So in April this year, one of J-Pop’s reigning musicians decided that a near-eight year hiatus was enough (oh how I envy her) for her to make some new music. And who am I talking about exactly? Oh just no one other than Utada Hikaru. But let’s be honest hear; Miss Hikaru had gotten married to an Italian student around 2014, and dropped a massive bombshell by announcing she is a mother of a little baby boy. Shit, she knows how to flip those surprises at us. But to finish off her bulk of surprises, she dropped two new singles in April; “Hanataba Wo Kimini” and “Manatsu no Tooriame”. So to celebrate her return, I decided to review these two singles and her 2012 track “Sakura Nagashi” (Just read the article to see why).
When this song first came out, I absolutely loved it too bits. I understand that throughout her career, she has released some pretty touching pop ballads that of course top the Oricon Charts (as she always does). But this song is pretty different. It opens with a gentle and melodic piano riff that then layers overtop some subtle string arrangements, mellow guitar riffs and ambient synths and keyboard fillers. Her vocals, like always, takes charge of this track, where she performs it straightforwardly with raw emotion and doesn’t let herself get to carried away and pull a Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey on us (it’s fricken Utada Hikaru where talking about). I find the overall appeal to this song a thick combination of her tracks “Final Distance” and “Sanctuary”; keeping it slow and nicely paced, while adding an extra oomph and production style that’s rarely heard on top 40 radio. Overall, everything about this track is sublime and comes to show that Utada will always know her shit with this track.
Hanataba Wo Kimini
So when I had randomly heard that she was dropping two new tracks in April, I slightly gagged. I initially said to myself “These tracks are gon’ be fire, and she is gon’ slay it.” Then she released them, and I had some mixed opinions. On “Hanataba Wo Kimini”, it opens with those signature vocal ranges and a gentle piano riff. The vocals she brings to the table this time round literally sounds timeless, and sounds more effortlessly beautiful than some of the ballads she’s released. But then we get into the basic piano and drum composition in the background, and it sounds a little timid. To be completely honest, I expected the song to deliver some real experimental stuff after she dipped herself into that electronic/dance/hip-hop realm just before her hiatus, but I feel a little bit let down with this entry. Overall, “Hanataba Wo Kimini” gets boring after a while and doesn’t really solidify itself as a comeback track, but you cannot argue with her polish production and those vocals.
Manatsu no Tooriame
Now we get into “Manatsu no Tooriame”, the third single from her upcoming album (scroll to the bottom for the deets…). I actually find this track a bit better than “Hanataba Wo Kimini”, mainly because her vocals suit the sound and that the lyrical content is a bit more on point and creative. But yet again, I feel the addition of just a basic piano riff and lush string arrangements (I know that they highlight her vocals more, don’t hate) is slightly underwhelming, considering that she’s offered so much diversity in other ballad entries in the past. But what I do like about this track is that her vocals highlight each instrument here; you hear her vocals are deeper and laxer during the piano segments and starts to get more powerful with the strings in the background, and they all mix well (especially that soft heartbeat drum machine in the background). I can feel a small Ultra Blue influence in there as well. Overall, it’s a bit more satisfying than her previous track and showcases a touch of influences in her work, but still needs a bit more oomph to solidify a comeback entry.
Now the reason why you’re actually here… Utada has just recently announced that she will be released her upcoming studio album in more than eight years of hiatus on September 28, 2016. The album will include these three previously-reviewed and released tracks, alongside newly written material. Are you guys excited for the release? (I sure am, considering that regardless what tracks are on there, I am an Utada fan nevertheless).