Released: June 29, 2016
When I heard Ayumi Hamasaki was releasing a new album on June 29, it was no surprise for me to say, “Here we go again lol.” She is no stranger to her yearly round of an album releases (more like a bloody tradition I have to say), but knowing that her albums post–Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus (with the exception Colours) have been half-baked and sounding like she’s been recycling her sound for the past years (god knows how many years), I kept my faith as a Ayu fan by saying “god dammit gurlfriend, this better be good.” And to be honest, her seventeenth album Made in Japan (the A in Made is capitalized with her typical A logo) actually sounds pretty good.
The album is classic Ayu of course; staying within her boundaries, knowing her core audience, and delivering as much as she has to offer to her devoted fans. That’s some pretty loyal shit right there. But I find it a more shortened version of A One; throwing in the ballads, that odd EDM track, and a few rock tunes. But what I find interesting about this album is that it offers an introduction to more traditional Japanese styles, adding some Enka flavor to the hasty EDM intro “Tasky”, and the heavy rock anthem “Flower”. To be fair, “Flower” is one of her best rock songs since her Guilty era; it jumbles up a bit off ska elements, heavy metal-esque guitar riffs, and some bloody insane vocals. “Mad World” is a pretty yet mellow pop rock tune, emphasizing her vocals to more extreme and fragile lengths.
Then you get those somber J-pop ballads, smacked right in the middle of the album *ugghh*. Although they aren’t particularly bad this time round (apart from the tropical mess of “Survivor”), for a singer that has made a career with a wide selection of pop songs and string of J-pop ballads (and of course her looks, style, and commercial endorsements… I know, I know), it offers nothing new to the listener and can sound quite monotonous and tiresome after a while. The only ballad I could recommend is “Mr. Darling”, which sounds like an improved take-on from her Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus days. Then the next two tracks are the four-on-the-floor EDM bangers “Summer Love” and the Globe classic cover “Many Classic Moments”, which are the top tracks here.
Like every Ayu album, the consistency of production and sounds isn’t particularly up to scratch, especially the decisions of putting ballads next to EDM songs, and offering only two Japanese-influenced tracks that clearly was something to hype about, had it only been extended into the rest of the album’s tracks. But with that said, for an album to offer no singles or previews, it does justice in showcasing some pretty nice and delicate tracks. Overall, Made in Japan is her best work in ages, probably since Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. Hopefully she channels something a bit more progressive and fore fronting in the future, but until then, this is a pretty good record to hold, especially if you’re an Ayu fan.
Track list (Bold means best tracks)
- FLOWER ~Liam’s favorite~
- Mad World
- You Are the Only One
- Mr. Darling
- Summer Love
- Many Classic Moments