Archive for the 'Ayumi Hamasaki' Category

Ayumi Hamasaki’s Rule [2/25/09]

So! Rule, the upcoming theme of the live action Dragon Ball Z movie, leaked in full. I must say that after efforts like “Mirrorcle World” and “STEP you,” “Rule” is surprisingly mediocre. The verses are alright, and the bridges are slick, but the choruses are pretty messy.  Ayu’s singing, or rather yelling all over the place.  Whereas I enjoyed that in “Mirrorcle World,” here it does little to improve the song. Despite featuring a refreshing change of pace in the rock instrumental (something Ayu’s been in dire need of), I can’t really recommend this song to anyone besides rock fans or Ayu lovers.

That said, I can’t wait for the other A-side on Ayu’s upcoming single.  A dancey pop tune is just what the doctor ordered!

84% B

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[News] Ayumi Hamasaki: J-pop Queen Loses Hearing in One Ear

According to Ayumi Hamasaki’s own blog entries, she has been diagnosed with permanent, irreparable damage to her left ear. Currently, she can still hear out of that ear, however, soon it shall be completely deaf. This means that she will be impaired in her singing abilities. Already, the effects of this impairment have been seen on popular J-pop year end shows, including Ayu’s own Countdown Live for 2007 into 2008. However, this damage to her left ear has been around for quite some time, ever since her Dome Tour in 2001, where she continued to perform despite hearing having hearing problems. This perseverance, although commendable and bold, has ultimately cost her hearing and jeopardized her performance capability.

Already, the support from the J-pop community has been massive. Ayumi Hamasaki originally revealed her left ear’s hearing loss on her blog, and on her blog she replied to her fans. She has given them hope, and in true Ayu spirit, she will continue onward and produce music for them. From a musical standpoint, Ayumi Hamasaki is still capable of creating quality music even with this problem; one need look no further than the digital release, “Together When…,” which was excellently done and performed well on the charts. Ayu even performed well on some shows, despite ragged vocals on others. We can only hope that Ayumi Hamasaki will continue to work through this problem and show us her strength in her music. We all wish her the best during this hard time.

————–

Here are the original blog posts from Ayu – they are both heartfelt and sincere (these are translated courtesy of HiruNoKaze of AHS).

My frank resolution for this year.

The truth is, last year, I had an ear check-up, my diagnosis being that my left ear has completely lost all function and that there is no treatment.

Even so, I want to keep being a singer.

That’s why I’ll keep singing as long as this remaining right ear works, to its limit.

I won’t quit.

I won’t make excuses.

As a professional, I will sing the best songs for you*.

I don’t really like the word “ganbaru,” but…

I will ganbaru**!!!!! At all costs!!!!!!!!!

Until that day, someday… 

————–

” No.205 January 5th, 2008 (Saturday) 1:13am

The volume of messages from you all is amazing, I decided to post again.*

Mhmm” … “Hey,” … “Yea…”

I have always, as much as I can, meant to keep honestly conveying my own feelings with my own words. I think you all definitely understand this.

Yes…right, I believe.
That’s why…I write.
I write things I keep only in my heart, not even telling my beloved family members nor my staff.

Actually, no…strictly speaking, that’s not true.
I only told Mama (I mean Mika John).
That my left ear cannot hear anymore.

I thought of going to the hospital because I felt distinctly that something strange happened to my ear.
I thought it was the earphone monitors and told the people around me I wanted to switch to new ones.

Honestly, when the doctor told me that there is no treatment and that it’s too late, my mind went blank.
In my heart somewhere, I felt that if I just make the time necessary for surgery, my ear would be able to hear again.

But I was wrong.

I remember the doctor’s eyes even now.
They looked regretful and apologetic. As if to say I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do…

So, I laughed.

I didn’t know why, but I said “I thought so”, and laughed.
Surrounded by my beloved staff inside the hospital room, everything returned to silence.

But, please, I don’t want you to read this with pessimism.

I have accepted this reality.

And, I want you to understand somehow that I’m not despairing, but that the light of my hopes shines forth.

Because, you’ve told me that you will become my left ear.
You’ve told me that, so that I’ll be able to hear more and more, you’ll shout out for me.

Hey…

So, with my remaining right ear, I’m gonna do this.
I’m not at all straining myself.
To me, it’s my happiness.

Worrying is useless!!!!!!!!!!!

From here on, I going to keeping running forward like this~~~~~!!!
But, let’s keep running together~~~~~~!!!!!!

I want to show you my dreams.
Unending, unfading.
I want to show you that kind of dream.
That is my wish.

Thank you, everyone, everyone, everyone…
Thank you, Mama.
Thank you,

My beloved big sister.

Let’s do it, 10th year anniversary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

[Album] Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY

632px-guiltycddm8.jpg

~Tracklist~
1. Mirror
2. (don’t) Leave me alone
3. talkin’ 2 myself
4. decision
5. GUILTY
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

[Album] Ayumi Hamasaki – Secret

~Tracklist~
01. Not yet
02. until that Day…
03. Startin’
04. 1 LOVE
05. It was
06. LABYRINTH
07. JEWEL
08. momentum
09. taskinst
10. Born To Be…
11. Beautiful Fighters
12. BLUE BIRD
13. kiss o’ kill
14. Secret

~Album Review~
This album was released on November 29, 2006, and peaked at number one on the Oricon charts. The album sold 666,396 copies total, and the ballad used to promote the album, “JEWEL,” sold 750,000 ringtones. To put this in perspective, (miss)understood sol 877,000 copies, and each of its single sold at least that many ringtones, with the exception of “Bold & Delicious / Pride.”

“Secret” was a rushed end to 2006; orginally slated to be a mini-album, Avex made Ayu lengthen it to a full studio album. Although “momentum” took the longest out of her career to create, this album was created in perhaps the shortest time in her career. Songs were recycled after not being used for (miss)understood, and some interludes were lengthened. From that description, “Secret” should have felt rushed, sloppy, and poorly designed.

Despite a few flaws, “Secret” does not feel like an album created for a specific date under constraints. Instead, the album performs as sturdy pop that withstands the test of time.

The album begins with the intro, “Not yet,” starting the musical experience out on an high note. This song alone best defines the album as a whole, starting slowly, but gaining momentum and power. The rock and synthetic elements are typical of Ayu rock, as well. Probably most evident in this track is the growing maturity and depth in her voice, why by the climax at the end leaves you wanting more.

“until that Day…” was originally an interlude. It starts out like one, but quickly evolves into an interesting rock track with fast paced and catchy vocals. This is one of the few tracks is of questionable quality on the album, but over all, it’s still very solid. Ayu’s vocals, although they do no do anything spectacular, are quite strong. It starts out as synthetic pop, typical of an interlude, then moves towards rocky, switches to regular guitar, then heads back to rocky for the finale. It’s similar instrumental wise to “Startin'” (but has a different range over all), but is a great lead into the strong pop-track “Startin'”, another standout for this album.

“Startin'” split the Ayu community when it was released, with its PV, message, and difference in composition. Never had Ayu made a track like this before, something very similar to what happened with “Bold & Delicious.” Nevertheless, Ayu rises to the occasion on this powerful pop rock track. The chorus is very catchy with her deep vocals, and the crescendo is certainly strong. The extro is superfluous, but “Startin'” is still one of the best tracks on the album.

“Startin'” leads into “1LOVE” which sure to be a fan-favorite. Ayu dabbled in rock back when she sang “I Am…”, mixing her high pitched vocals and fast beats to create irresistible rock. The song uses her deeper range to better mix with the dark rock, creating a very sharp ambience with power. The chorus lets Ayu’s voice go low and fast, and just sounds amazing. It’s catchy and great sounding all in one. Ayu’s English is near its best with “Just one love,” another catchy element of the song, besides the flowing chorus. The climax into the end is also very strong, as it rolls into the chorus and snowballs to end the song. Bravo on this one!

“It was” is a mellow track, that continues to be soft-spoken as even during the rock chorus. This song is nowhere near the rock powerhouse that “1LOVE” is, but nevertheless, the vocals attempt to show, and to a certain extent, contain a bit of emotion. This song may also be a favorite to people who enjoy her higher register, as Ayu avoids singing in her low throaty voice, even during the chorus. In the end, “It was” serves its job as a transition, but beyond that, not much else; it lacks the extra push the other songs had. However, Ayu’s vocals and emotions do propel it a ways above mediocrity at least.

“LABRYNTH” is fairly well created, with complexity in instrumentation to keep the listener, well, listening. It helps ease the transition into “JEWEL.”

Ayu has an undeniable gift when it comes to ballads. Year after year, she creates a new song that feels different and familiar all at once. “JEWEL” fits into that category and is easily one of the stand-out tracks of the album. It’s a great ballad featuring the piano, a bit of some synth beats, and a whole lot of emotion in Ayu’s voice. It’s strength lies in the lack of grand instrumentation. Opting for a spartan atmosphere, Ayu is backed by only a piano, her background vocals, and various background beats. Somehow, that sounds very full during the choruses, making “JEWEL” another must listen.

“momentum” is “M” reincarnated. Almost. Ayu’s vocals continue to be mature in this song, but aim on the higher end of the register. The violin is just great as it accompanies Ayu’s voice alongside a wintry synth atmosphere and piano intermingled with keyboards. The “M” comparisons are well deserved: “momentum” has the sweeping elements and emotion, then moves into the rock choruses. Once more, “Secret” impresses its depth upon the listener. The final bridge is just great and leads up into the finale that defines this song.

Another interlude so soon? “Taskint” is avoidable, as far as interludes go; it lacks complexity besides rough rock and bare keyboard elements. The track makes the album feel like it’s being stretched, which it is.

“Taskint” is really just the transition between the rock on “Secret” and the pop tracks featured on her singles. Right here, we shall see all cohesion in theme thrown out the window; these three songs do not belong with the songs we’ve just heard, mainly because they feel forced without adequate accompaniment on the album.

“Born to Be…” is a huge, grandstanding song that fills the room with lifting vocals, with Ayu backed by a whole choir. The instrumentation, highly based off of drumming, keyboards, samples of an audience, rock guitar and synthetic elements, is fast-paced. The song is a huge atmosphere and presence to contend with, created by the amalgam of vocals, background singing (very (miss)understood-esque), and instrumentation. It just feels bigger than just Ayu, something the chorus of “Born to Be…” gets across, while being quite catchy.

The pop slippery slope (which is quite enjoyable) continues as the album slides into “Beautiful Fighters” which is entirely synthetic, down to the editing of Ayu’s voice. The downside in the end is the lack of power and range of Ayu’s voice in the song; when the best part of her vocals in the song are the edited ones, it’s bad. Still, the song, although it’s completely a B-side, is another evolution of Ayu’s music.

“BLUE BIRD” is just good pop, best described as a faster version of “fairyland.” It has great synth, and harks back to older days in Ayu’s vocals. She sings in her upper register here, which probably made this song the most popular single of the year for Ayu.

“Kiss o’ Kill” features organs. And it kicks some serious booty doing so. As you get into the finale, you hear people screaming in the background (or cheering) and the instrumentals start switching back and forth between organs and rock. The finale has some great rock riffs as well. Kiss o’ Kill helps define this album. Listening the background people singing is interesting as well. It’s like a crowd of people. This song can be ecstasy at points due to the combination of power in organs and rock elements, alongside soaring vocals that are well backed.

“Secret.” The end as we know it. It features some strings that sound markedly like guitars. Perhaps this song comes closest to “JEWEL”‘s emotion (or even surpasses it). Both feature different kinds of simplicity, but yield an excellent ballad in doing so. “Secret” opts to build up as it moves along, crescendoing much more effectively than “JEWEL.” The orchestrated components along with the simple guitar and Ayu’s soft voice make an emotional ambience. It’s a bit of a bittersweet ending to the album, but still a great ending nonetheless.

This album finds itself in the tried and true territory of both “MY STORY” and “(miss)understood.” “Secret” has an abundance of strong album tracks that impress themselves on the listener, which while good, is not enough; none of the tracks are quite amazing to the point where some of the ones in her earlier career were. However, while “(miss)understood” was a strong album that displayed growth the likes of which we had never seen in Ayu’s music before, it was growth that relied on the crutch of Sweetbox, which hurt the album as a whole. At points, it came off a little bland or even worse, oddly. “MY STORY” did not fall into that trap, but not all of its tracks were as strong as “Secret”‘s. Sure, the single tracks stood out, as did a few notable album tracks, but there were quite a few boring tracks that served their role as filler. Secret may be better because it is both more mature than “(miss)understood” without Sweetbox and nary a moment is bland, but it cannot achieve the strength of her albums “Duty,” “Memorial Address,” “LOVEppears,” and “I Am…” because it lacks those pure hit songs.

Ayu is certainly the queen of J-pop. She has created yet another album worthy of being repeated into oblivion.

88% B+

[News] Ayumi Hamasaki – Album Preview “GUILTY”

~Thoughts~
To be honest, my heart dropped when I heard these previews. There is one pop track on the album, besides “glitter,” and that’s “My All,” which doesn’t sound that good. I like Ayu’s rock, but I sincerely believe she needs to move away from it to get to the next level of her music, or her popularity will dwindle. I hope to see this album outsell “Secret,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t. This album is rock and feels like “Secret” all over again, down to the glitter – My All vs. BLUE BIRD – Beautiful Fighters comparison. Then again, there’s some hope left; we haven’t heard the full album yet. I hope there’s more to these tracks then this. I really do.

[PV] Ayumi Hamasaki – Together When…


~PV Thoughts~
Well, this PV has certainly renewed my love for the song. The PV focuses around three scenes, two of which take place in the same town setting. One is Ayu passing by, presumably, her lover; the second is her sitting on a bench in a very 1950s-esque outfit (it’s excellent costume design), and the third is the marionette scene, which may help connect “Together When…”‘s to that of “Marionette.” The two symbols that stood out for me were the breaking of the marionette and the thunderstorm that pervaded all settings. It felt as though Ayu was trying to say she felt like a puppet, which might be something we’ll see her explore on her album “GUILTY.” Over all, one of her better PVs in a while, much better than “talkin’ to myself”‘s or “glitter / fated”‘s.

[News] Ayumi Hamasaki’s GUILTY Tracklist Revealed

~Tracklist~

guilty1.jpg
【CD】
01. Mirror
02. (don’t) Leave me alone
03. talkin’ 2 myself
04. decision
05. GUILTY
06. fated
07. Together When…
08. Marionette -prelude-
09. Marionette
10. The Judgement Day
11. glitter
12. MY ALL
13. reBiRTH
14. untitled ~for her~

【DVD】

01. 距愛 ~Distance Love~
(glitter/fated) <short film>
02. talkin’ 2 myself<video clip>
03. decision<video clip>
04. Together When…<video clip>
05. Marionette<video clip>
06. (don’t) Leave me alone<video clip>
07. glitter<making clip>
08. fated<making clip>
09. talkin’ 2 myself<making clip>
10. decision<making clip>
11. Together When…<making clip>
12. Marionette<making clip>
13. (don’t) Leave me alone<making clip>

初回限定特典:『SPECIAL PHOTO BOOK』
【CD】
¥3,150(tax in.)AVCD-23504

More Ayumi Hamasaki news already? It looks like the tracklist was the one that has been circling the internet for a few days now. Now that it’s gotten some level of confirmation, I feel okay posting it. I find the track’s titles interesting, and quite in line with Ayu’s recent blog entries. I’m quite excited for this album’s release.