02. ENDLESS STORY
06. Tender is the Night
08. Nobody Knows
10. Stay for Love
13. Precious -wedding extended ver.- (Bonus Track)
Yuna Ito released her debut album one January 24, 2007. The album was the culmination of six singles, two of which were related to Yuna Ito’s REIRA personality for the NANA movies. With mixed success with her first six singles, Yuna Ito’s possible success with “HEART” was in question. In the end, though, “HEART” went on to become a smash hit, selling 523,715 copies. Buoyed by the success of her singles, Yuna Ito captured the third best selling female original studio album effort of 2007.
“WORKAHOLIC” is the pacesetter for the album. It’s pop that sounds somewhat generic, due to the use of keyboards, a strong beat, and strings. That generic nature, alongside the feeling that this song could be playing on the radio in the 90s hinder “WORKAHOLIC”‘s strength as a pop song. However, defying explanation, “WORKAHOLIC” is probably the most enjoyable album track on “HEART.” It’s fun, fluffy, and poppy. Nothing wrong there. Although there are a few shortcomings (i.e. the hook, the instrumentation, etc.) the song comes together quite nicely in the end, starting the listener on a high note.
The string backing of “WORKAHOLIC” helps ease the transition to the sweeping ballad, “ENDLESS STORY.” “ENDLESS STORY” is just pure beauty and exhilaration as far as pop ballads go. Yuna Ito’s voice is clear and understandable, the melody is memorable, the climax is grand, and the hook is perfect. Yuna Ito’s producers hit gold with this track, really showing off her power throughout the song through a combination of layering and instrumentation. “ENDLESS STORY” is one of the reasons people bought “HEART,” and after listening to the track, it’s not hard to see why.
The follow up to “ENDLESS STORY” is the sleek R&B song, “Losin’.” Despite featuring an Engrish phrase (which is bad considering Ito is an English native speaker), the song is catchy and maintains momentum well. The synth-tinged guitar sample works well with Ito to create a track that borders on ethereal at times. “Losin'”‘s undeniable strength would be its chorus which is just so catchy, mainly due to the combination of speed, layered vocals, and the hooks featured. Over all, “Losin'” is another track where Ito can really shine.
“Know-how” is a track that is easy to pass by, as its sandwiched between “Losin'” and “Precious.” And let’s face it, that’s not a bad thing considering how plain “Know-how” sounds. Despite the brightness of Ito’s vocals lightening “Know-how” up, the track just doesn’t shine. It has no depth, little layering, and little to enjoy. Yuna Ito can handle singing backed by modern lounge type instrumentals, but this track really fails at showing off her vocals and fails at being memorable.
“Precious” is another take on the ballad by Ito, this time with a gospel sound courtesy of a full choir. Working with such a large sound, Ito’s vocals fill this track with power and sincerity. With a memorable chorus and a great sound filled with keyboards, violins, piano, and drums, “Precious” proves itself to be an excellent song in the end.
“Tender is the Night” does well maintaining the flow from the last track, but that’s about all it does. Considering the concentration of ballads on this album, it’s of utmost importance for the ballads to be different and good. “Tender is the Night” only succeeds at one of them, mainly due to the choice of instrumentation. It’s not good, mainly because Ito’s voice is not truly utilized here and the song doesn’t have the softness to explain that. The song ends up sounding a bit like a bad 90s power ballad with R&B effects thrown in to make the song contemporary, as well as a saxophone.
“Fragile” starts off with an intriguing use of violins that continues to be a motif throughout the whole song. However, that’s about the best thing about that track; despite an initial surprise bout of musical quality, the song falls on its feet. “Fragile” isn’t terrible, it just sounds like another pop R&B song that could be found in the 90s. Ito’s vocals are better here, but they’re not at their best.
Continuing the trend of 90s-esque songs, “Nobody Knows” doesn’t sound particularly good. It features the same style instrumentation as “WORKAHOLIC,” but with less style and power. Let’s put it this way: “WORKAHOLIC” wasn’t that good in the first place, but for something to imitate it and do poorly doesn’t bode well. “Nobody Knows” sounds off at points and feels worse than album filler.
The next song, “Faith,” was a single song, but it does not capture the same magic as Ito’s other ballad songs. Still, compared to the album ballads, this softer violin and piano based ballad sounds pleasant and sweet. It demonstrates Ito’s vocal prowess and also has a great melody, best exemplified by the violin intro.
“Stay For Love” has a beat similar to the verses of “Faith,” but doesn’t come together as a solid R&B song. Instead, it stays in the realm of mediocrity, never gaining strength. If the combination of Ito’s vocals and the backing track weren’t jarring, the “Stay For Love” might come across as smooth R&B, but as it stands, the song is sub-par.
“Truth” features a rockier version of a power ballad, where Ito’s voice soars against the fitting vivid backdrop. Although “Truth” failed to recreate the success of “ENDLESS STORY” that’s probably more the fault of NANA 2 than Yuna Ito. She sounds great here, and the ballad builds up with a great climax. Her voice exemplifies her characteristic clarity and power here on “Truth,” making it another great ballad from her. Although it’s another ballad, it’s strong and it’s different, which helps prevent it from repeating the themes of past tracks.
The final track, “Perfume” isn’t special. It is a sweet end in to the album lyrically, but musically it fails to impress. Of course, Ito’s vocals are on their A-game, but the production is just not there to back her up. “Perfume” feels average because like many of the other album tracks, the song lacks great production that make Ito’s vocals pop. Here, she feels like just one of many J-pop songstresses, when in reality, she is something special.
The wedding version of “Precious” simply makes the song more fitting for its primary use: as a wedding song. It’s not necessarily better, but perhaps more fitting. The song isn’t re-recorded, but instead only has its instrumentals replaced. It’s not bad, but this version of “Precious” is not better than the original.
Word to the wise, an album should not focus on the outdated sounds of a decade of the past and throw away the positive single songs that could have helped cover up that mess. Ito did not utilize “stuck on you” and “pureyes,” two upbeat pop tracks that could have easily diversified “HEART” and given it more feeling and energy. Instead, her production team decided on filling the album with only so-so tracks, with little to love. Even if the album has well polished singles, the lacking quality of the album tracks severely hurts “HEART.” In the end, in J-pop, this effort is not enough to distinguish Ito. If she doesn’t change tactics, she may never see the sales she saw with “ENDLESS STORY” – or even “Precious” – ever again. Ito’s capable, but she needs to re-evaluate her music.