Ayumi Hamasaki: ‘A Song for XX’ – Album Review

asongforxx

Released: January 1, 1999

In January 1999, Ayumi Hamasaki was yet another addition to the growing community of J-Pop culture. Beforehand, she modelled for several promotional campaigns in Japan, and even released a handful of singles to raise her status as an innocent, polished and extremely fragile teeny pop star that hailed from the city of Fukuoka. So it doesn’t come to surprise that her debut record, the cryptic A Song for xx, almost came as a pre-sold package. Not only was it packed with cheesy J-Pop rock riffs, your typical pristine 90s production and a trolly-load of tracks, but it hails as a staple recurrence throughout her career for the singer’s introduction to a rollercoaster of emotions and issues.

Opening the record is a dated intro track titled “Prologue”, which is actually really good for a starting record. The wishy-washy start to the record is that Hamasaki’s deliveries in majoriy of the tracks is, in fact, like a rollercoaster; you have dramatic entries like the sombre title track, the chilling “Powder Snow”, the pretty sounds of “Wishing” and acoustic-driven “For My Dear…” all scattered around here, alongside some uptempo compositions like the infectious “Depend on You”, the poppy “From Your Letter”, the insanely cute “Poker Face” and the disco-esque “Signal” and “Hana”, which are yet again placed in random areas on the album. Maybe Ayu was the leader of structuring awkward sequences that, sadly, carried on throughout many J-Pop entries in the future? We’ll never know.

What we do know about A Song for xx is that it is the singer’s most simplistic and polished offering. The material isn’t just catchy sounds of your daily J-Pop sound, but it’s in fact a very classic crossover with 90s pop and elements of Japanese music. For example, majority of the single material like “Poker Face”, “You”, and “Depend on you” could have easily slipped into the top 40 in the Western world, had it possibly been recorded in English. The sound is so convincing, that it could be seen as a missed opportunity. But that’s not the issue here, because, regardless of its strict J-Pop nature, it’s very pop.

Yes, the production gets a bit dated and filled up with some filler tracks, but A Song for xx is actually an above-decent record that emphasizes nostalgic tones, delicious Kawaii-realness, and a very listenable approach that managed to work in many of her later works. Simply said, A Song for xx is a recommended classic to any J-Pop fanatics out there that want to experience the work of one of Japan’s most prolific artists of all time.

Track List (Bold means Best Tracks)

  1. Prologue
  2. A Song for XX
  3. Hana
  4. Friend
  5. Friend II
  6. Poker Face ~Liam’s favorite~
  7. Wishing
  8. You
  9. As If…
  10. Powder Snow
  11. Trust
  12. Depend on You
  13. Signal
  14. From Your Letter
  15. For My Dear…
  16. Present

 

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