|Artist: Utada Hikaru
Product Code: TOCT-26067
Release Date: 2006.06.14
Debut Ranking: #1
It’s been 4 years since Utada’s last Japanese album, “Deep River”. During this time, she got and recovered from cancer, got married, released the overdue best album, the disastrous, disappointing, yet record breaking English album “Exodus”, and half a dozen singles.
“Ultra Blue” marks a few firsts for Utada – the first duet to ever appear on her album, the first time there isn’t a track that shares the album name, and the first time she released a Japanese digital single. For promotion of the album, Utada began on a 3 months tour, the “UTADA UNITED 2006”, across Japan. The tour has been much hyped about and was met with praise, with most tickets selling out in 2 hours.
Although the album debuted at the coveted #1 position, remained there for 2 weeks, and sold more than 500, 000 copies during the first week, sales dipped drastically and it has become the first Utada album to not reach platinum status. This could be explained by the 6 singles released beforehand, the album available digitally (and not counted by Oricon), and illegal downloads.
With each new album, Utada’s styles have changed and evolved dramatically. “First Love” was the pop-ballad album, “Distance” was the R&B album, “Deep River” was the pop R&B album, and “Exodus” was an R&B dance album. “Ultra Blue”, a more electronic and pop-rock oriented album, has the most sophisticated background music in the songs than ever (the only good thing learned from “Exodus”), and with Utada’s more matured voice, the material is the strongest ever.
This Is Love
The album, sadly, starts with one of the weaker tracks here. Released as the first digital single, and the last single from this album, “This Is Love” reached the top of the online sales charts. What this song reminds me most of is a high-speed chase. The song is very fast, and the backbeat is amazing. For the above reason, this song doesn’t really feel like “love” though. Although at first listen, this song is quite catchy and fun, it gets annoying on repeat. After listening to the entire album, “This Is Love” does capture and set the mood for the entire album: the strong backbeat and the electronic-dance music. If only the “Exodus” album was like this.
The second track, “Keep Tryin’”, is unique on this album since it is the only one that actually sounds happy, and has Utada joking to herself. Utada has a very –weird- sense of humour – anyone who has read her recent blog entries would know (talking to her bear like a real person is NOT normal!). “Keep Tryin’” is such a quirky song; it almost seems like a little joke Utada wrote for her family. The electronic-piano beginning transcends into the drum-infested chorus which has Utada telling you that “she doesn’t care about anything”, and will “keep trying”. The standout parts of this song is the toy-piano part towards the end of the song, and the endtro, where Utada tells her dad and mom to keep trying. What is great about Utada is her willingness to use unconventional instruments to make this specific and special sound that fits her songs perfectly. The PV is also arguably the best since the “Kiriya Trilogy”. The entertaining value of seeing Utadas trying on different jobs; it’s hilarious!
The best song of this album – no, of Utada, ever! OK, I lied, “first love” is the best. But “BLUE” is a close second best. In “BLUE”, Utadas shows her range and emotions – the only song on the album that combines both elements in a balanced fashion. Unlike “Be My Last”, Utada’s voice isn’t pushed to the limits at the high notes, and unlike “Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro”, it doesn’t make you weep nor does Utada’s voice take center stage. However, the beautiful music and the true emotional range of Utada shines in “BLUE” and that really shows her development musically in the last 4 years. This song seems to be “Be My Last” done right. The “whining” isn’t as high, and is therefore, actually expressive. The chorus, which Utada rushes through, makes it seem like Utada is angry about something, and she is “blue”. Hands down the best song on this album.
Nichiyo no Asa
Imagine a mysterious and slower “Keep Tryin’” with a stronger beat, and that is what “Nichiyo no Asa” is. “Nichiyo no Asa” means “Sunday Morning”, a reference to Christmas last year. Instead of sounding happy, Utada seems to be playing coy and not really conveying how she feels. Or maybe, she was so ecstatic that she doesn’t even remembered what happened that day, just a faint memory. The beat is also quite unique, since it doesn’t really sound like drums, more than whips or snapping. Also, she whispers things like “sunshine dreaming” and “ice cream toppings” throughout the song. It is just a weird song.
“Making Love” is to me, the fast and danceable song in this album. The fastest song and the most joyful, Utada seems to be very happy about… uh… making love. The nice and slow piano beginning sequences into a faster drum dominant bridge, until it reaches the even faster chorus. The speed doesn’t decrease for the next part, and it just increases at each interval. It’s the song that never slows down! It is like a combination of “BLUE” and “This Is Love”.
Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro
“Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro” was the second single released off this album, more than 2 years before the release of this album. This song was used for the end roll of Utada’s husband’s film, “Casshern”. This song just seems out of place here – the simple piano instrumental seems to be lacking when compared to the other multi-layered songs. But that is not to say that this song is not good – the emotions conveyed and the pureness of Utada’s voice; this is simply a masterpiece. What I remember most about this song was how people commented that they did not understand what the movie was about until they heard the song. Despite named like a happy song (When Someone’s Wish Comes True), “Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro” is about how people suffer despite others being happy. At the end, Utada’s voice seems to be about to break from tears.
OK, this song REALLY does not belong here. Released 3 and a half, yes, 3 and a half years ago, and already featured on her best album, this seems to be just a filler. The background instrumental seems to be too pure next to her more “electronic” sounds now. Don’t get me wrong, I like this song, but it just doesn’t fit in here. If only this was on “Deep River”, sigh ~~.
One Night Magic feat. Yamada Masashi
Yes, this is the first duet to ever appear on Utada’s albums. I was actually quite disappointed, as I liked the fact that Utada did everything by herself and herself only. This song sounds really magical – like something you would hear in a Disney movie. The popping sounds heard throughout the song even sounds like fireworks. The chorus makes it seems like they are flying and going somewhere magical. The only thing I don’t really understand is why this even had to be a duet. Most the parts featuring Masashi (and there weren’t a lot), had Utada’s voice on top of it. This could easily have been a solo instead.
I was actually quite disappointed by this song. It delivered everything it promised, but that seems to be the downfall. This song, as the title suggested, seems to sound like something you would hear on a sea route. Unfortunately, it also seems to be foggy that day, cause this song is quite boring. Populated with strings and fake wind sounds, this song just seems weak compared to the rest of the album. This song reminds me of something that would play in the beginning of some epic video game, the ones not many people pay attention to because they are too focused on the graphics.
“WINGS” was the b-side to “Keep Tryin’”. Similar to “Keep Tryin’”, “WINGS” has this mysterious motive in it. Although there really is only just a piano as the melody, strings as the harmony, and just a few drums, there seems to be so much more. Utada’s voice seems to be uncertain of something, like she is just about to make a giant decision, and all that contribute to the atmosphere of this song. Also, Utada also seems to use her voice as an instrument; lots of OOing and AWing.
Be My Last
The love ballad of this album, “Be My Last” contains a quiet acoustic beginning that transform into an orchestral masterpiece. The high notes as Utada sings “be my last” in the chorus are perfect, but her whining afterwards is absolutely the most annoying thing she has ever done in her songs. Those notes were just too ambitious for Utada to reach. This song is also very emotional as Utada does seem desperate to find someone to love (although she already did, this might just be for the movie this song was featured in). Otherwise, a very nice winding down for the end.
Between “Be My Last” and “Passion” is the interlude, “Eclipse”. Unlike her previous interludes, this one actually fits the mood of the album. A giant improvement.
The song used for “Kingdom Hearts II”, “Passion” is the continuation of “Hikari”. As Utada said herself, “Hikari” is day while “Passion” is night. An ethereal song that really fits the description of a “game song”, “Passion” ends the album on a high note. Throughout the song, there are backward messages and layers of vocals on top of eachother. Filled with drums and a guitar solo, this really sums up the theme of this album – it is not happy, but filled with hope. Utada wrote the English version, “Sanctuary” before translating it into “Passion”. However, it is without a doubt that “Passion” is superior to “Sanctuary” in every way. This is proof that Utada’s Japanese works are better than its English counterparts, and it would be a long time before Utada transverse into an English career again.
A definite improvement over “Deep River” (which itself was very strong), “Ultra Blue” delivers what it claimed – an ultra strong and mellow album. Definitely worth checking out.
- This Is Love
- Keep Tryin’
- Nichiyo no Asa
- Making Love
- Dareka no Nagai ga Kanau Koro
- One Night Magic feat. Yamada Masashi
- Be My Last
- Eclipse (Interlude)
Technically, i wrote “4 hot wave” during/on the anniversary of the “Channel-Ai Blog”, but i had always wanted to write a review on “Ultra Blue”, so this is the “real” one for the anniversary :P YAY!! Happy birthday blog :P