Ayumi Hamasaki’s Secret

by Rinoa on February 14, 2007 · 13 comments · AddThis

SCawaii Photoshoot'
A photoshoot from SCawaii January 2007 Issue
Artist: Ayumi Hamasaki
Product Code: AVCD-23178/9
Release Date: 2006.11.29
Debut Ranking: #1
First Press: Poster
Label: avex trax

Another year is finally over and winter has returned again. For many fans of the J-Pop queen Ayumi Hamasaki, 2006 wasn’t an exciting year, at all. Ayu has only released two singles this year, spent most of her summer overseas and ended up with an eye infection in autumn, which has led her out of the spotlight up till mid-October when she appeared on Music Station and performed the song “JEWEL”.

A few days later avex announced that Ayumi Hamasaki was scheduled to release her second mini album. This announcement led to a huge disappointed reaction by her fans who had awaited eagerly for months for something more substantial. Mysteriously enough, shortly after this announcement avex made another one, changing the decision of a mini album to a full studio album. The album recording was completed on the 8th November 2006.

Without any doubt, Christmas would not be Christmas without Ayu’s yearly release of an album. It has become a trend for Ayumi Hamasaki to release her albums at the end of the year or on New Year’s day. Consequently this has led me and many Ayu fans worldwide to anticipate the end of the year for this specific reason.

This album was released in two versions, a CD-only and a CD+DVD version. The first press edition came with a poster, which featured the artwork of the CD+DVD Version. The artwork of this album was in the hands of the legendary photographer Leslie Kee. It it needless to say that the results are extremely stunning and artistic. Ayumi Hamasaki returns to her roots and recreates her image she had back then in 2000, her Duty era. However after six years, Hamasaki has become much more mature and refined. In the album booklet Hamasaki is featured in beautiful evening gowns and is adorned with stunning jewellery by PIAGET and Van Cleef & Arpels. Another interesting factor was that Ayumi had a temporary tattoo drawn on her arm of a unicorn with an “A” drawn on it. To say that Ayumi looked beautiful is an understatement; she was so much more than that.

On the promotional aspect, avex made sure to stick her posters everywhere on billboards. In total Ayumi was featured as a cover girl in eight magazines and had nine photoshoots and interviews in nine. She also appeared in a multitude of music shows and end of year events to promote her album. Oddly enough she performed only ‘JEWEL’ in almost all her performances.

Ayumi Hamasaki also appeared on CNN International, as a part of Talk Asia’s “Japan Now” series which featured the most influential people in the Japanese entertainment industry. Ayu was interviewed by Atika Shubert and surprisingly Ayumi answered some questions in English and spoke about ‘Secret’ and her career. In her CNN Interview Hamasaki explained how the lyrics she penned came from her inner feelings and how she wishes that these would reach other people’s hearts.

Like all her previous albums, ‘Secret’ secured the top position at Oricon Weekly and Monthly Charts with ease, outselling the album positioned at #2 by 160,129 copies. However, this album was not as successful as her previous albums. To date it has sold 653,535 copies, after 10 weeks on the charts and is still charting on the Oricon charts. Despite the fact that these sales are quite high, this is still quite disappointing when most of her albums have passed the million mark. Surprisingly this album seems to be more successful in the rest of Asia rather than in Japan. In fact it is considered to be her most successful album in worldwide sales. This album shot to the first position in China, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong and is still charting. In Taiwan ‘Secret’ was the #1 Japanese album of the year with a 3.54% of total sales. Also in the United World Chart, this album ranked on #2, only to be beaten by the legendary band, The Beatles.

 

1. Not yet

Following the trend of her previous albums, ‘Secret’ starts off with an interlude. This song is composed and arranged by CMJK, who has composed many interludes since her album ‘I Am…’. He also performs the guitar piece. ‘Not yet’ is extremely soothing and has an ultra modern tone with it’s electro-pop genre. It somehow merges the elements of fantasy with modern technology and the result is a stunning spectrum of eras. I somehow feel that this song contains the essence of the whole album as a whole, as it seems to contain elements of ballads and techno-pop with trance elements in just two minutes.

The song starts off with minimalistic instruments, accompanied by a guitar. The atmosphere created is extremely mellow and slightly haunting. It seems to transport the listener to a fantasy world. However, this song gradually builds up to transform itself into a techno-trance hybrid with synths. At the end this song slowly builds up to a climax, which unexpectedly fades into silence. Before you know this song has already finished and you’re left asking for more.

Rating: ★★★★★

 

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2. until that Day…

‘until that Day’ is another composition of CMJK. Consequently it comes off as no surprise that the transition between the previous song and this one is simply flawless. After leaving her listeners eagerly anticipating for more, Hamasaki delivers a fantastic reply to ‘Not yet’, which luckily for us arrives quite soon.

Originally set to be an interlude, this song sounds like another experimental track with a funky melody. To me it sounds like much more polished and powerful response to ‘Bold&Delicious’. It starts off with eccentric and electronic elements which blend in with a guitar. It rapidly becomes a fully fledged fast rock-trance hybrid. Towards the end the song suddenly tones down to an acoustic guitar solo, which to me is the most appealing part of this song. Finally it reverts back to rock and fades into synth.

I feel that Ayumi’s vocals seem to shine in their full potential in this track as they seem to reach new high notes which I’ve never experienced before. They also transition to being edgy and powerful throughout the same song. An interesting thing to note is that Ayumi has mentioned that this song portrays her way of life. Two sides of Ayu are shown: the side where she struggles throughout her life and her ideal self.

Rating: ★★★★★

 

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3. Startin’

‘Startin’ follows the trend of the techno-rock genre, but has a more grungy and unpolished personality. It has the arrangement, guitar performance and programming of CMJK. The composition was in the hands of Kazuhiro Hara, a relatively new composer to Ayu’s songs. The rock elements are prevalent and quite strong throughout this song, especially during the intro and the climax when the electric guitar is played. Also it has some funky modernistic elements which are commonly seen more in hip-hop genres. It also seems to have some traces of the eurobeat genres. Overall this song seems a blend of many elements of various genres. Her vocals are less polished, more raw and aggressive within this song to fit the powerful instrumentals.

‘Startin’ was released as a single in March and is the theme song of a Playstation 2 game, “Capcom’s Onimusha 4: Dawn of Dreams”. Following the trance theme, the promotional video of this song relied heavily on computer graphics. Thus the setting is extremely surreal and has certain gothic elements too. Somehow the clip seems to be a parody of various American aspects and personalities, such as Britney Spears, Kill Bill and the whole rap/hip-hop craze.

Rating: ★★★★½

 

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4. 1 LOVE

‘1 LOVE’ completely abandons all the other genres and adopts a purely rock genre. This song has a completely fresh feel, especially since it was the first composition for Hamasaki by Yoji Noi. Personally I find this song the most powerful one of the whole album. The guitar and drums are extremely powerful and quite loud. Ayumi’s vocals are at their rawest, have an edgy tone and are mostly focused on low notes. Also surprisingly, her English phrase is unexpectedly quite clear and lacks any kind of accent. These two factors combined create a very catchy and strong track.

The lyrics, as always penned by Ayu, relate the story of an outlaw girl. She feels she should make choices on her own, without any regret and believes she cannot live without being a fighter. Thus she wants to pave her own way in her life, without following anyone. However she relies on love, where she finds solace and is the only thing she needs in her life.

The promotional video is just the video of the year. It follows the trend of her gothic-grunge and high budget videos of ourselves/About You/STEP you/alterna. The setting is extremely dark to the point of being creepy. Ayu appears as a sexy pole dancer and is auctioned at a human market by a secret society of the elite. She throws the money in the air, as a sign of independence and showing that money is not everything for her. It also provides a variety of themes. A bizarre clown figure is seen as the owner of the whole ’show’, where he sells various humans for their qualities or talents to the highest bidder. The theme of dehumanizing is evident, where people are treated like mere commodities to be sold for the whims of the rich. Also decadence and greed are quite prevalent.

Rating: ★★★★★

 

5. It was

‘It was’ has a similar style to her album ‘MY STORY’ and creates a perfect transition between rock upbeat songs and ballads. The reason is simply because ‘It was’ is a rock ballad which also retains pop elements. It has her typical rock touch and instrumental choice, probably because it was arranged by tasuku.

It starts off with a mellow tone accompanied by soft instrumentals. However the song transitions to a powerful emotional piece when the chorus breaks in. Hamasaki’s vocals again have an unpolished quality in them, but seem to display a lot of emotion, especially regret and resignation.

The lyrics of ‘It was’ relate about a memory in the past which is extremely precious to her. It speaks about how she cannot let go of a past memory when she was with a person she loved. She hesitates about moving on to the future because her heart is stuck in between the passage of time. However in the end she knows that she must move on and live her own life.

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

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6. LABYRINTH

I am probably repeating myself, but I’m insanely in love with the interludes of ‘Secret’. However ‘LABYRINTH’ is definitely my favourite interlude within this album. ‘LABYRINTH’ is one of those beautiful instrumental pieces which seem to contain so many hidden emotions and imagery within them. It also slows down the tone of the album to an extremely mellow mood. It has an ethereal and mysterious element mixed with a rather melancholic atmosphere.

The composition and arrangement are by HΛL, who have composed other fantasy-themed interludes for Hamasaki. The additional orchestral instruments were performed by BLOODY HONEY. It’s also extremely interesting to note that this interlude has a lot of elements reminiscent of the album ‘RAINBOW’.

Rating: ★★★★★

 

7. JEWEL

‘JEWEL’ was probably planned to be released as a single, until Ayu got her eye infection, which slowed down her schedule. It fits the style of her winter ballads, with beautiful compositions, lyrics and a lot of emotion. Tetsuya Yukumi is the composer of this song, who has also composed various other songs for Hamasaki.

The song’s composition is quite simple and is accompanied with an acoustic piano and Ayumi’s poignant vocals. The song’s meaning is extremely simple yet quite touching. It speaks about how her heart has been wounded on various experiences in the past. However she learnt to love by being loved. Consequently she is touched by this love and wishes to treasure her loved person. Despite how this era is filled with dark and painful events, she can still find something beautiful in love. It has many different themes of love, innocence and purity.

“I wasn’t sad at all, but the reason my eyes brimmed with tears
Was because you seeped through the scar of my heart
And turned it into such a tenderness, that it hurt to think of you”

The promotional video for ‘JEWEL’ was premiered on November 20, 2006. Not unlike ‘fairyland’ and ‘my name’s WOMEN’, this promotional video seemed to have been on an extremely high budget. All these three videos were directed by Wataru Takeishi, a prolific Japanese music video director. It has been reported that ‘JEWEL’ cost over ¥100 million yen, making this one of the most expensive music videos recorded. The reason for this was because of the huge amount of jewelery. The promotional video has a very similar style to her album artwork. A lot of computer graphic work is featured on a realistic setting. The setting is a frozen winter field with the flowers, snow, butterflies and trees in a crystallized state. Ayumi Hamasaki wears hair extensions and looks simply gorgeous. However apart from being an extremely beautiful display of a mixture a realistic and fantasy eye-candy, this promotional video seemed to lack a plot or a direction.

Rating: ★★★★★

 

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8. momentum

‘momentum’ is another Tetsuya Yukumi composition. The composition and arrangement has a style which is quite similar to her ‘I Am…’ album. Many fans have compared it to the masterpiece ‘M’ because it is an emotional ballad with rock elements.

It also has various elements similar to the style of ‘LABYRINTH’. A winter-fantasy touch is evident throughout this song, especially since there are orchestral strings included by BLOODY HONEY again, along with a guitar. The lyrics of ‘momentum’ have a similar theme to ‘It was’. It speaks about a person who wishes to let go, but cannot bear to let go of her precious memories. Thus feelings and actions seem to contradict each other.

The promotional video was first aired on MTV on November 28, 2006. It was another clip directed by Takahide Ishii. It is also one of her promotional clips which feature a western cast and have a style similar to winter clips such as ‘rainy days’ and ‘No Way to say’. This promotional video contains a very poignant plot and artistic symbolism. It relates the tale of a girl who died in the past. However the ghost of this girl is unable to let go of her love for a man, who has now grown old. To her loving him was her first and last miracle and she hold onto this as her last hope. Thus she stands out in the cold snowy days by a lamppost, hoping she shall meet with him again.

The candle scene, seems directly connected with the lamppost scene. There is a myth that a dark cellar exists with candles. Every people is connected with a lighted candle. Once the candle is burnt out or has been accidentally extinguished, the person connected to it dies. The guardian of these candles is Death in person. Death seems to give her another chance by using her own candle’s flame to light up the extinguished one of the dead girl. She briefly returns as a spirit, just in time to see her past lover lay flowers at the spot where she dies. In the end, a gust of wind extinguishes the candle before the girl can reunite with her lover for the last time. It is quite interesting to note Hamasaki appears with a coat, which is extremely similar to the one she wore in ViVi December 2006 issue.

Rating: ★★★★½

 

9. taskinst

‘taskinst’ is almost a full job done by tasuku, who typically includes ‘task’ in the beginning of his compositions. He has composed, arranged, programmed and played the guitar for the song itself. It is another interlude which separates ballads from a more lively side of this album. I personally believe this creation by him is simply pure genius.

Again it’s a pop-rock influenced track. It starts off similarly to an innocent sugary musical box instrumental. However soft guitars are inserted within this song until they break in a powerful, edgy and aggresive climax. After the climax dies down is, it mysteriously reverts to it’s prior state as if nothing had happened.

Rating: ★★★★½

 

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10. Born To Be…

‘Born To Be…’ was released previously as the second side of the single ‘Startin’/Born To Be…’. It is the official theme song of Nittele’s coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics. It was another composition by Kazuhiro Hara and an arrangement and programming collaboration with CMJK.

It starts off with a muffled low chorus, which rapidly enough breaks into a powerful chorus, which is followed by Hamasaki’s uplifting vocals. In my opinion this song really sets a glorious atmosphere fitting for the Olympics. I loved how it’s full of positive energy, hope and determination. The choice of instruments is also extremely lively and triumphant with guitars and drums.

The promotional video probably must be her worst ever, especially for my eyesight. It has blinding yellow spotlights shining into your eyes through most of the clip, preventing you from seeing anything else apart mere shadows. My favourite part was when the child actors and Ayu have appeared without any ugly spotlights ruining my eyesight.

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

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11. Beautiful Fighters

‘Beautiful Fighters’ is an absolutely new style for Hamasaki, which is composed by Kazuhito Kikuchi, who has composed many other songs for Hamasaki in the past. Again CMJK has worked with the arrangement, programming and has played the guitar and bass for this song. It was also the second side of her single ‘ BLUE BIRD‘. This song also happens to be a tie-in with happens to be a tie in with Panasonic’s D-Snap SV-SD370/SV-SD770 mp3 player.

It has a bubble-gum pop genre, with a cheerleader atmosphere which is reminiscent of sifow’s single, ‘LOVE & PEACE.’ It makes use of an electronic voice, which is something typically present in the trance genre. Hamasaki’s vocals are much more cute than her typical releases and has a lighthearted theme.

The lyrics are focused on women who struggle in everyday life but do eventually manage to shine in the end. They focus on encouraging women to work hard and be persistent in their dreams. The promotional video for ‘Beautiful Fighters’ premiered on SpaceShower TV on June 12, 2006. They follow a similar theme to the lyrics. Ayu and her backup dancers act as regular working girls who live a regular life. The promotional video feature them doing mistakes. However these girls have a mysterious life, where they are stars. Within the music video there’s also some choreography included, which is quite rare for Ayumi to dance.

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

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12. BLUE BIRD

‘BLUE BIRD’ is the one and only composition of DAI in ‘Secret’. ‘BLUE BIRD’ is also a tie in song with Zespri Gold Kiwi beverages. This decision has led to the beverages’ sales to increase to the point that this obtained the media attention when Hamasaki was given a gift as a thank you for the high sales.

It is one of the few tracks in this album which has a pure pop genre. ‘BLUE BIRD’ is upbeat, summerish and carries a hint of fantasy. Ayu’s vocals here are extremely vivid and rich. It fits perfectly for summer, but I must admit Hamasaki has released better summer songs and I expected something more spectacular from DAI.

The promotional video for this song was aired for the first time on SpaceShower TV on June 9, 2006. It is definitely is reminiscent of last year’s summer single ‘fairyland’. The setting is again a gorgeous tropical island in Guam. This video features her backup dancers again. Overall it’s mostly panoramic scenes with Ayu and her dancers enjoying themselves in summer.

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

13. kiss ‘o kill

‘kiss ‘o kill’ reverts back to rock and is again yet another Tetsuya Yukumi composition. This song is boasts of a wide range of musical intruments used and is extremely powerful, coupled by Hamasaki’s raw and emotional vocals. The lyrics also display a more serious and reflective side of Ayu.

“When alone, I always searched for a reason
When stressed, I always searched for an outlet”

The combination of rock instruments coupled with the children’s choir, strings and organs created an interesting result. I feel this is yet another hybrid of genres where rock and classical music meet together. What is definitely the genius of this song are the acoustic and electric guitar and the clever switch between them and the strings. This song is probably one of her most creative and original tracks she has ever released. Personally I find this song a masterpiece in itself.

Rating: ★★★★½

 

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14. Secret

‘Secret’ is just the perfect ending to a stunning album. It is also the defining song of this album, with such a heavenly ballad. The instrumentation relies on orchestral instruments, such as strings and acoustic guitars. It is also reminiscent of Chinese ballads. This song was chosen to be the ending theme for a Hong Kong movie, ‘Confession of Pain’. Takeshi Kaneshiro starred in this movie, and Hamasaki attended to the premiere of this movie, attracting the media attention and gathering a load of fans to greet her at the airport.

I personally feel this song is the most emotional ballad of this album. Her vocals are displayed in a manner that the listener can notice how they have evolved. Despite how mellow this song sounds, it is rich of emotion and is extremely poignant. The lyrics display her most weak and hidden feelings that she has as an artist and as a human being. I loved how poetic and philosophical they sounded.

“Even now, I am as always
Searching for a place to be
There is nothing else I’d rather have”

Rating: ★★★★★

 

Conclusion

After listening to her album, one cannot help but ask for the reason why this album was actually called ‘Secret’. It is well known that Ayumi loves giving hidden meanings and themes to her releases. Some have been claiming that her ‘A’ motif on her arm is actually a real tattoo. Others have been speculating over her long relationship with Tomoya Nagase and a possible future marriage announcement. However it seems that Ayu is not going to give up her secrets so easily as she mentions in ‘CNN Talk Asia‘:

“Yeah, it’s called “Secret” because… everyone has a secret. Right? Of course I have a secret. I think maybe you too? So… but I can’t explain to you, because if I told you, it’s not a secret, you know?”

In the January 2007 issue of ViVi, Ayu happily mentions that to her ‘Secret’ is her best album to date. She also explained that each song she penned and sang were parts of her which are known only to her. Consequently she wished that all her listeners would discover pieces of her within her songs.

Overall this album was well beyond my expectations. Every single detail of this album’s package was carefully produced. The artwork was brilliant, artistic and classy. The use of contrasts by Leslie Kee was pure genius, making it one of her best booklets to date. I’ve also felt that ‘Secret’ has overcome the flaws of her previous albums, ‘(miss)understood’ and ‘MY STORY’. ‘Secret’ sticks solely to pop and rock, unlike the multiple genre (miss)understood. ‘Secret’ successfully combines the elements of all her past albums and manages to recreate a new style for itself.

Personally I find this album the perfect combination of powerful trance/techno-rock songs, upbeat and cheerful pop songs and emotional ballads. Every single track was a gem of its’ own and the transition between each of them was almost flawless. I was amazed to discover that the non-single songs were so much better than the single tracks. I must say that this album is one of those which any fan of music simply cannot miss because it’s that good.

Ayu has certainly outdone herself this time and has managed to create an extremely personal and creative album. It ranks up to the levels of masterpieces such as ‘I Am…’. In fact I feel that ‘Secret’ is a stunning masterpiece in itself, despite the fact that the sales were relatively low compared to her previous albums. However I found it extremely encouraging that Hamasaki is getting so much international success and attention. This shall probably mean that in the future she shall be expanding her horizons to Asia as this has proven to be true with her upcoming tour which shall extend to Taiwan, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

 

CD Cover
CD Cover
CD+DVD Cover
CD+DVD Cover

CD Tracklist

  1. Not yet
  2. until that Day
  3. Startin’
  4. 1 LOVE
  5. It was
  6. LABYRINTH
  7. JEWEL
  8. momentum
  9. taskinst
  10. Born To Be…
  11. Beautiful Fighters
  12. BLUE BIRD
  13. kiss o kill
  14. Secret

Purchase this item: YesAsia US | YesAsia Global

Sources

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About the author

Rinoa enjoys spending her free time writing articles, most particularly reviews, biographies and news articles. Her favourite artist is Ayumi Hamasaki but she enjoys listening to a wide range of musical talents from all over the world.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Sendomik TURKEY February 27, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I wanted to start my own blog on this topic. Thank you for inspiration.

Reply

Yuna-chan UNITED STATES July 6, 2010 at 9:36 am

Ayu is so amazingg!! Noone can compare to her beauty either. I loved all her songs except for the video 1 love cuz it was kinda creepy…0_0 But Ayu almost always does a great job!♥

Reply

Konoka August 15, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Inspirational music; thanks so much for reviewing. Some of the tracks are quite brilliantly done. I’ve only recently started listening to Ayumi and I find her old music very uplifting. Startin’ is definitely my favourite song/single so far.

Reply

sanzo VIET NAM May 22, 2008 at 4:13 am

i love secret’s dvd cover !!!! it’s so gorgeous ! !! !!!!

Reply

Kat UNITED STATES March 23, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Wow, I enjoyed reading the review for these songs. I like the song, “Until that day”, “1 Love”, “Momentum” & “Kiss o’ Kill”. However now that I see the video “1 Love”, I feel like the video is very beautiful, but her vocals don’t seem high enough. I don’t know, at first, it seemed she did very good vocals, but than it seemed as they were weak. I still like the song. I agree, she does say 1 Love very clearly. Hmm, I don’t like the song “Secret”, I feel like it is plain. I do not own the album, but I heard MOST of the songs. Thanks for the review. I love to read, especially about Ayumi!

Reply

Shawn CANADA March 3, 2007 at 9:19 pm

こんにちぇわ
hello, i love the music.

Reply

Rinoa February 25, 2007 at 11:26 am

I’m not too good on conversions but wikipedia claims that it was around $900,000 U.S. dollar-$1 million. Also when I ran the currency convertor 900,000 US dollars converted to 108,972,000 yen so I believe you are wrong. 10 million dollars are 1,210,800,000 yen.

Reply

Christina February 25, 2007 at 2:32 am

Just wanted to add that 100 million yen is roughly 10 million dollars, not 1 million.

I enjoyed reading the review. :)

Reply

Lisa UNITED STATES February 19, 2007 at 11:23 am

Ayu impressed me so much with this album.

Reply

Rinoa February 18, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I agree. The whole album is a fantastic experience. Yeah Wataru Takeishi is always conducting expensive videos lately. This is almost 1 million U.S. dollars. Pretty crazy imo but the pv came out looking real pretty.

Reply

saya UNITED KINGDOM February 18, 2007 at 1:32 pm

This is my favourite ayu album, she sounds so mature! This is one of those albums you can listen to the whole way through without stopping, without moving once because you don’t want to miss it! :P

ps. 100 million on a video?!

Reply

Celsius005 UNITED STATES February 14, 2007 at 4:08 pm

Oh my, [Secret] receives much acclaim indeed. I personally have been indifferent regarding Ayumi due to her more ‘mainstream’ visage, but I think the quality of this album acts as a deterrent for me. I’m rather impressed with the uniformity of the tracks in this album, as most others I’ve come across (not necessarily Ayumi’s) seem to do a slapdash job compiling songs together.

“1 LOVE” is gripping song for sure. I do remember watching a CM advertising [Secret], and I think this was playing for the duration – a wise selection in my opinion since it brings out somewhat of an attractive air about it. “Secret” strikes me as the most conventional out of the sampled tracks, but it was satisfying nonetheless. It’s no surprise her fandom reaches international heights!

Reply

Anna UNITED STATES February 14, 2007 at 12:41 pm

Holy mackerel, this was a long review, but very well done. I enjoyed reading about each track on the album and although I didn’t personally enjoy the album so much, you sure made it sound good. :D

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