Mai Kuraki – OVER THE RAINBOW

January 19, 2012 at 7:34 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 2 Comments
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition

OVER THE RAINBOW is Mai Kuraki’s 10th studio album and it was released on January 11, 2012. The album reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 29,618 copies. It was preceded by 4 singles: 1000 Mankai no Kiss, Mou Ichido, Your Best Friend, and Strong Heart (a DVD single).

Gorgeous! Mai-K’s covers seem to keep getting better with each release. Maybe she fired her old GIZA graphic artists. XD

♦ ♦ ♦

Mai Kuraki is still going strong and her latest release OVER THE RAINBOW proves to be a winner. Honestly, this album has grown on me a lot and I really like it now. Alongside her usual songwriters and producers like Aika Ohno and Akihito Tokunaga, the album features songs written by Giorgio Cancemi. If you’re not familiar with his work he is most famous for creating some of Kana Nishino’s biggest hits like Best Friend and Aitakute Aitakute.

The album opens with Strong Heart which was the latest single as well as a DVD single. Written by Cancemi, the music has that light R&B / pop sound that he’s known for and it goes well with Kuraki’s voice. It’s a good way to start things off and it goes right into the cool and sleek synth of another day*another world. This song presents a new sound for Kuraki since it’s aggressive and relies more on the production value (much like the song FUTURE KISS off her previous album).

Then we have a new version of Sayonara wa Mada Iwanai de, the B-side from the 1000 Mankai no Kiss single. I thought it was decent when I heard it on the single but there are some notable tweaks on the album version. For example, the arrangement seems to have a fuller sound with stronger beats (the original sounded empty and dated to me in this regard) and the adlibbing vocals are a little more layered, too.

Stay the same is the first of the album’s two promotional tracks. This was honestly the only song on the album that I didn’t like because the music sounded childish and Kuraki’s vocals followed suit. She has never really pulled off “cute” before so this doesn’t work for her. Then again, the song does have a tie-in with Sanrio Company, the makers of Hello Kitty. XD

After that is Your Best Friend, the first song that Cancemi wrote for Kuraki as well as the 3rd single of the era. At this stage of the album, the music slows down and ballads start to come in so this song makes for a good transition. We’re not exactly in ballad territory yet but we’re getting there. Anyway, Your Best Friend is pretty and flows wonderfully.

Get ready for some ballads! Mou Ichido was the 2nd single of the era and banned in China for some reason. XD Out of the 3 consecutive ballads, this one is definitely the most dramatic. The stringwork and piano chords invoke a feel of sadness and Kuraki’s vocals radiate with the music.

Oh lordy this next track is sooooo nice. Brave your heart is an uplifting ballad and a collaboration with Chinese singer/actor Alex Ru. He sings in Japanese and has a nice voice, especially when he performs his solo lines. The chorus features them singing together and overall I thought this song was great. It was also the album’s other promotional track.

I was surprised that Sun will shine on u was written by Cancemi because of its simple arrangement. Compared to the other songs he wrote for the album, it’s a nice change since this song is mostly piano and strings without the added fluff he normally does. I must say that Kuraki sounds lovely as well with the chorus being my favorite part.

The album begins to pick up the pace again with the inspiring song Love one another. This was originally a digital release with the proceeds going to charities for victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I think the earthy tribal sound going on in the music was unique for Kuraki and various vocal layering was a nice touch. Her long-time collaborator Michael Africk wrote this song and provides minimal background vocals.

Originally the B-side from the Your Best Friend single, step by step comes in with Mai-K shouting “Let’s go!” and upbeat strings. This was one of the better B-sides released during this era so it’s a good addition to the album.

The next track is perhaps my favorite on the album. I instantly liked 1000 Mankai no Kiss right after the first listen because of its dynamic arrangement. It disguises itself as a ballad at the beginning but progressively becomes more upbeat and the rhythm speeds up when the 2nd verse arrives.

It’s always been a tradition for most of Kuraki’s albums to end with a bright, upbeat track and we get that with La La La*La. The music has a slight Latino influence to it and features acoustic guitar with the familiar beats that the musical sytle is known for. Kuraki is no stranger to the genre either. The bridge stands out for its use of synth though.

This might not be a popular opinion amongst Mai-K fans but I preferred OVER THE RAINBOW over her last album FUTURE KISS. To me, FUTURE KISS only had a couple of memorable songs and was kind of disjointed at some parts because of the variety it had. OVER THE RAINBOW trumps it in terms of production value and presentation. All the songs are nicely done with the ones written by Giorgio Cancemi being a breath of fresh air. The only problem that I had with his songs was that Kuraki seemed to struggle to sing those high notes. Normally, she’s spot-on but in these songs she ends up sounding shrilly and almost piercing when she gets around to singing in those upper registers. I think it’s because of her naturally deep voice and she’s wearing it thin. Minor adjustments can fix stuff like that though.

Pros: The flow is great and the music doesn’t sound outdated. I think she’s finally gotten out of her rut!
Cons: Just those little vocal issues. Stay the same is my least favorite track, too.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Strong Heart
2. another day*another world
3. Sayonara wa Mada Iwanai de ~album ver.~ (さよならは まだ言わないで)
4. Stay the same
5. Your Best Friend
6. Mou Ichido (もう一度)
7. Brave your heart
8. Sun will shine on u
9. Love one another
10. step by step
11. 1000 Mankai no Kiss (1000万回のキス)
12. La La La*La (ラララ*ラ)

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Mai Kuraki – Eien Yori Nagaku / Drive me crazy

March 18, 2010 at 9:25 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 3 Comments
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The cover of the CD+DVD edition

Eien Yori Nagaku / Drive me crazy (永遠より ながく/Drive me crazy) is Mai Kuraki’s 33rd single and it was released on March 3, 2010. The single reached #4 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 23, 240 copies.

I like it when Mai-K does things like wear makeup. lol She is actually quite pretty.

♦ ♦ ♦

Eien Yori Nagaku is WEIRD and it just confuses me. XD With its “happy-go-lucky” atmosphere, the song has a campy feel with lyrics relating to marriage. But the main reason why I said the song is weird is because the music sounds so disjointed. The chorus, while being pretty catchy, sticks out because it’s so different from everything else. The verses are okay but when that chorus arrives…it sounds like a completely other song. I’ve heard fans say it’s reminiscent of Winter Bells and I can agree with that.

Originally, this single was only supposed to have Eien Yori Nagaku as the main A-side and the next track as just a B-side. It’s a good thing that Drive me crazy did get the A-side treatment since it is way better. This is an upbeat R&B-ish track with aggressive vocals and unlike the first A-side, there is actually FLOW!

Pros: Drive me crazy is the superior track for sure.
Cons: Eien Yori Nagaku is a hot mess. A hot (yet catchy) mess. I’m torn, bbz!

BASICALLY…a hit and a miss for Mai-K.

Overall Rating

3½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Eien Yori Nagaku (永遠より ながく)
2. Drive me crazy
3. Eien Yori Nagaku -Instrumental-
4. Drive me crazy -Instrumental-

Mai Kuraki – Beautiful

June 24, 2009 at 9:52 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 3 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Beautiful
2. wana
3. Beautiful -instrumental-

This is Mai Kuraki’s 32nd single and it was released on June 10, 2009. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 33,344 copies.

I really like Beautiful, a gentle pop ballad with some R&B undertones. The song has a tranquil, peaceful vibe to it thanks to the light piano and strings but an assertive beat is present as well. Kuraki’s vocals also fit the part and she sounds lovely, especially next to the catchy melodies of the arrangement. For me, the chorus is the most memorable part of the song.

Mai-K has gone ~old school~ with the B-side. wana has that early 90s R&B sound like some of the new tracks on touch Me! and it’s pretty slick. Some people have said it’s similar to her older songs as well, which I can agree to. Anyway, the music is aggressive and is heavy with the synth riffs. There’s also some parts of the song that have background vocals yelling “AY!”, which I got a kick out of.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Mai Kuraki – PUZZLE / Revive

April 22, 2009 at 8:02 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 6 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. PUZZLE
2. Revive
3. The ROSE ~melody in the sky~
     “Live Rehearsal Session”
4. PUZZLE -instrumental-
5. Revive -instrumental-

This is Mai Kuraki’s 31st single and it was released on April 1, 2009. The single reached #3 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 48,328 copies. PUZZLE was used as the theme song for the 13th Detective Conan movie and Revive was the 25th opening theme song in the anime.

Eh, I tried to like PUZZLE but it gets annoying after a couple of listens. I don’t have a problem with this sleek and aggressive pop track, but good lord the English rapping is awful. I seriously cannot stand the rapping because it’s so corny and it literally keeps me from enjoying the song. To be perfectly honest, it’s a MAJOR turnoff. Mai Kuraki has had rappers in her songs before, but this has got to be the worst I’ve heard. Aside from that, the song is decent.

I thought the other A-side, Revive, was much better (it has a better cover too lol). I loved the Spanish atmosphere in this song and it certainly gives the music a dash of flavor. The salsa influenced acoustics and castanets go well with Kuraki’s vocals, and as always, she sings with a lot of character. The bridge even includes a guy talking in Spanish!

On the regular edition, a live version of The ROSE ~melody in the sky~ is a bonus track. Veteran fans of Kuraki will remember it as the final track on her 2nd studio album Perfect Crime. The original song is a short 2 minute piano ballad that’s entirely in English and in this live it’s performed with an acoustic guitar instead. She sounds very good and surprisingly, better than the studio version.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

Mai Kuraki – touch Me!

January 26, 2009 at 8:41 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 6 Comments


The cover of the regular edition

touch Me! is Mai Kuraki’s 8th album and it was released on January 21, 2009. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 90,302 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Instantly opening with fast paced vocals is the title track touch Me!. This song makes for a strong first track because it’s quite upbeat and Kuraki displays energetic vocals. The quick beats are accompanied by sweeping synth lines during the instrumental sections as well. For me, the chorus is the most prevailing aspect of the song thanks to Kuraki’s sharp and speedy delivery of the lyrics.

To follow it up is the rockish Ichibyou Goto ni Love for you. This is a great pop rock song but also one that sort of stands out compared to a majority of Kuraki’s previous works. The music features a more organic pop sound because of the drum beats and electric guitar.

The next track has an interesting “old school” sound. I can’t exactly pinpoint it, but Break the Tone sounds very 90s R&B. Anyway, this song is pretty spunky and it has a lot of attitude, which I liked. I thought the acoustics were great as they blended with the beats in the background as well. I just had to mention the ending because she says some English like “If you don’t like it, it’s too bad” and it goes right into the next track.

I really like Yume ga Saku Haru now and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. I love the retro vibe of the music and its use of drums mixed with low key strings. The chorus is very catchy, especially once that groovy beat kicks in.

We have some slower jams coming up and the first one is I can’t believe you!!. The song is more laid back than the previous tracks but it still has a nice rhythm alongside the general uptempo beats and synth. I personally loved the background vocals that repeat Just be yourself.

I found Secret Lover to be one of Kuraki’s more sensual efforts to date. The music is very relaxing and features an overall romantic atmosphere. Vocally, Kuraki does a fantastic job and her voice is absolutely perfect for a calm arrangement such as this one.

Similar to the previous track but with a more organic sounding arrangement is Hello!. This is a pretty song with equally pretty vocals. Even though it starts off kind of slow, the vibrant chorus definitely makes up for it thanks to the addition of strings and upbeat piano.

The album picks up the pace with the festive 24 Xmas time. It’s a nice Christmas themed pop song with a slight twist that’s provided by rapper KEN-RYW (I didn’t mind his rapping sections either). Despite being a little generic, it’s still a fun and catchy song.

The last new original track to appear is the hard-hitting Catch. The song starts off slow but it quickly builds up into an awesome and fast paced chorus. The arrangement mainly consists of synthetic beats and piano, but additional percussion comes in later. I did have one little problem with this song and it’s the bridge which features those tacky English boy band vocals (as heard in countless Kuraki songs of the past). Well, I’ll get over it because the rest of the song is great.

I absolutely adore the rearranged version of You and Music and Dream that appears on the album. Yep, the song is different compared to what’s on the single thanks to one huge difference: the inclusion of orchestral strings. Seriously, the music sounds a lot more uplifting with the extra strings and even with this minor change, it’s such a big improvement over the original. The main portion of the album ends beautifully with this song.maik_21

Listed as a “special track”, a cover of The Carpenters’ TOP OF THE WORLD was included on the album. A campy and charming song at heart, I actually liked Kuraki’s version and I thought she did a good job. Kuraki’s English was pretty good for the most part too.

Appearing as a bonus track is a remix of Yume ga Saku Haru. The remix is pretty cool and I thought it was interesting that it mainly uses the English lyrics of the original next to an ambient electronic sound.

Mai Kuraki has done it again with another incredibly solid and enjoyable album. touch Me! doesn’t disappoint and I pretty much liked every song on the album. There’s a good mix of pop and R&B infused tracks on here and Kuraki has the voice pull it all off. Her voice has always been the main reason why I like her music so much since it’s very appealing and it just draws you in. Anyway, touch Me! is a high quality album and a great follow up to last year’s ONE LIFE. What a great way to kick off your 10th anniversary, Mai-K!

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. touch Me!
2. Ichibyou Goto ni Love for you (一秒ごとに Love for you)
3. Break the Tone
4. Yume ga Saku Haru (夢が咲く春)
5. I can’t believe you!!
6. Secret Lover
7. Hello!
8. 24 Xmas time
9. Catch
10. You and Music and Dream
11. TOP OF THE WORLD
12. Yume ga Saku Haru -remix-

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Mai Kuraki – 24 Xmas time

December 4, 2008 at 4:12 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 3 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. 24 Xmas time
2. All I want
3. 24 Xmas time -Grinch remix-
4. 24 Xmas time -instrumental-
5. All I want -instrumental-

This is Mai Kuraki’s 30th single and it was released on November 26, 2008. The single reached #7 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 24,343 copies.

24 Xmas time is quite different from your conventional Christmas themed song. For starters, this is an upbeat pop track that mixes in some slight R&B elements, which come from the beats in the background as well as the rapping provided by hip-hop artist KEN-RYW. The song is a little on the predictable side but it’s pretty catchy nonetheless. Kuraki’s vocals are great as usual and the rapping by KEN-RYW is actually not bad at all.

The B-side is the touching ballad All I want. The song is beautiful and Kuraki sings with a lot of emotion, perfectly matching the longing feeling that the music presents. The sweeping strings, light percussion, and melancholy piano create a sad winter atmosphere as well. Overall, this is a fantastic B-side and Kuraki doesn’t disappoint when it comes to ballads either.

On the CD only edition, the Grinch remix of 24 Xmas time appears as track 3. Compared to the original, the remix features a stronger R&B sound and there is defintely more focus on the beats. The overall arrangement is a lot more interesting than the original’s too, especially with the different changes in tempo and during the funky ending sequence.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Mai Kuraki – Ichibyou Goto ni Love for you

August 5, 2008 at 11:00 AM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 2 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Ichibyou Goto ni Love for you 
    (一秒ごとに Love for you)
2. Zutto… (ずっと…)
3. Ichibyou Goto ni Love for you -instrumental-
4. Zutto… -instrumental-

This is Mai Kuraki’s 29th single and it was released on July 9, 2008. The single reached #7 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 29,640 copies. The title track was used as the 23rd opening theme song for the anime Detective Conan.

Ichibyou Goto ni Love for you is one of those few Mai Kuraki songs that is driven by the electric guitar, making it a more unique offering from her. It’s the most prominent instrument heard in the song but there is also a great percussion beat as well. The music has a lot of energy and I liked Kuraki’s upbeat vocals as well. The chorus is the highlight of the song because I think it’s very catchy and uplifting.

The B-side is more like what you would expect from Kuraki…but that’s a good thing! Zutto… is more laid back than the A-side but it has a good acoustic pop sound with some light beats. The chorus is simple, but I thought it was fantastic thanks to Kuraki’s vibrant vocals. She always seems to make great B-sides and coupling tracks so I would definitely add this one to that list.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Mai Kuraki – Yume ga Saku Haru / You and Music and Dream

April 11, 2008 at 6:52 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 1 Comment
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Tracklisting
1. Yume ga Saku Haru (夢が咲く春)
2. You and Music and Dream
3. You and Music and Dream -another ver.-
    [Limited edition bonus track]
4. Yume ga Saku Haru -instrumental-
5. You and Music and Dream -instrumental-

This is Mai Kuraki’s 28th single and it was released on March 19, 2008. The single reached #5 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 28,172 copies.

I liked how “retro” Yume ga Saku Haru sounded. Everything from the bass, drums, and strings have a groovy rhythm to them, almost showcasing a classic disco feel. It also reminded me of her 2005 single P.S♡MY SUNSHINE, which had a similar style. Mai Kuraki’s vocal performance is fantastic as usual and she adds an interesting huskiness into her voice which goes along with the music very well.

The next track is the uplifting ballad You and Music and Dream. The pop yearnings of this song come from the various synthed up beats and percussion next to the gorgeous piano. Kuraki’s ballads are always sung beautifully and it is no exception here since she sings with such great emotion.

On the limited edition, there is a slightly rearranged instrumental version of You and Music and Dream included. It’s less than 3 minutes long, but I found it to be extremely soothing to the ears. The piano takes center stage and performs the main melody alongside some backing vocals.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Mai Kuraki – ONE LIFE

January 31, 2008 at 11:17 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | Leave a comment
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ONE LIFE is Mai Kuraki’s 7th album and it was released on January 1, 2008. The album reached #14 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 89,017 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Many of the album’s new tracks are a throwback to the music of when Mai Kuraki first debuted: pop with a R&B tinge. One Life, being the album’s promotional track, is a great introduction for what’s to come. It’s a stylish and assertive song with fast beats and simple guitar chords. The use of synth is pretty strong too. The chorus is pretty catchy and Kuraki sings it very well.

Track 2 opens with ethnic acoustics and light beats. I Like it Like that is another song full of style and the music has an “attitude” to it. The chorus is spunky and the background vocals singing I like it, I like it go along very well next to Kuraki’s voice.

The R&B themed ballad one for me is up next, and the mix of beats and piano open the song with a strong presence. Kuraki’s lower pitched voice is perfect for this kind of song and they go flow very smoothly. She always puts emotion into her music, especially her ballads since her voice seems more soulful.

Musically, Born to be Free is the most aggressive song the album. There’s a lot of stuff going on this song like tribal themed drums, funky synth, whistles, and elongated notes followed by Ole ole!.  It’s also an inspirational song that features liberating lyrics and upbeat vocals backed with thumping percussion. It’s definitely a song that’s supposed to get you up on your feet.

This is the album’s “winter ballad” phase, I like to call it. Starting with Shiroi Yuki, which is more of an unconventional ballad because of the synthed up instruments. It’s still a pretty song that’s gentle to the ears.

I thought it was the best choice to place Silent love ~open my heart~ right after Shiroi Yuki since it’s a similar type of song, but it’s a much more traditional ballad. It’s beautifully sung and I loved the heartwarming, yet calming feeling that the music presented. Like I said when I reviewed the single, it left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

The tempo suddenly changes to upbeat for the next track, everything. With a recognizable synth line and fast, rhythmic beats, I thought this song simply acted as a precursor for Season of love, which is exactly what it does. However, it’s one of the strongest and more memorable tracks on the album too.

I thought the transition from everything into Season of love was flawless, as it goes right into the Hispanic flavored guitar and lashing beats of the intro. I like this song a little bit more as a track on the album, despite those boy band vocals.

Here’s another slow jam, but it’s incredibly smooth to the ears. secret roses has a complex guitar arrangement and it has an interesting use of strings that add a somewhat dramatic effect to the music. I thought it was one of the most unique songs on the album because of Kuraki’s sensual vocal style and the abstract use of different instruments.

I loved the intro to Wonderland. It’s so calming and it sets the jazzy, laid back tone of the song. Kuraki’s vocals are full of life and soul and she really knows how to make it compliment the music. I felt like this was a modern take on one of her older tracks since it has that R&B like atmosphere.

Even though album is drawing to a close, BE WITH U comes in and makes things exciting again. I thought it was genius to place it near the end because it’s like a sudden burst of happiness and it shows that Kuraki isn’t exactly done yet.

The final track is a fantastic cover of Over The Rainbow, the iconic song from the movie The Wizard of Oz. This is a blues and jazz take on the song and it uses the piano, organ, and a gentle electric guitar. Kuraki’s English is better than most other J-pop artists and she performs the song extremely well. There’s a few pronunciation problems here and there, but aside from that, she’s got the song down.

ONE LIFE is a departure from the dominant pop sound of her previous albums FUSE OF LOVE and DIAMOND WAVE. She’s incorporating more classic R&B elements into the songs, with the exception of Shiroi Yuki and Silent love ~open my heart~ of course. It’s an enjoyable album and fans of her older works will most likely find it to be a pleasing listen. I personally think FUSE OF LOVE is her best album, but that’s me. It did take me a couple of listens to fully appreciate ONE LIFE too. This album is also a classic example of how the new tracks completely overshadow the previously released singles in terms of overall presentation. They’re all very well done.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Tracklisting

1. One Life
2. I Like it Like that
3. one for me
4. Born to be Free
5. Shiroi Yuki (白い雪)
6. Silent love ~open my heart~
7. everything
8. Season of love
9. secret roses
10. Wonderland
11. BE WITH U
12. Over The Rainbow

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Mai Kuraki – Silent love ~open my heart~ / BE WITH U

January 16, 2008 at 11:14 PM | Posted in Mai Kuraki | 1 Comment
Tags:

Tracklisting
1. Silent love ~open my heart~
2. BE WITH U
3. Silent love ~open my heart~ -instrumental-
4. BE WITH U -instrumental-

This is Mai Kuraki’s 27th single and it was released on November 28, 2007. The single reached #9 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 30,625 copies.

The first track is the winter love ballad Silent love ~open my heart~. The music is kind of typical and has all the characteristics of a standard ballad, but Mai Kuraki’s vocals breathe life into the song. Her gorgeous, soulful voice makes up for everything else, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I will admit that the song will leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Plus, there’s no annoying background vocals like in Shiroi Yuki and Season of love!

Talk about a perfect contrast. BE WITH U is an extremely upbeat song with a nice beat and constant acoustics. The chorus is insanely catchy and I’ve gotten it stuck in my head on several occasions. The song is reminscent of her older works because of the constant beats but it has the twist of her recent pop tracks. It’s a fun listen.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

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