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[Album Review] Utada – This Is The One

March 12, 2009

Utada - This Is The One

Artist: Utada

Album: This Is The One

Genre: R&B

Release Date: 2009-03-14

Information

Japanese singer Utada Hikaru’s long-awaited third English album is finally released! Utada has described this as a mainstream album with heavy R&B influences, akin to her first Japanese releases. The album is already out in Japan, and will be digitally released in the US on March 24. The CD will be released in the US on May 12.

Review

Utada has not disappointed fans and critics for 7 album releases in a row, and this album is no different. She retains excellent control over her voice, and her English is very clear and easily understandable, which is rare for a Japanese artist, and unfortunately seems to be becoming rarer in the US music scene.

While the album is, as described above, a mostly R&B album, it’s still possible to find sprinklings of other genres like techno, rap, jazz and even hip-hop in her songs. However, all her songs can still be traced back to their R&B roots, which is both a plus and a minus for the album.

On the plus side, her songs are mainstream enough to be accepted by the American public, and I will personally go out on a limb here in saying that this will be THE album made by a Japanese artist to truly break through the Billboard charts. On the minus side though, fans of Utada’s more experimental pop sound found in albums like Ultra Blue and Heart Station will find there’s just a little something missing. All of her songs sound wonderful of course, but they all sound like familiar mainstream tracks, and the creative spark that existed in some of her other songs such as Passion doesn’t seem to be there.

Detailed track-by-track breakdown:

1. On and On: The song starts off with some synthesizers and some rap background vocals, which IMO start to detract from Utada’s vocals after about the first 10 seconds (then again, I’m not a fan of rap, so it could be just me…). Other than that, it’s pretty much your standard mainstream R&B affair, sounding very similar to a Leona Lewis/Rihanna/Beyonce song. Nothing extremely special, but it’s an effective opening track nonetheless.

2. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI: This is the only song on the album that is not written and composed by Utada. It’s a cover of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s song of the same name. After just one listen, this automatically became one of my favorite songs on the album. Ironically enough, it might be because it’s one of the least R&B-like tracks on the album, instead harkening back to Utada’s J-Pop roots. The vocals and instrumentals meld very well together to create a truly beautiful listening experience. I’ve never heard the original track and hence can’t make a comparison between the two, but I imagine the original must’ve been pretty good ^_^.

3. Apple and Cinnamon: Another primarily R&B track, Utada’s voice sounds great, but occasionally struggles to get attention from the synthesizer, piano and occasional violin. I actually feel that the synthesizers are a bit extraflous in this song; just having a simple piano instrumental would have worked a lot better given the nature of the lyrics, and brought out the potential of this song.

4. Taking My Money Back: Contrary to what I might have believed before, R&B with a little sprinkling of techno/trance works surprisingly well. Then again, this is Utada we’re talking about, she can make just about any combination of genres work 😀 In contrast to the previous song, the synthesizers are used better here: they give the song just enough beat, but don’t detract too much from Utada’s voice.

5. This One (Crying Like A Child):  A very stock standard R&B song, it’s good in its own right, but doesn’t really stand out from the other tracks. Except perhaps for the strange techie references (Blackberry and JPEG?)

6. Automatic Part II: In an extremely dramatic departure from R&B, Utada tries her hand at hip-hop this time. And the result is… not too bad, but it’s not going to make anyone who doesn’t like hip-hop (read: me) change their mind about liking it.

7. Dirty Desire: The song features a good dance-like beat, and would probably work great in a nightclub environment, right down to the (slightly) suggestive lyrics. It’s also a good example of Utada’s flexible vocal range, as the song ranges from deeper notes to Utada’s usual high notes. The ending however is a bit abrupt IMO; while not quite as abrupt as Take 5, it will still leave you expecting more.

8. Poppin’: Am I the only one who finds the opening instrumentals creepily similar to The Pink Panther’s theme? Anyway, this song makes a foray into jazz territory this time, which works very well with Utada’s vocals. The short beats used throughout the song give it an almost mischievous atmosphere, and makes for very fun listening.

9. Come Back To Me: Previously released as a single, this is without a doubt Utada’s best shot at mainstream R&B. At first impression, it does sound a lot like a Leona Lewis song, but Utada manages to puts her own spin on Leona’s style.

10. Me Muero: The song seems to be heavily influenced by Spanish/Mexican music (I’m obviously not an expert on either genre, so if someone could confirm which genre it is, I’d gladly take it). Once again, the combination works wonderfully, giving the song a nice relaxing effect. If you get the US version of the album, this track makes a fairly good ending to the album.

[Japanese Bonus tracks]

11. Come Back To Me (Seamus Haji and Paul Emanuel Radio Edit): Same as the single, except with techno beats instead.

12. Come Back To Me (Quentin Harris Radio Edit): Same as the above, except with dance background music. I’m not a big fan of either edit, so I won’t comment on them much (and besides, the review is more than long enough).

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Utada has clearly learnt a few lessons from Exodus when producing this album. With a much more mainstream approach this time, This Is The One has a good chance of living up to its name and being THE ONE to make it to at least the top 50 (Or even top 10?! One can dream…) of the Billboard Charts. It will be interesting to see if she can repeat the successes of artists like Leona Lewis and Rihanna. My only major gripe about the album are its length, or rather lack of it. Without considering bonus tracks, the album clocks in at barely over half an hour, which is quite short compared to most albums. Also, the bonus tracks are IMO completely unnecessary. Other than those, it’s another solid album by Utada that is sure to please Japanese and American fans alike.

On an ending note, thanks for sitting through around 1100 words of my own (slightly biased) opinions. I’ll try to make the next review much shorter, but I can’t make any promises :/.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2009 11:06 PM

    thanks for the review.
    it sure aroused my curiousity. hm maybe i should get the album. haha.

    i don’t understand bonus tracks myself too.
    they are definitely more commercialised than artistic!

  2. Kappa permalink
    April 14, 2009 12:27 AM

    Dunno whether its me or not but that metal “ting-ing” sound in Me Muero is DAMN IRRITATING! @_@

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