passion and yearning. It’s like you can listen to it in any mood. I also like how it combines elements of jazz, soul and R&B together, making this song sound really alluring and avant-garde. It’s not a typical Ayu song, nonetheless I suggest you listen to it since in it’s simplicity it contains an element of mystery.
“tasking” is a powerful interlude which perfectly blends into the introduction of ballads and departing from modern rockish tracks. It has a really interesting composition which manages to provide a contrast between classical instruments, such as violins and guitars and also a slow and fast pace within the song which provides a feeling of flux. It’s as if the modern and classical genres are being integrated together to form a hybrid of genres. This is quite interesting since this album is ever-changing and it seems it’s never sticking to one theme or genre which makes this interlude so fitting.
This ballad is hauntingly beautiful. The tone in the beginning of the song reminds me a lot of Evanescense’s “My Immortal” because it’s so silent yet hides so many emotions within it. Ayu sings on a very low key, as if she is holding back her emotions. The background instruments used are mostly a minor-key piano. However when the chorus breaks in this song takes a life of its own. An orchestra breaks in, which has some rock elements inserted within it. The distorted instrumentals make this song sound more haunting, dark and desperate. Ayumi’s vocals are raw, powerful and full of sorrow especially within the chorus. It’s such a terribly ardent song with a whole attitude of fiery passion hidden within the chorus which will haunt you.
This song is different from her typical ballads. In fact it has a western influence with a dark mood. This song isn’t everyone’s taste though I really do enjoy this song since it reminds me of “Once Upon a December”, a song from Disney’s movie Anastasia. Also one will notice that this track is reminiscent of Opera and Classical Music. In fact, it has a hint of “The Phantom of the Opera” as Ayu herself has admitted in various magazine interviews. The lyrics are outstanding and the vocals are simply superb. These two factors alone make this song so powerful; it literally makes the listener feel helpless and despondent, especially when one reads her lyrics.
“Will” is a simply stunning track which is again memorable and addictive. Ayu’s vocals simply shine here; they are powerful and blend well with the background music. I would happily add that her vocals were simply flawless. The control of her voice in this track is simply amazing and brilliant. The Japanese influence within this song with the use of traditional instruments give a special kind of allure within this song which makes it ethereal and alluring. The background vocals add to this effect within the chorus. The tone of this mood is slightly melancholic and haunting. The arrangement of this song was a collaboration between CREA and DAI, which is probably the reason why this song sounds so flawless and polished. This is definitely one of her most original and unique songs she has ever released with a powerful artistic mood within in it. “Will” is also the background song for Panasonic’s Lumix FX-8 in which Ayumi features in. My only gripe for this song is the lack of a promotional clip for it which I would have really loved to see.
“HEAVEN” follows the typical formula of her most popular epic ballads. It’s powerful, touching and simply beautiful. Nonetheless, this ballad shines out from all her ballads and every ballad I’ve heard in this year. This ballad starts off slowly with soothing vocals but breaks into an emotional chorus and a strong orchestrated melody which makes this ballad so strong. The touching lyrics and beautiful atmosphere which hints an ancient Japanese world add up to make this song to sound passionate, beautiful and ethereal at the same time. I can’t help but claim how this is probably one of her best ballads she has ever released to date and it certainly deserves more attention, not because it’s Ayu, but because it’s one of those songs which you’d probably never forget in your life. “HEAVEN” is also the theme song for the movie “SHINOBI -heart under blade-” which was released in September 2005.
13. Are You Wake Up?
Despite having the oddest title ever “Are You Wake Up” is one of the most interesting and unique interludes ever. It’s an interesting mix which blends perfectly with “fairyland” and is an excellent transition track. The guitar riffs are really catchy and reminiscent of the eighties. The vocals are distorted to the point you can barely understand them. I find this interlude really unique and has its own style which gives this side of this album an interesting colour where we are transported to less serious and dramatic side. Personally I think it’s one of the most fantastic pieces done by CMJK.
A summer flavoured pop-dance track with a bittersweet melody. I have mixed feelings about this song because it’s not catchy, powerful or even lively. The transitions between the chorus and the song itself are a bit awkward too. Nonetheless it’s got an exotic beat within the chorus which can get pretty addictive. The background music is rich and has a fantasy mood embedded within it which makes it so intriguing. The nostalgic touch in Ayu’s vocals also manages to make an upbeat song sound so touching and melancholic. I really suggest you check this song out since it’s surely one of those songs which are unusual, original and unique, which has made me appreciate this song so much.
15. Beautiful Day
Possibly the weakest track out of this album, “Beautiful Day” has an uplifting melody with a cheerful and optimistic theme. Oddly enough it reminds me of sunny days in parks full of hippies. The chorus is really repetitive and can get tedious, especially if you don’t feel so happy. Nonetheless this song has grown onto me and makes the transition between “fairyland” and “rainy day” seem really smooth. I do think this song is one which needs time to grow onto someone. Certainly doesn’t have anything new or innovative but it’s still a mellow song which an interesting tune.
16. rainy day
This song ends this album in a poignant yet hopeful manner. It portrays a dark and melancholic side of this album. It’s certainly a different take on her style in ballads, where usually they boast of powerful vocals and compositions. “rainy day” has soothing vocals, a repetitive and simple melody which is pretty infective and the ethereal backing vocals which give this song a special touch. The song gradually builds up to the bridge, which is emotional, heartbreaking yet not too overwhelming. I personally felt this ballad is outstanding and simply brilliant. Also interesting to note is that this song is a tie in with Capcom’s Onimusha 4: Dawn of Dreams game and is the ending theme song.
When listening to this whole album, I am able to feel a lot of emotions and appreciate her ideals within her lyrics. It’s impressive to see how this artist grew up from an introverted singer with a squeaky voice to a strong and powerful young woman who knows what she wants and is not stopping to get it, no matter what. Interesting to note that in January’s Issue of the magazine Sweet, Hamasaki mentions how she has grown up to become more sophisticated yet with a funky edge. Overall seems that Ayu’s intentions were to send a supporting message to all those strong women who fight and stick for their rights, which is something they’ve always struggled to do. It’s important for women to know who they are and to learn to appreciate themselves even if sometimes they don’t feel so confident. I think it’s something which makes me feel stronger and happier to think that somebody is actually rooting for me.
I’ve heard many accusations thrown at the J-Pop Queen but personally I challenge you to listen to this album and think of how powerful it is before claiming how she’s losing her touch. Ayumi Hamasaki is definitely one of the best artists I’ve ever heard and I heartilly hope that she will keep on releasing quality material as she did this year. This album was one of her best albums I’ve ever heard and I’m more than satisfied with the quality of this album.
On a final note I wish to thank isaac hiew at Ayumi Hamasaki Sekai for translating Sweet’s January Issue which has led me to understand further what she really meant to say when she wrote the lyrics for those songs and her real intentions behind this album. Thank you for giving me permission to use some of your translation within this review. I really appreciate it.