[Album] Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY


1. Mirror
2. (don’t) Leave me alone
3. talkin’ 2 myself
4. decision
6. fated
7. Together When…
8. Marionette -prelude-
9. Marionette
10. The Judgement Day
11. glitter
12. MY ALL
13. reBiRTH
14. untitled ~for her~

~Album Review~
Ayumi Hamasaki released her ninth studio album, “GUILTY,” on January 1, 2008. With such a long discography, Ayu’s main job on this album was creating modern, relevant J-pop that sounded different from her earlier music, but did not alienate her earlier listeners.

“Mirror” is the intro for the album. It’s a great note to start the album off on. It starts out with synthetic elements and a jovial keyboard that eventually succumbs to guitar riffs. The riffs accompany a change in Ayu’s voice, a darkness and power that make this track a great listen even if it is short.

“(don’t) Leave me alone” is electronica tinged pop rock. The song has a very distinct flavor, probably most similar to Ayu’s “my name’s WOMEN.” When drawing that comparison between the songs, however, it becomes apparent that “my name’s WOMEN” is superior. Nevertheless, the production of “(don’t) Leave me alone” is solid, and the track sounds great with a chorus that is much fuller than the verses. The crescendo of the song, however, does not have the power Ayu’s songs normally have. For many, this distinct style has made the track a favorite. However, this style must contend with lack of vocal power, especially noticeable during the chorus, in the “(don’t) Leave me alone. The song comes out as sleek rock, but feels like it somehow just missed achieving greatness.

“talkin’ 2 myself” is rockier, edgier, and possibly better than “(don’t) Leave me alone.” Again, the comparison between the two comes down to style versus power. In “talkin’ 2 myself,” the melody of the chorus is much more memorable, and the intermingling of guitar riffs and keyboard effects create a very dark, enjoyable atmosphere. Ayu is very in tune with the instrumentals on this track, which is a definite strength. As the backing of the track grows in speed and intensity, so does Ayu. “talkin’ 2 myself” easily becomes the best rock song on the album because of its pure power and well-done production.

“decision” is another rock song, the B-side to “talkin’ 2 myself” on the single. It’s only suiting, then, that the two songs find themselves next to each other. It’s also fitting that “decision” is the weaker of the two tracks; they’re both rock, and despite a nice effort and nice vocals, the production and power in “decision” aren’t enough to compete with “talkin’ 2 myself.” Here, “decision” is still rock, but it doesn’t feel nearly as polished as “talkin’ 2 myself.” The violins and rock are nice, and Ayu does great singing, especially towards the end, but it’s not enough to make “decision” stand out.

“GUILTY” takes about 48 seconds to begin, and that feels much too long. The instrumentation at the beginning is pretty and builds to the vocals, but the line between beauty and boredom was crossed; the beginning could very well lull you into a slumber. With that long of an intro, the expectation becomes that this song will explode in intensity. Despite a pretty melody and piano element, the song never achieves greatness because it doesn’t climax well, thereby failing to meet the expectations set by the song itself. The song begins and ends as one. The song feels somewhat emotive, but cannot compare to “Together When…” The chorus on “GUILTY” sounds great, but just doesn’t have that much power.

If one track had to be pointed to as the worst song of the album, it may be “fated.” It’s just there as a ballad, which is not something listeners can often say about Ayu’s music. Her music always has that extra “umph” to it, but here on “fated” the music is just so-so, and there is no emotional climax. In the end, the problem with “fated” is that it is just average; average vocals, average lyrics, average intensity and average quality. One thing the song does well, however, is lead into “Together When…”

“Together When…” was an excellent choice for a pre-album digital release. The song is easily the best song Ayu has put out this year, putting her other songs to shame. The song grows well, seamlessly transitioning from a pretty, calm verse, to a powerful, large chorus. The verse itself has well-done lyrics that are both catchy and memorable. That combination, along with an elegant melody, make “Together When…” a top-notch ballad and the star of “GUILTY.” The ending is impressive, as well: as Ayu repeats her choruses twice, she contrasts a soft, emotive whisper with powerful, sorrowful vocals to create a great climax that leads into a great extro. If there was any doubt, it’s cleared up here: Ayu still has that capability to write great lyrics and put out great music.

“Marionette -prelude-” leads the listener right into the next track, “Marionette.” “Marionette” features interesting synthetic instrumentation that revolves around a piano backing. The feeling created is that the music flows as the song progresses. Almost like a stream of flowing water gaining momentum, the song transforms into a rock chorus. The rock of “Marionette” really gives it a lot of power and emotion that contrasts well with the eerie keyboards that both begin and end the track. A different song from Ayu that has style and depth.

If there was a short song that could have been made full-length to improve “GUILTY,” it would be “The Judgement Day” which has a techno beat and electronica feeling all at once. The power and feeling of the track are energetic and catchy. It’s a shame that style was never capitalized on this album, it could have really made a difference and improved “GUILTY.” Instead, the album took an emotional, rock edge, which Ayu has done before.

“glitter” transitions well from “The Judgement Day,” and serves as a great, happy pop rest from the rock on the rest of the album. The song features synthetic keyboard-based background instrumentation, a central beat, and layered background vocals that come together to create a larger than life song. The song is quite summery with its cheer, but doesn’t quite live up to the greatness of previous summer songs, including “BLUE BIRD.”

“My All” is mid-tempo pop that appears to be on the album because, well, there was too much rock. As pop, the song is light and fluffy and just plain catchy. It has a great beat and a good melody to boot. Nothing to complain about here – it’s just mid-tempo, and it might have felt better if it was upbeat. Still, it’s nice to hear something new and pop-centric from Ayu after “glitter.” The vocals are fine here, and the extro is just a bunch of “la la”s. “My All” is guilty pleasure, as it should be.

The tone of the album shift with “reBiRTH,” which transitions into “untitled ~for her~.” “untitled ~for her~” is a soft ballad that begins with violins, and features fairly spartan verses juxtaposed against rockier choruses backed by piano and violins. Over all, this is probably one of the better album tracks on the album; it’s done well and sounds well produced, with background vocals and instrumentation that take the song to the next level.

If you were holding out for the best Ayu album in a long time, then “GUILTY” will be a huge disappointment. It is not of high caliber, especially when compared to albums like “Duty” and “I am…” As such, “GUILTY” falls into the tier of albums occupied by “MY STORY,” making this album her worst since 2005. That doesn’t mean “GUILTY” is bad, it just means it isn’t breath-taking. The problem lies in the rock of the album coupled with weaker album tracks. Most of the album, the songs are there but not impressive, not powerful. When Ayu is on during the course of the album, she is on, putting out some her best music in quite some time. It’s just a shame to see good tracks mixed in with rubbish. Nevertheless, “GUILTY” has redeeming songs that do appeal to a variety of listeners. Often on the album, however, songs that some like completely alienate other fans. Still, for Ayu fans and J-pop fans alike, “GUILTY” is worth a listen, for even if the music isn’t Ayu’s best, it’s still a guilty pleasure to listen to one of J-pop’s best.

84% B


8 Responses to “[Album] Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY”

  1. 1 entrydenied December 24, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    I haven’t heard the album yet but judging from your review it seems that it will do well for her to be more stringent with song selections and release an album every 2 years instead of keeping to the 1 album per year routine

  2. 2 redracer December 29, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I am just wondering if the album is to be released on the 1st January, how can you be doing a review of it on the 22nd December ??

  3. 3 lisa January 2, 2008 at 2:41 am

    hmm…i agree with you
    on the comments on this album…however i really liked the mv of marionette…but i really didnt find together when that great at all..the vocal realli disappointed me and the chorus really didnt jump out…perhaps thats jus a difference on personal preferences…but i really don’t agree with you on that GUILTY is on the same line as MY STORY….MS was an amazing album…it was very complete (a great collection of works) ..and i think most would agree with me cuz that was the album that brought back ayu’s popularity ever since the decline from around the RAINBOW era…perhaps you’re a fan on rock…which make ur opinions a bit biased i think …yet still idun see how DUTY was great …but then all of ayu’s albums have their own unique flavor which is irreplacable…guilty did disappoint me though …miss understood and secret were all much more up to standard.

  4. 4 lisa January 2, 2008 at 3:05 am

    after reading your comment on Secret ..i really do think you are a great commenter ..even though i dun agree at some points but you are by far one of the best reviewers i have seen…becuz after listening to ayu for over 8 years…there are many reviews that i can’t finish reading without saying “go listen to more ayu”…..anyhow..keep up the good work …btw just want to explain myself from above a bit

    why My story is really a hit for me was because i am a pop listener …i dun feel guilty about it ….i don’t think its guilty pleasure..its often much harder to make songs that just catch ears rather than songs that sound complicated and only people up there can understand …however its true My story was strong mainly cuz of the single tracks…however walking proud was really quite something and about you…the only one i really dislike was HONEY in that one..allt he rest are all stars of their own kind…Also the booklet photos was beautiful…it has to be the cd that i put into my player the most often Moments, About you, walking proud, Humming 7/4, Carols, Replace, hope or pain…these really made my day…and the transition from catchers in the night to about you was just genius…i remember i bought that album in christmas taht year..its a great winter album…i listend to it over and over again 5 times…and i bought the concert also…it was my first ayu concert and it was absolutely amazing…it was also one of her best concerts…..the missunderstood one after was far less amazing

    Duty was good…but only if the tracks are listened to by themselves..and i think its just too young…ayu was too young…Loveppears was good but i think the reason i didnt built this strong love for both of those albums was because i never listened to the songs as an album…i was still very young back then…i just listened to songs as they popped up and i ignored the album titles and blah….

    I am …was good but the instrumentals i thought were too flat…i can’t describe that feeling …just not enough depth to the sound …i don’t know

    i though however memorial address was great….and something that really shocked adn took my love away was A Ballad…it was great..simply great ..all the renewed versions of the songs were truly quite refreshing and good…the whole album was good

    sorry i blabed on like that ….but to summerize..Guilty …in some way makes ayu a little guilty …there were jus too many instrumental transition tracks…and i did not like don’t leave me alone and guilty ..ehhh esp when put side to side with talkin to myself

    i must say MY ALL is my most fav….not feeling guilty at all..it was by far the catchiest song and it was the only one i remembered after runnign throught the new tracks in the album

  5. 5 Anonymous January 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    you know, there are pple who say that Rainbow was the peak of Ayu’s carrer. Here there are pple who says it was her slump. There were pple who said My Story was her worst album. There are pple who said here My Story was one of her best. There are pple in other reviews who condemned Glitter and give top marks for fated and then those who said the opposite. There were pple who worshipped Talkin to Myself as the better track in that single and then there were pple who thought it was disappointing and said decision was the far better track.

    Please it is very easy for all of you to comment and just say whatever you all like. Why dun everyone just recognise that every1 simply has different tastes and Ayu has a wide fan base. She innovates as she goes along. At this point of her career it is only too easy for anyone to write off her songs as disappointing cuz it’s like fashionable to do that. I bet if Loveappears or Rainbow or whatever albums came out now instead of those yrs ago there would be ppl who say it is disappointing as well. Well, it’s just fashionable to grab at slightest “weaknesses” of artistes who have are only doing well too long in the music industry.

    To me, Guilty is a album honouring the extremes of ayu. The sexy electro pop Ayu in don’t leave me alone, the pure rock and punk in talkin to myself, the mellow and emotive orchestra-like (reminiscent of songs like part of me, momentum) in Together When. She combines all her style into this album. this is ayu.

    If you want to listen to Ayu, you need to realise that for every track she has, for every album she has, there are forever pple who hate it, pple who think its ok, pple who think it’s excellent. Her music is the kelidoscope of Jpop. If you cant recognise this, endless and endless comments just doesnt do justice to the pple at the other ends.

  6. 6 yu January 5, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    wat you say above is true ….it’s true that there are always the other side to thigns….but then i want to point out is …isn’t that the case with all other artists as well…for a album or even jus one song there are always different opinions….and its true with all issues in the world …thus ur making it sound like any argument in this world would be pointless and debates would be pointless…..

    yes its true that her music appeals to large group …but i still believe in “majority” and i think wat is to say is taht majority of people probably did think that Guilty seem a bit weak compared to some of her other works even though it is still quite great

    ..however its quite easy to see that the magic of her songs are declining in the mroe recent albums …although her vocal has gotten much better

    o btw i duno how many of you know this ..but ayu just announce recently that she has completely lost her hearing on her left ear…even though her left ear being bad has been know since long time ago but now its officially deaf….but we the fans will be her left ear and she said she ll sing until her right one goes deaf too

    hail to ayu….it’s her tenth anniversary this year …ometeto …its been tough but she never seize to amaze and she rocked jpop industry …
    thank you ayu for all ur work ..

  7. 7 Sayaka January 6, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I wish people would stop complaining about her music, people are never satisified with her music. Everytime she comes out with a album people say its a dissapointment. I think this album is good, even though it is short. The interludes like “Mirror” should of been full length songs though. I like her ballads, & her old and new music.

  8. 8 Rene April 23, 2008 at 1:03 am

    I really like Ayumi,she is one of the reason why I liesten to JPOP until now.. Despite of different taste in her melody, I usually focus more on her lyrics and what she can say to the listener. I believe that what makes Ayu success until now

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