Released: July 2, 2014 (Avex Trax)
Habitually, Ayu-chan would release a studio album every single year. It’s inevitable as hell and, giving the fact that she has pigeonholed herself now as songstress that only deals with J-pop tunes (ehhh…), it comes wholesomely inconsistent and predictable. So when Ms. Ayu released her fifteenth studio album Colours back in July 2014, I wasn’t surprised. I was like “Oh, okay, I guess I’ll stream samples on iTunes to check this shindig out.” But trust me y’all, I was hella shocked. And yes, I mean shocked.
Ayumi, from day dot, has convinced the public as the queen that rides only the J-pop way with orchestral instrumentation and bubbly synths. But with Colours, she did the unthinkable; she threw away the formula for a more contemporary pop construct, with heavy elements of EDM, trance and four-on-the-floor beats—giving the fact I live for EDM jams, this was right up my alley of syncing this to my playlist. And this was her first record to channel a decent size amount of English-language, which both split into the crystal clear deliveries, and the incomprehensible ones.
Opening the record is “Feel the Love”, a heavy dance number that would make stadium audiences jump! Of course, the synths to this are a lil’ bit dated, but I give it a pass considering it’s Ayu’s first lunge into this sound. But Ms. Thang, the stadium would only keep jumping to the follow-up song “XOXO”, a sassy electronic number produced by RedOne. This probably one of her most progressive tracks in recent years, and definitely a catchy little jam for anyone. Ooooohhhhh, I am just livin’ for ANY Ayu club jam! In other areas, Ayu-chan spins in different routes with the EDM genre, hitting cheesy beats that could easily fit into your gym playlist (“Lelio”), a heavy-induced trance jam that would make the crowd F-ing ROAR (“Terminal”), and a solemn electronic ballad that separates from all the rest of her previous ballads for all the right reasons (“Angel”). Of course, the songs may not be the most innovative in terms of production, but for Ayu, this was a step in the right direction.
The rest of the record falls between ballads and J-pop tunes, but thankfully (yes, thankfully), the Westernized styles from the club jams managed to sprinkle all over each other track to deliver a cohesive package. The first immediate ballad is “What Is Forever Love”, which is riddled with piano riffs and string sections over a pulsing dance beat. Featuring Urata Naoya from AAA, the song actually works well with both vocalists. “Hello New Me” and “Pray”—the only two “basic”-ish J-pop ballads—are probably the only mismatching moments on the record, but delivers stellar vocal performances by Ayu and meticulous arrangements that blends beautifully with her singing. “Now & 4Eva” channels a rock sound that reminds me of her Guilty days, but adds an ounce of J-pop frills. But my favourite song on the record is the insanely gorgeous “Merry-Go-Round”, a guitar-driven pop rock track that highlights not only the singers vocals, but a stunning production that boasts a series of circus-esque sounds. To me, this is definitely one of her more radio-friendly anthems, and it’s a pity it never received the success it damn-well deserved.
Evidently, Colours is by far the most impressive release by Ayumi Hamasaki in a long-time. Even though it’s three years old, the production value and deliveries of this record is a step in the right direction. Ayu-chan needed this, and she needed to showcase her versatility as a near 20-year reigning performer, and Colours exceeded my expectations. Packed with catchy hooks and choruses, filled with gorgeous sounds and tunes, and highlighted with heavy dance tunes (despite the lack of consistency), Colours is a record to get if your a lousy J-Pop stan like me!
Track list (bold means best tracks):
- Feel the love
- What is forever love
- Hello new me
- Merry-go-round *Liam’s favourite*
- NOW & 4EVA