Utada Hikaru: ‘Distance’ – Album Review

Released: March 28, 2001

After waves of success and sales, Utada Hikaru’s second album Distance was yet another fairytale that came true. Released on the same release date as Ayumi Hamasaki’s A Best album, it caused a wide range of competition and controversy within Japan, many publications accusing a certain rivalry between the singers. Whilst Utada’s album came up first in Japan (selling a record breaking 3 million units at the time), both managed to sell over 5 million units worldwide. So there’s no doubt Distance, a highly contagious collection of commercial pop, groovy R&B, and over-the-top rock, proved a strong lead within the Japanese pop scene

The album offers a new direction, fully handled by American producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis that benefits Utada’s musical standards. This direction is Americanized R&B, which is evident on all the album’s singles (apart from the pop–dance tune “Can You Keep a Secret?”). The album opens with the quirky pop-R&B track “Wait & See (Risk)”, which overall opens the album in high-quality R&B flair. But then bolts in the Latin-influenced dance tune “Can You Keep a Secret?”, one of the singles from the album. Although it’s a solid dance track, it’s Utada’s harrowing and strong vocal performance that makes this a banger and is definitely replay-able.

Throughout this album, you get Utada playing it sassy and sexy in most of the tracks, but demonstrates this in a real chic and cool ways. Take the infectious anthem “Addicted to You”, the downtempo hip-hop beats of “For You”, and the classic chic “Time Limit” as examples. But then you get the cute playful tracks such as “Distance” (which was the original recording of her hit “Final Distance”), the lush ballad “Eternally”, and of course the slick “Sunglasses”. There are some drab moments, like the underwhelming ballad “Kotoba ni Naranai Kimochi” and the “Hayatochi” remix. But it’s very rare for Utada to dab into a bit of experimentation, like she did with the old school rock anthem “Drama”, which isn’t the brightest of tracks here, the agile electro track “Kattobase”, and the wishy-washy ska track “Parody” (ironically).

Overall, Distance is a pretty solid entry for Utada. It offers her first outings of experimentation throughout the music side of things, and showcases a diverse performance of vocal ranges. Though First Love sounds a bit more concise and polished, Distance shows Utada at her more vulnerable and getting her hands a bit dirty.

Track list (Bold means best tracks)

  1. Wait & See ~Risk~
  2. Can You Keep a Secret?
  3. DISTANCE
  4. Sunglasses
  5. Drama
  6. Eternally
  7. Addicted to You ~Liam’s favorite~
  8. For You
  9. Kettobase
  10. Parody
  11. Time Limit
  12. Kotoba ni Naranai Kimochi
  13. Kayatochi-Remix

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