Released: September 28, 2016
She’s back… Utada Hikaru. The iconic Japanese–American songstress, composer, producer, and vocalist. It’s fair to slip her into all of these roles because, whether you do it on and off as a musician, Ms. Utada (known the other way round in and out of Asia) has certainly become a master at them. She has been absent (well, inconsistently to say the least…) of the music business in order to focus on her personal life, or according to her, some “human activities”. Many things have been sudden in her hiatus; the tragic death of her beloved mother, Enka singer Keiko Fuiji, and having to witnesses the devastation and go through the tough ordeal. But having said this, there have been many positive highlights; she had wed her husband, Italian student and bartender Francesco Calliano, and had their first born son in 2016. These are all phenomenal milestones through a human’s life, but for Hikaru, she decided to craft all these heartwarming and heartbreaking stories into her ninth studio album, Fantome.
Fantome is Utada’s first record in nearly eight years, alongside a first timer to have an entire track list in Japanese language. Recently in an interview, as stated by Hikaru, it is a record that she will never be able to make again. But in saying this, Fantome has proven to be her most interesting and captivating release in her career. You cannot particularly pigeonhole this record as J-Pop, mainly because there are so many sounds, themes, and tricks incorporated here. Think of it more as a blend of contemporary pop music with the roots of Utada’s previous experimentation’s; the mystifying and airy electronics of Deep River and Ultra Blue (“Boukyaka”, “Jinsei Saikou no Hi”), the clucky popiness from Heart Station (“Michi”, “Ore no Kanojo”, “Kouya no Ookami”), and a classic taste of her R&B and funk roots from in majority of Fantome’s material. But what makes this album special is that, whilst there is kinks and touches added on from her previous records, Fantome is a completely new and fresh direction that showcases Utada as a mother, a wife, an artist, and someone with fragility, courage, empowerment, and love.
Much of the material on Fantome deals with the loss of her mother, both presented in a way that it just had happen to her, and moving on from it. But whilst this is evident in the lyric content, the major theme of the album deals with death, which is seen on the subtle and dark atmospheric tracks “Boukyaku”, featuring KOHH, “Ningyo”, and “Manatsu no Tooriame”. But moreover, Utada shares her stories and founding of self-discovery; she dabs into having a relationship with another gay woman in the jazzy “Nijikan Dake no Vacance” (performed with Japanese singer Shiina Ringo) and the R&B driven “Tomodachi”, whilst enjoying the experiences as a wife and mother in “Jinsei Saikou no Hi” and “Michi”, whilst displaying two halves of her in the agile “Kouya no Ookami”. And whilst “Sakura Nagashi” is a powerful and personal reminder that “everybody finds love in the end”, “Michi”, the opening track, reassures that she is all right, over a strong dance beat.
Whilst majority of Fantome is a hit, there are some entries like “Ningyo” and “Kouya no Ookami” that fall slightly flat. However, without these tracks, it would leave a major hole in Utada’s life, so it all makes up for a complete package. Utada’s vocals are also a prominent highlight on the record, showing some of her most raw and uplifting performances in her career. As a whole, Fantome works as a compelling piece of sonic art. Regardless if it’s bilingual or throwing some random phrases in French here and there, anyone with an open approach would be able to sense the pain, the intensity, and the wisdom she lifts upon this record. Hikaru Utada has come a very long way in her personal life and career, and Fantome presents this to sublime qualities and lengths.
Track list (Bold means best track)
- Ore no Kanojo
- Hanatabi wo Kimi ni
- Nijikan Dake no Vacance (feat. Sheena Ringo)
- Tomodachi (feat. Nariaki Obukuro)
- Manatsu no Toriame
- Koya no Okami
- Bokyaku (feat. KOHH) ~Liam’s favorite~
- Jinsei Saiko no Hi
- Sakura Nagashi