Released: April 14, 2010 (Avex Trax)
Ayu-chan’s studio album’s are always a case of hit-or-miss. She can belt out a pretty awesome single, and a few follow-up’s manage to showcase a fun yet slim diversity of style. But when it comes to album’s, Ms. Ayu never seems to reach a full-flight of potential or consistency as what we would expect from the singles she pre-releases. But back in April 2010, Ayumi Hamasaki’s eleventh studio album Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, without a doubt, beat the odds. And thank the J-Pop lords for that…
Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus is a theatrical presentation of solid J-rock music with a few twists and turns of electronica and cultural elements, namely the British punk scene and… well, her love of circuses I suppose. But it’s not necessarily the sound that makes the album engaging, it’s how she delivers it within a more cohesive and conceptual mould that makes it stand out. Opening with a mysterious carnival-sounding intro, the first full-length recording “Microphone” is an over-the-top rock tune that comes out on top with instrumentation and powerhouse vocals. It’s definitely one of her more progressive tunes, and highlights a mystifying quality about Ayu-chan’s vocals… which, ehhhemmm, I LIVE FOR! But my absolute all-time fave is the Gothic anthem “Count Down”, which starts off very solemn with a heavy grand piano, until it BLOWS-UP with a completely knock-out chorus with it’s use of guitars and drums. If there is any track that sums up Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, it’s definitely “Count Down”.
Throughout the veins of this record, Ayu-chan manages to strip the theatrics and go a lil’ bit subdued and personal. Tracks like the acoustic-ridden “Last Links” and “Red Line ~for TA~” are examples of Ayu’s insane capabilities as a singer, allowing her voice and songwriting to stand-out instead of the thrills of the song’s composition of production to over-ride her performance. And even “Don’t Look Back” showcases an advantage of both qualities, evenly splitting her songwriting and voice in nice proportions to blend effortlessly with a Bhangra-style tune.
But in other places, Ayumi Hamasaki does what she does best; throws a bunch of filling ballads and dance tracks to fill out the record evenly (that last word I don’t use politely haha…). But in this case, all the tracks manage to come off a little more polished and well-produced. The romantic J-ballads “Sunset ~Love is All~” and “Ballad” (how uncanny) are pretty nice, even though the arrangement can get a lil’ loose at times, but the fact she placed them next to the likes of “Count Down” is plain right offensive. Like gurlfriend… really? Even the interlude tracks manage to flow nicely. And near the end, you get slow-tempo moments like the effortless “Meaning of Love”, which sounds like a track I’ve been hearing on every damn Ayumi album, and “You Were…”, which is probably the best ballad on the record. And smack in the middle, you see Ayu go for a glamorous ratchetness on the glam-ridden anthem “Lady Dynamite”, cuckoo-as-F on the electronica jam “Sexy Little Things”, and summery with “Sunrise ~Love is All~”.
Yes, Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus maybe quite weird at times and probably one of her most conceptual records out, but that’s what makes it wholesome and very much alive. Every track, for once, has a spark of Ayu’s personality in it, and doesn’t seem very monochromatic like her most recent or previous work. To me, this is one of Ayumi Hamasaki’s best releases and quite endearing as well. Top notch Ms. Ayumi, top notch indeed.
Track list (Bold means best track):
- THE Introduction
- count down *Liam’s favourite*
- Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~
- Last Links
- Don’t look back
- Lady Dynamite
- Sexy little things
- Sunrise ~LOVE is ALL~
- meaning of love
- You were…
- RED LINE ~for TA~