Before Utada Hikaru was one of the biggest J-Pop artists, she was simply Utada Hikaru; the 13-year old New York-born and raised pop singer that sung entirely in English language. Her parents are producer Teruzane Utada and the late Enka singer Kieko Fuji, both whom have produced some pretty big hits in their heyday. And yes, before First Love, Distance, and Deep River, there was Precious; an independent pop album that she released under the rather weird name Cubic C. Neither the record was critically or commercially successful in the States (it turned out to be bigger in Japan), but managed to help her in the songwriting and production direction for the rest of her album.
So almost eight years later in 2004, she released Exodus. This was her first English album since Precious, her next album after 2002’s Deep River, and her first album marketed for the Western audience. Why exactly? Because it’s fricken Utada Hikaru of course (well, marketed as Utada for the West). But let’s get to business with this album… in all honestly, it’s probably her best album in her entire discography, both stylistically and experimentally (I enjoy Heart Station more, but I’ll leave that for another review to expand on). She’s very stern in her “Opening” track (no pun intended) that she doesn’t “wanna cross into this genre, that genre”, but ironically, she does; nevertheless, it’s a pretty cool intro. She then battles in with the dance tracks such as the techno pop entry “Devil Inside”, which is a pretty epic introduction into her take on dance music. She endures a stylistic oriental sound through the chorus and instrumental breaks, but keeps it uptempo at all costs.
With Exodus, experimentation with several genres is the key to the albums success. The extremely weird breakbeats and electronic synths of “The Workout” keeps the overall appeal very energetic and chaotic, whilst the chilly synths and oriental instrumentation of “Tippy Toe” makes it extremely mysterious and dark. Speaking of dark, the spacey alien-esque sounding “Animato” literally sounds like a song from some Sci-Fi movie that was made in Japan. But tracks like the gentle and nostalgic “Exodus 04’” and the cheesy pop fluff of “Eazy Breezy” showcases that she hasn’t lost her cute R&B sound she spent a long time sculpting since her debut. The only three bum notes are the final three tracks; the flatline beats of “Wonder Bout’”, the generic and lackluster Hip-Hop approach of “Let Me Give You My Love”, and the laxed back track “About Me”, which I have to admit isn’t that bad (I just ignore these three tracks at the end though).
One element about Exodus that captured many minds and listeners was the rather bizarre yet interesting songwriting and themes in most of the tracks, but three tracks really hosted the most out of all; “Hotel Lobby”, “Kremlin Dusk”, and “You Make Me Want to Be a Man”. The former track is a percussion driven track that includes some oriental synths, but talks about a prostitute living day by day. “Kremlin Dusk” is the most complex track out of the bunch, balancing a poet lyrical delivery that discusses intricate details and themes of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven with some industrial synths. Then you see the rise of the industrial-influenced dance track “You Make Me Want to Be a Man”, which talks about her relationship with her then-husband Kazuaki Kiriya.
Overall, Exodus may have not been the most appropriate entry if you’re wanting to cross over into the West (she has literally put every genre in this album, its impeccable), but it’s one massive experimentation from an artist of years’ experience in the business. It’s an ambitious and innovative album that to this day still sounds very rich in production and very trail-blazing, particularly coming from a Japanese artist. It comes to show that Utada knows her flaws and strong points, and improves them by change it up a bit, and that’s what an artist is all about; a challenge.
Track list (Bold means best tracks)
- Devil Inside
- Exodus ’04
- The Workout
- Easy Breezy
- Tippy Toe
- Hotel Lobby ~Liam’s favorite~
- Crossover Interlude
- Kremlin Dusk
- You Make Me Want to Be a Man
- Wonder ‘Bout
- Let Me Give You My Love
- About Me