Released: April 8, 2015 (Avex Trax)
In 2015, Japan’s reigning queen of pop Ayumi Hamasaki released her studio album A One, her 16th to be exact. And do you want to know something exciting? Well, there isn’t any… It’s just Ayu-chan releasing another album… every year. These days, I just throw a dart on my calendar and just wait for Ayu to drop an album on that given month. Because quite frankly, it’s inevitable; Ayu releases an album every damn year, so don’t get too excited or frantic. But let’s just move aside this and talk about the album.
A One, as expected, is a J-pop record filled with ballads and rock-influenced jams—with the occasional EDM moments. And to encompass the record’s softer approach, the album opener “A Bell” screams Ayu even if she isn’t singing on it; it’s pretty, melodic and very gentle. But that sound is completely out the door with the aggressive rock tune “Warning”, which also overthrows the record’s so-called balladry vibe. But surprisingly, “Warning” is quite a consistent, well-executed piece of rock, and is savage as F. Speaking of rock music, another highlight is the powerful “Last Minute”, a jam that heavily relies on live instrumentation, and the gentle “Out of Control” sounds nothing but quite triumphant. I always favour the songs where Ayu-chan doesn’t change key sections and have to sing in a higher octave; it’s just straightforward, clean and cohesive recordings that you can listen to from the start to finish.
But for me, Ayu is at her best when she turns on the club lights and hits my ears with club jams. The first is the string-ridden “No Future”, which may not be exactly a heavy-EDM number, but contains enough frills and energy to be quite bubbly and euphoric. But for me, the album’s killer moment is the gorgeous “The Show Must Go On”, a F-ing stadium-esque J-dance jam that literally snatched my coins Ms. Thang. This song is so powerful, funky and emotionally captive at the same time, which to me, showcases Ayu’s capabilities as a versatile artist. Of course, it may give you guys throwbacks to a similar sound on her single “Snowy Kiss” from Love Again, but please… this one is way better. Period. The most startling entry on the record, though, is the Utada Hikaru cover “Movin’ on Without You” which, in contrast to the rest of the songs here, is pure EDM stomps… AND I F-ING LOVE IT! Her version of the song is quite original, and definitely one of her most impressive dance moments to date.
Elsewhere, A One is packaged with ballads and fillers (of course that isn’t surprising). I don’t know why, but the album’s lead singles “Zutto…” and “Walk” are just so damn basic; a calm intro with touching lyrics, but completely obliterated with a heavy J-pop influenced chorus which, at times, sounds generic as hell… yep, I haven’t heard of that concept before. The romantic instrumentation of “Anything for You” is a lil’ better, but those damn key shifts… I tell y’all, NO MORE (no tea no shade). “Story” and “The Gift” are probably the only decent “ballads” here, especially “Story”, which is a beautiful touching track that brings me back to those A Ballads days (ahhhhhhh…). “The Gift” fairs nicely, and the entire composition flows quite nicely without any flaws. Nice Ayu-chan.
I must say that A One was quite a nice album. What I enjoyed about this record, in comparison to her more… well, ballad-infested records, is that majority of the content flowed a little more cohesively. Even when a few fillers stuck out like wonky nails, the entire package was quite refreshing and a little more organic. But that doesn’t make the results oh-so-great. I still felt that Ayu was not dipping her fingers in any pies and, for a songstress of 17-years at that time, it feels a lil’ basic. Not memorable, but passable.
Track list (bold means best tracks):
- A Bell
- No Future
- Anything for You
- Last Minute
- Out of Control
- The Gift (feat. JJ Lin)
- The Show Must Go On *Liam’s favourite*
- Movin’ on Without You