Utada Hikaru – Utada Hikaru SINGLE COLLECTION VOL.2 (Disc 2)

August 21, 2011 at 1:49 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | 2 Comments
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Utada Hikaru SINGLE COLLECTION VOL.2 is Utada Hikaru’s 2nd compilation album and it was released on November 24, 2010. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 441,267 copies.

I know the cover is just a bunch of stars but I’ve grown to like it. Did Utada ever mention the meaning behind it?

♦ ♦ ♦

Reminder: This is primarily a review of the album’s 2nd disc which contains the 5 new songs. I will briefly cover the 1st disc though.

Now you’re probably asking, “Lex, why are you reviewing this?” Well…I always wanted to do a review of the 2nd disc and and I love her. XD What else can I say?

Utada sure likes to make us fans wait. During the end of 2010, she finally starts doing music activities again but only to announce that she will go on indefinite hiatus. *dead* Oh well, onto the review!

The 1st disc of the album is the actual single collection. It features every A-side starting from 2004’s Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro all the way up to 2008’s Prisoner Of Love with the tracklisting in reverse order (so Prisoner Of Love is the first track). As a nice bonus, the really cool PLANiTb Acoustica Mix of Beautiful World is included as well.

If I was Utada, I would have released the 2nd disc as its own mini-album or something. lol It starts of with Arashi no Megami, a song dedicated to her mother. I was really surprised by this song when I first heard it. It’s quite the opposite of most of the music that comprises the 1st disc. An organic pop ballad, the music is mainly piano and percussion and it sounds really pretty. I also have to mention that Utada’s vocals sound a lot better than before, too. Contrary to popular opinion, this is actually my personal favorite of the 5 new songs (the next two tracks seem to be fan favorites from what I’ve observed).

You can’t blame them though. Show Me Love (Not A Dream) is pretty awesome. It starts off quietly but quickly gains momentum as electric guitars come in and Utada’s vocals become a lot stronger. I get major Passion vibes from this song since it has a similar sweeping, ethereal quality. Even though I love Arashi no Megami, this song would’ve made for a better single release in my opinion.

I’m sure everybody remembers Goodbye Happiness! The quirky PV is what sold me because it’s really cute but alone as a song it’s still quite good. The music is reminiscent of the light electronic sounds of both the ULTRA BLUE and HEART STATION albums. I also liked the bouncy dance atmosphere.

The next track is the only one that I don’t care for. Hymne à l’amour ~Ai no Anthem~ was the first song to be released and it has been met with mixed reception. It’s a cover of a French song and Utada actually sings in French in the beginning but later switches to Japanese. As for the music…I can give points to Utada for trying the jazz lounge sound because it sort of works for her. The arrangement is kind of monotonous minus that cool breakdown sequence (you know the one ;D). She has a tendency to draw out the endings of her songs but she overdoes it this time. The ending instrumental is so long that it makes the track clock in at 6 and a half minutes.

Ending this short collection of new songs is Can’t Wait ‘Til Christmas. A simple piano ballad, Utada’s vocals really radiate on this track. Besides sounding gorgeous, I think the chorus is catchy! I’m already ah loving you. ♥

So there you have it! The 2nd disc of Utada Hikaru SINGLE COLLECTION VOL.2 is a nice little assortment of songs and compliments the A-sides of the 1st disc quite well. Utada presents some new sounds as well as some nostalgia so you get the best of both worlds. Hopefully her hiatus won’t last too long and she’ll be back in full form. Wishful thinking, I know…

Pros: Pretty much FLAWLESS. Utada never disappoints when she delivers the goods!
Cons: Being only 5 songs, it leaves you wanting more. With some crucial tweaks, Hymne à l’amour ~Ai no Anthem~ could have been better as well.

BASICALLY…wahhh I miss Utada! *crying rivers of tears* lmao

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting (Disc 2)

1. Arashi no Megami (嵐の女神)
2. Show Me Love (Not A Dream)
3. Goodbye Happiness
4. Hymne à l’amour ~Ai no Anthem~ (Hymne à l’amour ~愛のアンセム~)
5. Can’t Wait ‘Til Christmas

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Utada Hikaru – Prisoner Of Love

June 13, 2008 at 11:21 AM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | 4 Comments
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Tracklisting
1. Prisoner Of Love
2. Prisoner Of Love -Quiet Version-
3. Prisoner Of Love (Original Karaoke)
4. Prisoner of Love -Quiet Version-
    (Original Karaoke)

This is Utada Hikaru’s 21st single and it was released on May 21, 2008. The single reached #3 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 81,626 copies. The title track was used as the theme song for the drama Last Friends.

Out of the new tracks from Utada Hikaru’s latest album HEART STATION, I’m happy to say that Prisoner Of Love was one of the songs that stood out for me. I see the song as a throwback to past styles Hikaru has performed, specifically from the early stages of her career. The song has a good rhythmic tempo with the various beats, but it is very dramatic at the same time thanks to the string section. In the end, this was a song that was worth a single release, and not just because of its drama tie-in.

The Quiet Version removes all of the beats and percussion of the original for an even more dramatic effect. The piano and strings are still here and sound really nice during their respective sections. Since this is an album recut single, the quiet version is a nice bonus. Those who liked the light R&B style of the original might think otherwise though.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION

April 15, 2008 at 11:13 AM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | 19 Comments
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HEART STATION is Utada Hikaru’s 5th Japanese album and it was released on March 19, 2008. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 1,007,181 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Opening the album is the catchy synth pop tune Fight The Blues. Analyzing the song by its title and lyrical content, it’s like a response to the overall theme of her previous album ULTRA BLUE, which basically had a darker, more serious tone to it. Fight The Blues is a proclamation to have a stronger character while set next to sweeping synth lines and an upbeat rhythm. This song was also used as radio promotion for the album.

The first half of the album features almost all of the singles starting with the title track HEART STATION. To be perfectly honest, this is my least favorite song on the album mostly due to Hikaru’s strained vocals. The melody of the chorus is catchy but it easily gets repetitive near the end.

I would normally be against seeing all of these single tracks clumped together, but on here they all seem to flow extremely well. My favorite Hikaru song in recent memory, Beautiful World, makes an appearance as track 3. I never get tired of the epic, yet simple ethereal sound of the music mixed with the gentle synth beats.

Up next is the infamous ballad version of Flavor Of Life, Hikaru’s highly popular single released in February 2007. It would make more sense to put the spotlight on the ballad version because the lyrics are definitely more suited to be sung in a slower, more emotional form. Speaking of the lyrics, they just break your heart and they really showcase her excellent songwriting skills.

Following that depressing song, the more heartwarming Stay Gold comes in. The overall arrangement of this song is amazing since it mixes a gorgeous piano with a unique, almost gritty beat. Hikaru’s vocal performance is great as well and I liked the elongated notes she sang during the chorus.

I still love the blaring brass intro to Kiss & Cry and the catchy beats that follow. Hikaru lets loose in this song and shows the more fun side of her voice. Starting with this song, the album begins to swerve into a more upbeat direction and finally into the new tracks.

This is the first time in her Japanese albums where the interlude is placed in the middle. Gentle Beast Interlude is fascinating with its accumulating chaotic sound and random adlibbing by Hikaru. It even features a sample from the song HEART STATION but what makes this interlude unique compared to her others is its perfect transition into the next track.

I didn’t even notice Celebrate started until Hikaru began to sing and I was really amazed by how the 2 tracks work together because they really go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other in my opinion. Going back to Celebrate, it’s by far my favorite of the album’s new tracks. The synth is extremely infectious and the beats make this song really fun. The melody is catchy as well and it’s very easy to sing along to.

Probably the most recognized of the album’s new tracks is Prisoner Of Love because of its tie-in with the drama Last Friends. It’s even getting released as a single in May! Anyways, I enjoyed the serious tone of this song because of the constant piano and the effective “thudding” sound that appears from time to time. The use of orchestral strings in the chorus and the bridge make it stand out as well. Despite the nature of the music, Hikaru has created another really catchy track.

Ah, here we are with Take 5, a song that has stirred up quite a controversy amongst fans because of its abrupt and sudden ending. Before I get into that, this song was originally created during the ULTRA BLUE era so it has a heavy synth arrangement on a grand scale. The lyrics are interesting as well since they are about death and the desire to not have a physical body. Just like most cases of death, is it often unexpected and the ending reflects that. The song just STOPS at the 3:43 mark, literally.

What it makes this even more strange is that Boku wa Kuma begins right after the ending of Take 5. This was definitely intentional on Hikaru’s behalf and having this cute children’s song after a song about death was quite crafty of her. In this case, Boku wa Kuma might refer to the concept of rebirth or Hikaru wanted to showcase an extreme contrast between the two songs. Either way, it has grown on me and the simple melody of the chorus is beyond catchy.

Ending the album on a lighter note is Nijiiro Bus, a bright track with a strong drum beat and nice piano chords. I know that the title rainbow colored bus might come off as a little silly at first, but I really liked the message that the lyrics presented. Hikaru sings about everybody wanting to go to a place of their fantasies and feeling the same emotions while traveling on this “rainbow colored bus”. The song can get a little repetitive towards the end but its fun to sing along to nonetheless and the her adlibbing adds some extra feeling.

The original synthed up version of Flavor Of Life appears as a bonus track. I was wondering how the original would be placed on the album and as a bonus track, that’s acceptable. While the ballad version is much slower and appropriate for the lyrics, the original adds a faster rhythm while attempting to make it more upbeat.

I could see that Utada Hikaru took a simpler approach to the overall presentation of HEART STATION. The album as a whole isn’t as complex or grandiose as ULTRA BLUE in terms of the music, but instead makes up for it in other areas. For one thing, HEART STATION is a much more comprehensive and neater album with smoother transitions. Also, the album isn’t a mixed musical package like ULTRA BLUE. Each track on HEART STATION has something different to offer while still maintaining a central theme and sound. I could go on, but I’ll finish this review by saying Hikaru has created an album that’s easy to pick up, easy on the ears, and most importantly: enjoyable to listen to.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. Fight The Blues
2. HEART STATION
3. Beautiful World
4. Flavor Of Life -Ballad Version-
5. Stay Gold
6. Kiss & Cry
7. Gentle Beast Interlude
8. Celebrate
9. Prisoner Of Love
10. Take 5 (テイク 5)
11. Boku wa Kuma (ぼくはくま)
12. Nijiiro Bus (虹色バス)
13. Flavor Of Life

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION / Stay Gold

February 26, 2008 at 3:15 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. HEART STATION
2. Stay Gold
3. HEART STATION [Original Karaoke]
4. Stay Gold [Original Karaoke]

This is Utada Hikaru’s 20th single and it was released on February 20, 2008. The single reached #3 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 76,762 copies.

Much like her previous singles, HEART STATION is on the synth side with some nice beats here and there. The lyrics are what make the song stand out though. They’re deceptively upbeat, but there’s definitely some bittersweet undertones. The song also focuses mainly on the chorus, which is quite catchy to the ears, but it gets rather repetitive towards the end. I thought that Utada Hikaru’s vocals could have been better too. She seemed to strain her voice at times, especially during those high notes, which is odd since she gave such a great vocal performance in Beautiful World.

I liked the other A-side, Stay Gold, a lot more. The piano arrangement is really pretty and they’re backed with light beats, which create a lovely, overall mystical sound. Hikaru provides better vocals as well, performing nice elongated notes and excellent ad libbing segments. I thought that this song was superior to HEART STATION.

Overall Rating 

3½ stars

Utada Hikaru – Beautiful World / Kiss & Cry

September 8, 2007 at 3:13 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | Leave a comment

Tracklisting
1. Beautiful World
2. Kiss & Cry
3. Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)
    -2007 MIX-
4. Beautiful World (Original Karaoke)
5. Kiss & Cry (Original Karaoke)
6. Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)
    -2007 MIX- (Original Karaoke)

This is Utada Hikaru’s 19th single and it was released on August 29, 2007. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 235,050 copies. The first track was used as the theme song for the first of the Rebuild of Evangelion films.

After the release of her last single Flavor Of Life, my interest in Utada Hikaru started to dwindle, but I can honestly say that Beautiful World has revitalized my love for her. The song’s use of ethereal synth and haunting piano chords really give the song a gorgeous, calming atmosphere. I also thought Hikaru’s vocals were drastically better in this song than in Flavor Of Life, where she seemed to struggle in reaching those high notes. To put it rather bluntly, this is a beautiful song.

The next track is the infectious and upbeat Kiss & Cry. The way the song opens with a loud brass intro caught my attention and I loved the opening beats. Hikaru’s vocals are quite spunky in this song and I absolutely enjoyed the sampling of the vocal melody of her English song Hotel Lobby (from her Exodus album) in the verses. Veteran fans will like this song because it is remiscent of the past ‘R&B / pop’ works from her Distance album.

Hikaru’s original cover of Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)  on her Wait & See ~Risk~ single was stunning, so I was thrilled to see a ‘2007 MIX’ on this single. Unfortunately, the new version features hardly any differences from the original and it almost sounds identical. However, it is still a lovely song.

Overall Rating

5 stars

Utada Hikaru – Flavor Of Life

March 7, 2007 at 3:10 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. Flavor Of Life
2. Flavor Of Life -Ballad Version-
3. Flavor Of Life (Original Karaoke)
4. Flavor Of Life -Ballad Version-
    (Original Karaoke)
5. Flavor Of Life -Antidote Mix-

This is Utada Hikaru’s 18th single and it was released February 28th, 2007. The single reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 650,027 copies. The 2nd track was an insert song in the drama Hana Yori Dango 2.

The original version of Flavor Of Life didn’t really grab my attention at first, but after a couple of listens, I really began to like the song. It still sounds a little similar to her ULTRA BLUE material, as it includes mostly synthetic sounds and mild beats. The chorus is the focal point of the song and Hikaru’s vocals are nice (but a little strained) when she reaches the high notes. You have to pay special attention to the lyrics because not only do they fit in with Hana Yori Dango 2, but they are also a precursor to her divorce with her husband Kazuaki Kiriya (which was made official a couple of days after the single’s release).

The ballad version is the more well known version of the song because it is featured in Hana Yori Dango 2, it was promoted as a PV, and it was released to the public first as a ringtone. Obviously, it is slower and focuses more on the string arrangement. A nice touch to the ballad version are the addition of piano chords and light percussion. To me, this song does seem more suited as a ballad because of the bittersweet lyrics.

After the instrumentals, there is bonus track that is only featured on the physical CD. The Antidote Mix spices things up by adding an R&B beat and electronic distortions to Hikaru’s vocals. As a remix, it is extremely good and an interesting take on the song.

Overall Rating

4 stars

Utada Hikaru – Boku wa Kuma

December 9, 2006 at 3:06 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. Boku wa Kuma (ぼくはくま)
2. Boku wa Kuma (Original Karaoke)

This is Utada Hikaru’s 17th single and it was released on November 22, 2006. The single reached #4 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 147,041 copies. The title track was featured in the NHK children’s program Minna no Uta.

What can I say about Boku wa Kuma that hasn’t already been said? There’s one important thing you have to know about this song before you can make a proper judgement about it: IT’S A CHILDREN’S SONG. It’s aimed towards children and it really shows. The music is really simple and lyrics are quite humorous. This a cute song and this is stuff that kids will like. This song wasn’t targeted towards Hikki’s main audience and I hope she releases a REAL single in the future.

Overall Rating

3 stars

Utada Hikaru – ULTRA BLUE

August 16, 2006 at 2:05 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | Leave a comment
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ULTRA BLUE is Utada Hikaru’s 4th Japanese album and it was released on June 14, 2006. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 905,049 copies.

♦ ♦ ♦

Track 1, This Is Love, serves as an introduction to Hikaru’s new style of music which involves are more electronic influenced sound. The chorus is catchy and the verses are fast paced.

Track 2 is the most recent single off the album. Keep Tryin’ is definitely a favorite of mine because it’s very upbeat, especially at the end of the song when she tells everyone to keep on trying.

Tracks 3 and 4 are the low points of the album. I don’t like BLUE because of its obnoxious and brazen chorus. The song just falls to pieces after a very promising beginning. Her vocals turned me off and there is a lot of straining going on.

The same goes for Nichiyou no Asa which was kind of boring and it didn’t catch my interest. However, the song does have nice beats and slow sections that transition into the chorus. It’s funny that Hikaru mentioned it’s her favorite song on the album and I don’t like it. lol

Track 5, Making Love, has a very beautiful chorus. Similar to This Is Love, it takes advantage of electronic elements. The bridge contains very playful, yet muffled vocals from Hikaru but I think it’s the best part of the song.

Tracks 6 and 7 are the oldest songs on the album. COLORS was released in 2003 and Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro in 2004. COLORS oddly fits in with the rest of the album while Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro sticks out like a sore thumb. This is mostly due to the fact that it’s a very organic song with piano and strings.

Tracks 8 and 9 are the BEST new songs on the album. One Night Magic feat. Yamada Masashi is Hikaru’s first Japanese collaboration (Yamada Masashi is the lead vocalist of the band THE BACK HORN). Masashi’s vocals are interesting and blend well with Hikaru’s vocals.

Kairo
is a breathtaking song. The only problem with the song is that it’s SHORT. With a length of 3:35, it’s one of her shortest songs. Aside from that, this song features amazing strings with epic beats during the chorus.

Track 10 continues where Kairo left off when it comes to creating a calm atmosphere (plus some nice beats). WINGS was originally the B-side on the Keep Tryin’ single.

The next track is the dark ballad Be My Last. While Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro was the piano ballad of the album, this song is more acoustic based. Once again, it sticks out.

Track 12, Eclipse (Interlude), is well…just an interlude. It breaks the gap between Be My Last and Passion just like Bridge (Interlude) did on her last album, DEEP RIVER. The electronic sound of the interlude works really well as it goes into the album’s finale.

The final track on this album is definitely one of my favorite Hikki songs of all time. Passion is simply amazing and closes the album with a bang. It’s a funny coincidence that Hikari, the Kingdom Hearts theme song ended her previous album DEEP RIVER while the Kingdom Hearts II theme song ended this one.

Yep, this is an amazing album. Hikaru reinvents her music once again because the new tracks on this album present a new distinct electronica style. It’s not her best though since I think DEEP RIVER is her best album. Tracks 3 and 4 did lower my overall rating and I think the album would have been PERFECT without them. Also, the ballads didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album either which kind of messes up with its overall flow. These are only minor flaws because Hikaru has created a unique and memorable album.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Tracklisting

1. This Is Love
2. Keep Tryin’
3. BLUE
4. Nichiyou no Asa (日曜の朝)
5. Making Love
6. Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro (誰かの願いが叶うころ)
7. COLORS
8. One Night Magic feat. Yamada Masashi
9. Kairo (海路)
10. WINGS
11. Be My Last
12. Eclipse (Interlude)
13. Passion

Note: My favorite tracks are highlighted in blue!

Utada Hikaru – Keep Tryin’

August 6, 2006 at 2:03 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. Keep Tryin’
2. WINGS
3. Keep Tryin’ [Original Karaoke]

This is Utada Hikaru’s 16th single and it was released on February 22, 2006. The single reached #2 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 121,076 copies.

Keep Tryin’ is a bittersweet song despite Hikaru’s cheerful vocals and the upbeat music. The lyrics describe feelings of hopelessness, but in the end, she wants to keep trying. I love the message of the song and it’s another high quality track from Hikaru.

The single features the triumphant return of a B-side and a instrumental. WINGS is a very calm and relaxing song. Hikaru’s vocals are very laid back and the song itself is smooth and it flows very well. It’s the complete opposite of Keep Tryin’ in terms of music and vocals.

Overall Rating

4½ stars

Utada Hikaru – Passion

August 2, 2006 at 2:01 PM | Posted in Utada Hikaru | Leave a comment
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Tracklisting
1. Passion ~single version~
2. Passion ~after the battle~

This is Utada Hikaru’s 15th single and it was released on December 14, 2005. The single reached #4 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and sold 112,345 copies. The first track was used as the opening theme song for the Square Enix video game Kingdom Hearts II while the 2nd track was the ending theme.

The first track is the ~single version~ of Passion. I love the beginning of this song because it sounds so epic. Her voice sounds so mystical and ethreal throughout the whole song. The strong mix of synth and percussion is amazing. Hikaru’s vocal range at the end of the song is astounding as well. I only wish the verses were a little longer and the “my heart’s a battleground” sequence from the Kingdom Hearts II opening version was included in the single version.

The next track is the slower, piano-based ~after the battle~ version. This version was used as the ending theme of Kingdom Hearts II. The chorus is the biggest change for me because there are no background vocals and her voice is calmer and more relaxing. I also thought it was a nice touch to add the instrumental of the single version at the end because the instrumental alone is great and unique compared to her past work.

Overall Rating

5 stars

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