Released: January 1, 2002
After a fierce chart battle back in 2001 with her compilation A Best, which scored over 5 million units in her native Japan, the Queen of J-Pop and endorsements came belting in with I Am…, her fourth record, for the New Year of 2002. Actually looking back at it, I believe this was the first Ayu-chan record that won me over and swooped me from my feet, and dropped into a pool of the intoxicating J-pop world (bless… bless, bless, bless…). I Am… was originally a record that delve into yet another dark sound that was adapted into her previous album Duty… ohhh the joy that would have been… four albums in. But during the terrible events within America inside 2001—and subsequently the world—Ms. Hamasaki saw the light… a musical light.
She threw out her old ideas and dressed up as an Adam & Eve-like figure, and delivered an intense blend of fast-pacing J-rock music and electronic synths. What’s surprising about this record, out of any others (with the exception of Loveppears), is that the entire material from start to finish, all work like an endless road to absolutely nowhere (which is a good thing). Everything is in proper proportion, and the sound penetrate into the songs themselves all work. God, I never thought I could say that for an Ayumi record, considering her more recent efforts have been… uhhhh, an alternative to this.
Majority of this record is heavily belted with rock music; from the confessional anthem title track, to a bunch of funky electronic-riddled interludes, you have it all. However, the stand out tracks are when the production really takes full control, and effectively, become a bit over-the-top. “Evolution” is a beautiful mess of arrangements that just sound like a huge f’ing music bomb inside of a studio; “Naturally” offers an electric and vulnerable side of Ayu-chan; “Daybreak” is a little more westernized styles; and “M” is a pure love song that demonstrates your typical J-pop frills. Along with these, the interlude tracks; “Opening Run” and “Taskinlude”, are bomb-as-hell. To an extent, I think they are some of her best compositions in her career, and it sucks that none of them really pushed the envelope to become a new re-recorded number with vocals and chorus. Ughhh, I guess dreams are free.
With that said, I Am… was the complete prime and peak for Ms. Ayumi Hamasaki. Even though a few albums after this managed to still yield some bangers and fire moments, nothing has ever been as cohesive, collective or concentrated than I Am…. It’s probably my second favorite Ayu-chan album, close to my absolute favourite Loveppears. So, as I say, yet another solid effort by the J-pop queen.
Track list (Bold means best tracks):
- I Am…
- Opening run
- Evolution ~Liam’s favorite~
- Never Ever
- Still Alone
- A Song is Born
- No More Words
- Endless Sorrow (Gone with the Wind Ver.)
- Flower Garden [Hidden track to ‘Endless Sorrow’]