01. Hide & Seek
02. Full Moon
03. CAN’T SLEEP, CAN’T EAT, I’M SICK
04. It’s all about you
05. FUNKY TOWN
06. Step With It
08. Should I Love Him?
09. Top Secret
10. Violet Sauce (Spicy)
11. Baby Don’t Cry
12. Pink Key
Namie Amuro released “PLAY” on June 27, 2007, and it reached number one with her highest sales since her album, “GENIUS 2000.” “PLAY” stayed at number one for two consecutive weeks, as well. With a a chart life of 24 weeks, “PLAY” sold 514,560, making it the 15th best selling album of 2007.
The album hits the ground running with the infectious dance track, “Hide & Seek.” Namie Amuro is powerful and sexy here. The ambience of the song is interesting though – the verses are very sparse and Namie Amuro’s voice is heavily edited until the chorus, where heavy vocal layering and synth flow into the song. In comparison to the verses, the chorus is very full. At times it feels like marching music, but that beat is exactly what makes this song such a great dance track. “It’s time to bang bang bang” your head to “Hide & Seek;” the song is strong Hip-pop with dance flair. The only reason you might not like is if you cannot stand dance music. Otherwise, “Hide & Seek” is too good to pass up.
“Full Moon” continues the album a bit differently. The sensuous vocals continue here, transitioning well from the soft extro of “Hide & Seek.” “Full Moon” is not quite the dance powerhouse that “Hide & Seek” is, but it is an interesting, softer edge to Namie’s music. The best way to describe the chorus of the song is sexual. The background vocals intermingle male oos and aahs with Namie’s own vocal stylings, all under the “full moon.” The constant violin like sound in the background is a nice touch – this song sounds very risky and dark, as love under the full moon should be. “Full Moon” is a stylistic song that may alienate some listeners, while attracting others with its pure sex appeal. “Full Moon” definitely feels like her most sex driven song since the reggaeton-eque “WANT ME, WANT ME.”
“Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” takes a bit of forceful turn from the sexy “Full Moon” into J. Lo “Get Right” territory. The horns have been done by Beyonce and J. Lo, but that doesn’t mean that Namie Amuro doesn’t do them well and with her trademark style. “Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat, I’m Sick” is also very English and little Engrish. For non-Japanese speakers, that means the song is especially easy to get into. The beat is great, the horns are interesting, and the background vocals are great. Namie Amuro takes American pop and gives it her own Hip-pop spin on this 2006 track.
“It’s All About You” starts with a guitar riff and funky vocals and sounds; it sounds a bit like a broken machine might sound at first before the fast-paced clapping beat comes in. The song does not let up; the only respite are the bridges, which are slower and more relaxing compard to the over-the-top and full choruses. “It’s All About You” is made for the dance floor or to be performed; it keeps listeners attuned to the changing tempo and beat, which can be hard to find at times. This dance aspect is only one part of this experimental (in territory, not in genre) song for Namie. The song, over all, is very catchy and fun to sing along to. It has an excellent hook, and Namie performs well vocally, really putting herself behind her vocals.
“Funky Town” is a bit funky. The vocal layering is different, the beat is present, there is an interesting use of sampling and the tinking of a can at points; the song is pretty much just a beat, with a bridge that really winds up well for the full chorus. Surprisingly, the lack of instrumentation for most of the song isn’t a huge problem, mainly because of the full vocals on Namie’s part. You can follow the melody quite well because her vocals are so sweet. The coughing into the “break time” portion of the song (you have to listen to this song, it’s incredibly funky) is very different too. Over all, “Funky Town” is an interesting song to place on the album, representing one of the many incarnations of “hip-pop.”
“Step With It” transitions well from “FUNKY TOWN;” both rely on the beat instead of instrumentation for most of the song. This song is notable for using Namie Amuro’s higher register throughout the chorus, as well as particularly full background vocals, and different accompaniment. Namie Amuro has yet another man on this track, and it shakes things up quite a bit, making this dance track all the easier to “step with.” The song starts really well, lags a bit in the middle, but finishes with a great crescendo.
Just when you think “PLAY” might be losing just an ounce of momentum, Namie Amuro throws the listener another jam. With lines like “I’m real to the bone” and “because I’m so fly” how can you not love the pure style and ‘tude on this poppy hip-pop song. Once more, the beat is the most important aspect of the verses, with telephones supplying the beat (how fitting). The song relies on sampling throughout to create a great atmosphere that simulates saying “hello” on the telephone. Instrumentation comes into play during the catchy choruses, giving the song a soft but memorable melody. Another great pop track from Namie Amuro on “PLAY,” “Hello” has style that you won’t find in some of the other tracks.
Namie Amuro is well known for her ballads, so it’s no surprise that she placed one on this album. For many listeners, this felt like overkill, but the idea is definitely understood; this album is heavy hip-pop, but Namie is still Namie, and her fans still love her ballads. The love it or hate it, “Should I Love Him?” is the result. The song uses old school choir aspects to create a Namie-esque ballad. The song sounds good up to the crescendo, with good harmonies, a fine beat, and nice background vocals. But then, the song becomes gospel like with soaring vocals, a choir supporting Namie Amuro, and full instrumentation. What a climax! If you like R&B ballads, you’ll be wondering right alongside Namie Amuro if she should love him (and who does she love the best?)
“Top Secret” is a hot dance track that samples sexy synthetic sound, guitar and keyboards and uses synthetic editing of Namie’s voice to keep the listener pinned to the speaker until the speaker until the chorus, where the insanely catchy hook kicks in, accompanied by quite a few lyrics. The breathy repetition of five “top secret”s will stick in the listeners head, and the sexy melody will stick in the listener’s head. By the end of the song, you will want to know her secret and to be tested by Namie Amuro. Namie Amuro has clearly been polishing her hip-pop, and this song is no exception.
With the exception of one song so far, Namie Amuro has inundated the listener in dance music. This will have either alienated the listener, or basically make them get up and get their figurative groove on. The finale tracks of the album are markedly different from the rest of the album however; they are still hip-pop tracks with that beat we’ve come to expect from Namie, but these songs are on the rockier and poppier edge. If dance music isn’t your favorite, listen to these tracks and “Should I Love Him?” (maybe even “Hello”); but dance lovers, you too should carry onward and finish this album. It’s worth it for the hip-pop ending.
“Violet Sauce (Spicy)” is another sex driven track on the album, a recreation of the 2005 A-side “Violet Sauce.” With rock guitar and hard beat, the energy level in the song has been kicked up a notch, ditching the sleek nature for pure power. The rocky edges mixed in with expertly layered vocals, well handled production and that killer beat make “Violet Sauce (Spicy)” too good to pass up. By the end of the song, you’ll be dipping it in the sauce. Yes, well, it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together, “Violet Sauce” is an incredibly dirty and sensual song if you look deeper than its surface. But it fulfills that role well, with sexual power thrown throughout.
With killer momentum, the listener heads into the mid-tempo track “Baby Don’t Cry,” a song that begins with the strong, deep beat which fades out. This take on hip-pop only uses the sound of snapping throughout the verses, despite the deeper beat coming back in during the bridge and chorus, which sound great because of the well done vocals. “Baby Don’t Cry” should be a sweet pop song, and the vocals hit that on the target. As if these stellar, catchy choruses weren’t enough (“baby don’t cry” is an admittably good hook), the crescendo is powerful, building, and pure ecstasy all at once. It flows effortlessly into final chorus, which leaves the listener with a pretty extro accompanied by Namie ad-libbing.
The poppy edge continues with “Pink Key” the forward looking ending track on the album. With style and pop pizazz, Namie Amuro drops an insane beat, sweet vocals, and a pleasant message amongst pop production to create the sweet “Pink Key.” The song is mid-tempo through and through, with a catchy chorus and nice bridges and verses. By now, you should realize what Namie can capitalize on in her music, mainly because of the combination of her vocals and top tier production: her finale bridge is superb. Even though it’s the end of the album, it’s time to find your way. The listener is left refreshed with “Pink Key” and wanting more.
After years in the business, Namie Amuro has become a pop machine. At times, her music may flounder a bit and lose her audience, but here on “PLAY” Namie Amuro is in top form. In only a few spots does she stray from the tried and true formula to try bold and new songs, and those strays will either be hit or miss with the audience. Frankly, the album knows it’s just a dance album and capitalizes on it to make it fun. If you’re looking for depth, look elsewhere, because this is no more than fun pop album. How could it be anything more than that with a title like “PLAY?” For pop lovers, there’s a little bit of everything on “PLAY:” from the sheer sexiness of “Full Moon,” to the subtle allure of “Violet Sauce (Spicy),” from the hard beats of “Hide & Seek” to the pop caress of “Baby Don’t Cry.” “PLAY” is just too big and too good because of the strength of the album tracks; they’re able to stand right alongside the singles and shine brightly. It’s quite astounding and quite a listen. “PLAY” was one of the best albums of 2007 and was good enough to let Namie Amuro rise back to the top tier of J-pop songstresses. You should have read enough by now.
It’s time to play.