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Archive for the ‘Utada Hikaru’ Category

Utada Hikaru’s debut Japanese studio album, entitled 03.10.99. The album was highly successful as it is still the highest selling album in Japanese history. The expected reason for this is because she brought a new R&B/Pop sound that had not been heard in J-Music before. Two singles, Automatic and Movin’ on without you, were released prior to the album and First Love was a album re-cut single.

The album opens up with the strongest song, Automatic (Album Edit). The song starts off with a fun beat and is a perfect display of that strong R&B/pop sound. Her vocals are somewhat deep during the verses but they match the sound of the instrumentation perfectly. The English phrases such as “my rainy days” and “sun will shine” really stand out as they are sung in English. The chorus really stands out as Hikki shows off her vocal strength and the back-up singing up “I don’t know why” is a perfect touch. The ending line of the chorus really pops as it sung in English such as “I feel so good.” Hikki’s vocals during the song really do bring the lyrical story to life. With the final chorus, Hikki really brings out even more vocal range as she reaches higher and sings more powerfully. Automatic (Album Edit) is a wonderful starting track and certainly a track that should not be missed.

Next comes Movin’ on without you. The song begins with Hikki singing in English “nothing’s gonna stop me, only you can stop me” and the instrumentation shows off some rock tints with the guitar. The verses are sung with a deep voice and some rapidity that really makes the listener listen to what she is singing. The chorus features some stronger vocals with a poppy uptempo beat to match the more R&B sound. In the case of this song, the verses are much stronger than the chorus, which is lacking a little something to really make it stand out. The instrumentation is veyr interesting and is noteworthy and the verses are catchy enough to make Movin’ on without you stand out.

In My Room is the next song on the album. The song begins with a sweet and soft instrumental before the first verse starts. She sings the verse nicely as her vocals work well with the music and they are sung with emotion to bring the lyrics to life. As the verse comes to an end, the piano becomes a more prevalent part of the instrumentation. The chorus doesn’t stand out nearly as powerful as it should as the instrumentation reverts back to its simplistic sound right after the verse. Had that melody been in the chorus, combined with Hikki’s stronger vocals, the chorus would have popped. Pure instrumentation brings the song to a close and unfortunately, the song isn’t nearly as strong as it should have been. It’s definitely one of the less memorable songs on First Love.

One of the album’s real ballads, First Love, follows. The song starts off with a sorrowful instrumentation supported by Hikki’s vocalizing to really bring the atmosphere to life. The lyrics in this song are so beautiful and are something that any listener, no matter where, can relate to. Hikki’s vocals carry their emotional presence strongly. The chorus really stands out as Hikki shows off some more vocal power and range as she hits her notes wonderfully. The gorgeousness of this music really is a perfect match for Hikki’s vocals. Pure instrumentation brings the song to a perfect close, much like it opened the song. First Love was released as a recut single due to its popularity and if the listener listens to this song, it will be no surprise why. The lyrics are personal and sound like they come from the heart and Hikki sings with such emotion and beauty that they stand out all the more. First Love is one of the album’s best songs and certainly not worth missing out on.

甘いワナ ~Paint It Black~ picks up the energy on a more poppy sound. Opening the song is a cool and slick instrumentation that sounds really pretty before a more upbeat and fun sound comes in. Hikki sings her lyrics quite quickly and it makes the listener not want to miss one word. There is a certain attitude that is sung with these lyrics that really stand out to the listener. The chorus is nice as that poppish sound comes to full force and Hikki sings her way through it with consistent vocals. Before the third chorus, Hikki sings very strongly as she reaches higher to really make her lyrics stand out. There is almost a carnival-like feeling that comes through the pure instrumental section and it is a nice touch in helping the song stand out. Near the end of the song, Hikki repeatedly sings “I see a red door and I wanna paint it black,” which comes from the Rolling Stones’ song Paint It Black. The song is a great addition to the album and is on more of the pop side of the album spectrum.

Hikki slows things down with Time Will Tell. Piano instrumentation starts the song off before the song’s true sound comes in. Hikki’s vocals during the verses sound very nice and are a good fit with the music and although the lyrics are somewhat simplitic, they work iin being relatable to the audience. The chorus is a bit bland although the instrumentation is nice. The vocalizing from someone in the background certainly isn’t necessary though. During sections of pure instrumentation, the song’s strength comes through strongly. Time Will Tell is a pretty bland track on First Love but it does blend well with the album’s overall sound.

Never Let Go is the following song. The song starts off with a sweet and mellow instrumentation alongside some vocalizing from Hikki. The lyrics of the song are great and Hikki’s vocals really bring them to life. There isn’t much change, instrumentation wise, to introduce the chorus. The change of vocals really signals its coming. Hikki sings in a higher range and at points, it does sound a little pitchy but the instrumentation is really interesting and thus it stands out. The following verse features the echoing of Hikki vocalizing in the background throughout nearly the entire verse and honestly, it does sound annoying. With the later choruses, Hikki sounds stronger. Never Let Go is an okay song but the repetition of the vocalizing in the background really is annoying and if it was removed, the song would have been stronger.

B&C (Album Version) picks up the album’s tempo with this cheery number. After a poppy instrumental, Hikki nicely sings the first verse. The poppy element is even seen in her voice as she moves perfectly in sync with the instrumentation. The chorus features some even stronger vocals, particularly on the last line when she mentions “Bonnie & Clyde.” The third verse sounds great as Hikki reaches high and hits her notes wonderfully. B&C (Album Version) is a great addition to the album and one of the more enjoyable numbers on First Love.

Another Chance continues the uptempo sound of the album. The song starts off with a slightly funky instrumentation to open it nicely. Hikki sounds nice singing the verses as a certain softness really stands out to the listener. The chorus doesn’t really stand out as nicely as hoped as the instrumentation remains identical throughout and no line really makes it pop. Another Chance stands out primarily for its instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals are just nice here. It’s worth a listen every now and then.

This album’s interlude is simply titled Interlude. The lyrics in this song come again later as the opening lyrics in 言葉にならない気持ち from her sophomore album, Distance. The interlude is very short, only lasting roughly 20 seconds and it is easily her worst interlude. Perhaps it is the music but these lyrics sounded much stronger in the context of 言葉にならない気持ち. Honestly it’s a very short and pointless interlude.

The album closes with Give Me A Reason, a lyrical gem. The lyrics are beautiful and really sound as if they are coming from her heart. Unfortunately, the sound of the song is a little boring and it is the longest song on the album, and feels like it drags on at certain points. Her vocals definitely have their moments when they shine and the instrumentation has some great moments when the guitar is spotlighted but it’s not enough to make the song stand out as much as it should. Traditionally Hikki’s closing songs are great but it wasn’t the case for this album.

Album Ranking: B –

Hikki’s debut album definitely has the lyrical strength that is is praised for and it has some awesome songs that show off that unique R&B/Pop flare that holds the album together such as on Automatic, First Love, B&C and 甘いワナ ~Paint It Black.~ Although one sound ties the album together, it does work somewhat negatively in that a certain sameness does come out on some tracks and makes them less special. The album has its high points and its low points and certain songs are definitely worth the listen.

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Utada Hikaru’s fourth Japanese studio album, entitled ULTRA BLUE, was released on 06.14.06. Claimed to be her most experimental album to date, ULTRA BLUE is a mix of fantastic songs that the listener can really fall into. The singles released before the album were: COLORS and 誰かの願いが叶うころ (both released in 2004) as well as Passion and Keep Tryin.’ This Is Love was released as a radio single in order to promote the album.

This Is Love is an upbeat number and a fantastic album opener. The keyboard opening makes for a nice transition into the chorus, which features some great vocals that Hikki reaches singing more with the higher notes. It ends with “this is love, this is love” before the first verse starts. The verses have a sort of dreamy feeling that really works with the beauty of the lyrics to capture the song’s atmosphere. The moments of pure instrumentation sound great as they take the listener into the world of the song. The third verse takes a slightly different direction as Hikki’s vocals remain smooth and the following chorus sounds brilliant as the focus is put on Hikki’s vocals rather than the instrumentation. This Is Love ends with some great adlibbing from Hikki, bringing a truly strong album opener to a strong close.

Keep Tryin’ is an uptempo number that is inspirational for the listener. The song begins with a magical instrumental before Hikki cheerfully sings the chorus. The opening line, “I don’t care about anything,” has a certain personal element of relatability that the listener is hooked from first listen. Her vocals sound great as she stays a little on the higher side and holds her notes well. She finishes with “keep tryin” and that phrase alone captures the atmosphere of the song perfectly. During the verses, the same magical instrumenation runs through as Hikki sings the lyrics very nicely. The hook is differentiated by a change in instrumentation which moves to being slightly more varied and Hikki’s vocals reach higher during this section. The small instrumental section is wonderful as a dream feeling is established. The song ends as Hikki lists people and tells them to keep trying. It’s a very nice finish to the song and fits with the song’s overall feel.

The third song is the interesting BLUE. The song begins with a smooth instrumental before Hikki does some very nice vocalizing. During the verses, the piano serves as the central instrument for the instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals sound great during the slower parts of the song. The chorus features a stronger energy as Hikki sings higher and the music picks up tempo. Although the two pieces are placed together, they don’t clash at all and sound completely natural as they protrude the other further. The pure instrumental section is very pretty and puts an emphasis on Hikki’s strength at producing songs. BLUE is an excellent song to give the album it’s name. In an interview Hikki stated that BLUE really reflected the direction of the album and the listener can see what she meant by listening to this song.

In an interview for ULTRA BLUE, Hikki stated that 日曜の朝 was her favorite song from the album and for its relaxing atmosphere, it’s no wonder why. The song begins with a somewhat uptempo instrumental before the chorus starts. There is a certain energy to it even though the overall sound is pretty mellow. The verses are nice as they capture the slower feel of the song with deeper vocals. The hook features a higher tone instrumentation in addition to some vocalizing from Hikki in the background and even some of the lyrics sung with a whispery voice. 日曜の朝 is a fantastic track and certainly one worth the listen on ULTRA BLUE.

Making Love is a great album track..The song opens up with a nice piano interlude before the song’s true sound comes in. Her vocals during the verses are smooth and move perfectly with the music in keeping with the song’s atmosphere. The hook begins to pick up the energy in time for the chorus. Her vocals during the chorus show a little more strength and when she sings “making love,” the listener really takes notice. The verse following the second chorus is interesting as her vocal strength seems to be pushed to the background in order to focus on the rapidity at which she sings the lines. There is a sort of comical effect created by this that keeps the listener interested, which is definitely a good thing. Making Love is an excellent album track and a noteworthy fit on ULTRA BLUE.

The album’s true ballad arrives with 誰かの願いが叶うころ. The song opens up with the beautiful sound of the piano along with some vocalizing by Hikki. The verses feature some softer vocals that really do capture the song’s emotional presence. At points, it sounds as if Hikki is on the brink of tears while she is singing and it stands out to the listener strongly. The chorus stands out even more as the piano melody becomes stronger as do Hikki’s vocals. The singing of the title in particular is something that stands out to the listener. 誰かの願いが叶うころ is a very nice ballad and although it’s not her strongest ballad, it’s definitely a song to watch out for because Hikki communicates her emotions and sorrow very strongly from start to finish.

COLORS is one of the most unique sounding songs on ULTRA BLUE. After a beautiful instrumentation, the first verse comes in. The melody has its slower moments and its faster moments during the verses, which really stands out to the listener. Hikki’s vocals remain calm and somewhat angelic in time to let them fly freely on the chorus. The chorus and the following pure instrumental section stand out strongly and sound great. The instrumentation that closes the song is really a perfect finish, bringing COLORS to a close as one of the most unique and creative pieces of ULTRA BLUE that is definitely not worth missing out on.

Yamada Masashi joins Hikki for the addictive One Night Magic. The track begins with a sweet and enjoyable uptempo instrumental alongside some vocalizing from Hikki. The English phrase “all your time through all your days” during the first verse really stands out, surrounded by Japanese lyrics. Her vocals sound great here, especially as she finishes the verse when she reaches high. Masashi delivers the hook and sounds great before Hikki takes the chorus. Her vocals sound great and the background repetition of “oh baby give it up” really stands out. Masashi then repeats a line and takes Hikki into the second verse. The third verse really stands out as Hikki sings all of it in a higher register than she’s sung on the song before and it sounds heavenly. She hits her notes flawlessly, drawing attention to the overall atmosphere of the song. Masashi finishes off the song nicely after Hikki sings her chorus nicely. One Night Magic is one of Hikki’s few collaborations and one of the strongest songs on ULTRA BLUE.

海路 is a beautiful and heavenly song that puts a spotlight on the instrumentation. The song opens up with a dreamy instrumentation and Hikki is heard as she vocalizes a little. There are few lyrics in the song so that the song’s focus is really on the music and how directional it is. As the listener listens to the song, the music as well as some vocalizing from Hikki creates a journey that the listener is taken on. Her vocals are consistently strong throughout the entire song and the somewhat slow pace she delivers the lyrics works perfectly in the song’s favor as each syllable is pronounced and emphasized strongly. The lyrics, although there are few of them in the song, are powerful and are a perfect fit with the song’s overall atmosphere set forth by the sound. 海路 is a fantastic track that catches the listener’s ear from the first moment and takes the listener on a journey into Hikki’s world.

WINGS is a nice uptempo and uplifting song. The song opens with a piano interlude before the first verse comes in. Her vocals work well with the music to capture the song’s atmosphere of the lyrics. The song doesn’t really have a set structure and that connects with the free spirit of the lyrics. The sections of pure instrumental sound particularly nice as they spotlight the carefree attitude that the song evokes, keeping the listener following Hikki’s voice from start to finish. WINGS is a nice and mellow uptempo number that finds a nice home on ULTRA BLUE.

Be My Last, the album’s weakest song, is next in line. The song begins with the strumming of the guitar and the first verse. Hikki’s vocals are nice and they carry the emotions throughout the song nicely. While the desperation and emotion come across in Hikki’s voice strongly during the chorus, it doesn’t hook the listener as strongly as desired. Her vocals after singing “be my last” sound a bit whiny and are a bit off-putting. Be My Last does a good job of communicating the presence of the emotion but isn’t as strong at porraying them effectively.

The album’s interlude is Eclipse (Interlude). The song picks up with a nice uptempo energy that runs throughout the song. There isn’t much to say but Eclipse (Interlude) really is enjoyable and makes a nice transition into Passion.

Passion, one of Hikki’s signature songs for overseas fans, appears as the album’s closing number. The song begins with some smooth adlibbing over a heavenly instrumental. The song’s true sound comes in and the first vocals are of the chorus, which really make the song come to life. Her vocals are smooth and she holds her notes effortlessly. The whistles and the guitar during the pure instrumental sections sound absolutely great. The verses feature some deeper vocals from Hikki that are still smooth. The lyrics of the song are really beautiful and the combination of the instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals allows the listener to be taken into the world of Passion and experience the song’s magic. The final group of lines are sung with even more energy and with even more vocal strength. Passion is an experimental song but one that is very successful. The beauty of the instrumentation as well as the smoothness and strength of Hikki’s vocals open a magical world up to the listener and it is one of Hikki’s best songwriting qualities that comes full force.

Album Ranking: A

ULTRA BLUE is Hikki’s most experimental album to date and features many gems that are fundamental listens such as the album’s opening track This Is Love as well as the album’s closing song Passion. Tracks like One Night Magic, Keep Tryin’ and COLORS are great uptempo songs while 日曜の朝 and 海路 are glorious songs. One of Hikki’s best albums, it’s certainly worth listening to.

Utada Hikaru’s 2nd Japanese studio album, entitled Distance, was released on 03.28.01. R&B is a genre explored on the album. The singles released before the album were Addicted To You, Wait & See ~リスク,~ For You / タイム・リミット and Can You Keep A Secret? Parody was also released as a radio-single before the album release.

The album begins with Wait & See ~リスク.~ The song begins with Hikki singing “Is it all for you?” and the attitude that she says it with really stands out and soon she delivers an impressive vocal. With the verse, she sings with a little rapidity that stands out to the listener right away. The chorus shows off more of a rock flare in the instrumentation and Hikki’s vocals are shown off more here than in the verses, making the chorus really stand out to the listener. The third verse features more great vocals but nothing compares to the amazing note she hits right after the small pure instrumental section. Wait & See ~リスク~ is a great opening track that shows off some great vocals and a enjoyable instrumentation. It’s certainly not a track to be missed.

The second song is Can You Keep A Secret? The song opens up nicely with the chorus and once it finishes, more of a beat comes in as she repeatedly sings “hit it up like this.” Once that section finishes, the instrumentation returns back to its slower sound and her vocals really capture the emotions strongly. Hikki’s vocals sometimes sound a bit awkward during the chorus when she pronounces the name of the song. The pure instrumental section is merely okay with the strumming of the guitar and Hikki speaking in the background. Can You Keep A Secret? is the album’s blandest song for instrumentation that doesn’t particularly catch the ear of the listener and the awkwardness that Hikki’s vocals sometime create.

DISTANCE is the album’s cheeriest sounding songs, which is interesting as the lyrics don’t quite portray the same atmosphere. The song begins with a very happy souding instrumental so that the listener is taken into the world of the song from the first listen. There is a certain relaxing element to the verses that work perfectly with Hikki vocalizing in the background and her singing peacefully in the forefront. The chorus features some very nice vocals, particularly at the beginning of the chorus where she reaches high and hits the note perfectly. From its pretty and happy instrumentation in conjunction with its strong lyrics, DISTANCE is an excellent title track and stands out on the album.

サングラス is a nice and relaxing R&B number that stands out. The track opens up with a dreamy instrumentation before the song’s true beat comes in. Her vocals during the first verse sound nice and work with the music very nice. She even reaches high and hits her notes perfectly. The repetition of the word “pretender” strikes the listener throughout the song at various points. The chorus features some great vocals and are sung with the emotion of the fantastic lyrics. The pure instrumentation section is wonderful as it is a return to that dreamy atmosphere that sounds wonderful and leaves a strong impression on the listener. She finishes the song with a few adlibs, one in English “I need someone I can rely on” over the sweet music. The song is an excellent R&B number with Hikki’s vocals shown off very nicely.

Hikki explores the sounds of rock in the fantastic ドラマ. The song begins with a strong rock instrumental before the first verse. Hikki’s vocals are somewhat deep in keeping with the song’s atmosphere but become more aggressive and powerful once the chorus arrives. English is spread throughout the chorus such as “baby let me touch you” and “baby let me kiss you.” The instrumentation becomes more varied with the guitar playing a larger role in the song’s sound, making the chorus the most addictive part of the song. The hook in which she sings in English is a perfect addition to the song. She sings “tumbling, tumbling, can’t you see that I will be your ecstacy” and the atmosphere set forth by this section really fits with the overall sound of the song. ドラマ plays with the sounds of rock to create a very strong track and one of the best songs on the album.

Eternally is one of the album’s true ballads. The song begins with an orchestral opening before she beautifully sings the first verse. Her voice carries the emotions of the song strongly and show the lyrical strength vocally. Her vocals during the chorus are fantastic as she reaches high and sings the notes with emotions that come across to the listener clearly. The song is nice and her vocals sound great however at certain points, she sounds like she strains to hit the notes. Overall though, the song is a nice performance and although it isn’t the strongest song on the album, it’s worth a listen.

Addicted To You (UP-IN-HEAVEN Mix) is the album’s seventh track. The song opens up with a cool instrumentation centered around the beautiful playing of the harp. During the verse, Hikki sounds great and delivers the lyrics with a small rapidity at times that really works. Generally her voice is deep during the verses and that’s a nice choice as her vocals stand out in contrast to the soft sound of the instrumentation. The hook stands out as Hikki sings in a slightly higher tone and there is certain delicate aspect to her voice that supports the instrumentation perfectly. The chorus is even stronger as she reaches inside of her and sings even higher. She sounds fantastic and the instrumentationremains just as pretty and interesting as it did from the beginning. The fun instrumentation brings the song to a close, making Addicted To You (UP-IN-HEAVEN Mix) one of the stronger songs on the album.

For You is an uptempo R&B track. The song begins nicely with a piano opening before the first verse starts. Her vocals are somewhat deep over the catchy beat. The verses feel somewhat long and Hikki’s vocals aren’t as strong as they could have been so a certain feeling of monotony comes. The chorus features a cooler instrumentation and some smoother vocals from Hikki and thus the chorus is much more enjoyable. The last English line of the chorus “I sing this song for you” pops nicely and during pure instrumental sections, Hikki is heard saying some lines in English. The English lines sung during the third verse are a nice change of pace and somewhat surprising as she sings “I want to make you cry.” Her vocals during this verse really stand out strongly. The lyrical simplicity of the song is actually pretty effective here as there is a certain relatability that the song has. For You is a nice track that starts off somewhat weakly but picks up over the course of the song.

蹴っ飛ばせ! is one of the more catchier numbers on the album and certainly a track not to be missed. The song starts right away with Hikki singing “I want your baby” and although certainly unexpected from Hikki, it does capture the interest of the listener. The verses are split into two parts with the repetition of “I want your baby” connecting them. Her vocals during the verses are really nice and she delivers her lines with a certain rapidity that sounds great. The chorus features stronger vocals from Hikki, particularly when she sings the title of the song. Her ending note of the chorus shows off her range as she hits the higher note perfectly. The song is of the most catchy and memorable songs off of the album and the repetition of “I want your baby” is definitely something that makes the listener hooked throughout the rest of the song.

Parody features a highly interesting instrumental and a very cool sound. The song begins with a cool instrumentation before she smoothly sings her way through the first verse. Her vocals work perfectly with the instrumentation, which features some jazz influences to make the listener go with her through the song much like a story. The chorus really stands out, particularly because of the English phrases such as “life story” and “real story.” The pure instrumental section spotlights the jazz influences and even the small rock flares hidden behind the music come out. Parody is one of the funner songs on the album with a catchy beat and lyrics that tell a story.

The semifinal song on Distance is タイム・リミット. A catchy uptempo instrumental backing track begins the song before the catchy hook begins. It’s mostly in English and the catchiness of the instrumentation matches Hikki’s vocals perfectly. Hikki holds her notes on the first verse nicely and she hits the higher notes wonderfully. The chorus continues the song’s catchiness with the same feel as the hook except it is sung all in Japanese. Hikki shows off more vocal strength and range with the second verse and sounds fantastic. The pure instrumental section sounds great with a hot beat although Darkchild’s voice really does get annoying. The cool music fades out, bringing the song to a close. タイム・リミット is one of the catchier numbers on Distance and is definitely worth the listen.

言葉にならない気持ち is the perfect album closer. The song opens up with a slow and relaxing instrumentation before the first verse starts. Her vocals during the verses are somewhat deep in contrast to the higher notes she reaches during the chorus. The chorus is really catchy and the instrumentation just stands out to the listener although it is somewhat simple. The pure instrumental section sounds great and the little adlibbing that Hikki does is really a nice touch. 言葉にならない気持ち is an absolutely fantastic song and closing number for the album.

Album Ranking: A –

Hikki’s 2nd sudio album features a lot of gems such as 言葉にならない気持ち, Parody, 蹴っ飛ばせ! and ドラマ. Although there is the bland Can You Keep A Secret?, the album is still a nice collection of uptempo and R&B numbers. It’s certainly something that should not be skipped.

Utada Hikaru’s 3rd Japanese studio album, entitled DEEP RIVER, was released on 06.19.02. The album is critically acclaimed for its beautiful lyrics and amazing sound. The singles released before the album were FINAL DISTANCE, traveling, 光 and SAKURA ドロップス / Letters.

The album opens up with the beautiful SAKURA ドロップス. A drum-roll opens up the song before the chorus comes in. Her vocals during the chorus are breathtaking as she hits the high notes wonderfully and sings the rest with power and emotion. Sections of pure instrumentation really spotlight the creativity and the beauty behind the music. During the verses, the instrumentation becomes simplistic and the emphasis is put on Hikki’s voice, which is somewhat deep. As the verses appraoch their end, Hikki’s breath is heard in the background as she sings and the flourish of instrumentation re-introduces the chorus perfectly. Following the third chorus, the guitar is spotlighted during a section that consists of pure instrumentation along with some adlibbing from Hikki that sounds great. This sequence closes the song nicely, making SAKURA ドロップス one of the prettiest songs on DEEP RIVER and the perfect opening song that captures beautiful instrumentation and strong lyrics.

traveling picks up the energy very nicely in this uptempo track. The song begins with a magical instrumentation that takes the listener into the world of the song from the very beginning. Following a small section of vocals from Hikki is the first verse. There is a certain catchiness that really sounds nice and Hikki’s vocals only enhance it. The hook feature some vocalizing by Hikki in the background while she delivers her lyrics with a spirit that is very enjoyable. The title of the song really does stand out during the chorus, which is definitely the most catchy part of the song. The vocal strength during the song is very nice as it adds to the pleasant atmosphere of the song. The third verse allows for even more vocal prowess to be shown off as Hikki delivers her lyrics wonderfully. traveling does a great job of capturing a fun spirit and taking the listener into the world of the song from start to finish.

幸せになろう is one of the album’s upbeat tracks that really is an enjoyable listen. The song begins with a clacking sound before the first verse starts. Hikki sounds great as she sings over a sole piano instrumentation and there is such a graceful feeling established that the listener really can feel what she is saying. The chorus picks the energy up and has a sound similar to her earlier works as a nice and catchy R&B sound. The second verse is similar to the first however the instrumentation is solely focused on the piano and a larger emphasis is placed on the beat. The hook comes after the second chorus, which features English lyrics and the way that she sings her lyrics makes the lyrics step out even more. The hook followed by a nice piano finish brings the song to a great close. 幸せになろう is a very nice track and is one of the more enjoyable songs from DEEP RIVER.

Deep River is one of the album’s best songs for its beautiful sound as well as the personal lyrics. The song opens up with gorgeous instrumentation with a few soft vocals from Hikki before the first verse starts. She delivers her lines perfectly with enough softness to really capture the emotion of the song but enough power to put a focus on her lyrics. The chorus stands out the most as Hikki’s vocals show their range as she hits the higher notes perfectly and her “ahhs” sound heavenly with the music. She then follows by saying “that’s why I chose you” and the emotional charge behind that one line really is amazing. After the final chorus, Hikki sings some adlibs that allow her to reach higher and they make a perfect finish to the personal song. Deep River is one of the best songs on the album for Hikki’s wonderful vocals and absolutely fantastic lyrics that can really resonate with the listener.

Letters is a very nice track that was released as a single before the album. The song opens up with strumming and soon the first verse starts. Her vocals remain well-pitched in a higher range and the hook is an enjoyable section as Hikki vocalizes a little in the background and she sings her way nicely into the chorus. The chorus is nice with a very interesting beat with some great supporting vocals. The “aahs” really sound great and stand out from the chorus strongly. Nearing the end, Hikki speaks in English to the beat and its presence in the song is somewhat unexpected but enjoyable nonetheless. Letters is a very nice track with an interesting and cool beat and some more talented vocals from Hikki. It’s certainly not a track to be missed.

プレイ・ボール is one of the most interesting and addictive songs on DEEP RIVER. The song opens up with a cool and somewhat dark instrumentation before the first verse starts. Her vocals sound wonderful here in combination with the instrumentation and as the verses come to a close, the music begins to become a little more varied. Hikki introduces the chorus as she speaks in English saying “sounds like play ball.” The chorus is easily the most addictive part of the song as Hikki delivers the lyrics nicely and the English phrases such as “first impression” and words such as “mission” and “passion” really pop. Of particular interest are the Japanese words that bear a resemblance to their English counterparts such as “hunter” and “runner” and their inclusion really was interesting. The pure instrumental section is a cool addition as the guitar is spotlighted before returning back to the final chorus. Hikki shows off even more vocal range as she hits the higher notes wonderfully. This song is an excellent addition to the album and is certainly a track that should not be skipped.

東京 NIGHTS is another uptempo track that has a catchy beat to it. The first verse starts strongly with some deeper vocals from Hikki but she sings the lyrics to a very nice beat, making the words stand out more. She then sings in a higher octave and sounds great. The chorus continues the ascent of her vocal range as she sings higher and the English phrases such as “love is hard to find” make the chorus pop very nicely. The section of pure instrumentation after the chorus sound great especially with the very pretty strumming that ends each line of music. The third verse takes the sound in a slightly different direction with the instrumentation varying slightly and taking more on the element of the strumming to fit with Hikki’s vocals well. 東京 is a very nice uptempo song that stands out as being one of the more catchier numbers on DEEP RIVER.

A dark atmosphere arises on A.S.A.P. The beginning instrumentation conveys a dark atmosphere with the feeling of a storm in the air. The verses feature deeper vocals in order to keep up with the overall feeling of the music. The hook allows for a slight change of feeling as a more poppish sound is achieved before the chorus comes in. There is a return to that darker feeling and there are some nice vocals but the repetition of “A.S.A.P.” sounds a little bland. The second verse features lyrics that are delivered with a certain rapidity that works very nicely with the music. A.S.A.P. does a nice job of conveying the dark atmosphere that Hikki wished to create and even the desired image of a “wolf-girl” comes to live at parts such as the second verse but overall the song is somewhat bland.

嘘みたいな I Love You is a venture into the sounds of rock. The song’s opening features an exploration into rock that sounds very strong but once the verse starts, the aggressiveness of the music is lowered and there is a certain softness that combines well with Hikki’s voice. The constant guitar riffs throughout the song are a bit off-putting and would have been better had they been left for just pure instrumental sections. The chorus is pretty bland just like the instrumentation at this point but once the chorus finishes, the music jumps back to its cool and aggressive sound that it displayed at the beginning. Ending this track is the same interesting and cool instrumentation that opened it. The moment in which it stops and then continues again is a great moment that keeps the listener on the edge while listening to it. The song has some nice points during the pure instrumental sections but besides them, the song is pretty bland.

FINAL DISTANCE is the ballad version of Distance, from her previous studio album, which was used to commemorate a school shooting. The song opens up much differently from its original with piano playing alongside emotional vocals from Hikki. The following melancholy vocals really do capture the sorrow with an almost haunting atmosphere. During the verses, Hikki’s vocals carry perfectly with the music to establish that sorrowful feel and she shows off some very strong vocals. The chorus brings the emotions to a climax as the English phrases such as “I wanna be with you now” and “we can start over” capture the spirit of the song perfectly. The vocals near the end of the song are fantastic and the way that she holds them are really reflective of the song’s emotional hold. FINAL DISTANCE is a fantastic and emotional ballad that Hikki brings to life with her powerful vocals.

The interlude for DEEP RIVER is Bridge (Interlude). After a few moments of silence, a mysterious orchestral instrumentation arrives and it sounds beautiful. The strings sound fantastic and soon an uptempo element comes in, keeping the energy of the interlude up nicely. More silence ends the interlude, rounding it off as being strong from beginning to finish. Bridge (Interlude) is a very nice interlude with some beautiful orchestral music that makes it stand out strongly.

光 is the album’s closing song and the perfect finishing track. The song begins immediately with the chorus, which features some great vocals from Hikki and shows off her range as she hits the higher notes fantastically. The guitar serves as the central force of instrumentation during the verses, which are pretty addictive. The lyrics and her vocals both combine to tell a story and that quality is something that makes the song so loveable. Nearing the end of the verses, Hikki sings in a lower tone and the instrumentation varies slightly to make a perfect entrance for the chorus. These sections particularly stand out to the listener and really do sound great. The second verse features some great vocals as Hikki holds her notes perfectly and with consistent strength. The hook that follows the third chorus continues in the vein of the chorus’ sound with great vocals and an enjoyable sound. Pure instrumentation along with some very nice adlibbing from Hikki brings the song to a fantastic close. With its personal lyrics and the happy uptempo sound, 光 is one of Hikki’s most signature songs and is a perfect fit with the album.

Album Ranking: A

Hikki’s third Japanese album is critically acclaimed and it’s no wonder why. The lyrical content on the album is fantastic, showing thought and care and the sounds of songs such as プレイ・ボール and SAKURA ドロップス. Beautiful songs like Deep River and FINAL DISTANCE show Hikki can channel her emotions effectively to create wonderful music. One of Hikki’s signature songs, 光, appears as the album’s closing number and is a perfect finish and representation of everything that DEEP RIVER is. DEEP RIVER is an excellent album that offers a variety of sounds and moods and is something worth trying out.

Utada Hikaru’s 2nd English studio album, entitled Exodus, was released on 09.08.04 (Japan) and 10.05.04 (United States) under the stage name, Utada. This album allowed Hikki to explore sounds and lyrical themes that she couldn’t in Japan. Nearly all the tracks were written solely and mixed by Hikki herself save Exodus ’04 and Let Me Give You My Love, which she co-wrote and co-composed with Timbaland. Exodus is a refreshing album that shows off a Hikki that is different from her earlier works and remains a strong album to this day.

Opening is the first song on the album and really does a perfect job of setting the tone for the album. The opening instrumentation is very peaceful and evokes a feeling of space. Once Hikki comes singing, her voice matches the music perfectly and the feeling of passing comets is made. She sings that she doesn’t wish to stick between genres and to cross over between her and another person. After she finishes singing, pure instrumentation is left to close the song and it does a wonderful job. The music picks up more of a beat over the space-like instrumentation to make this opening song a great way for the listener to enter Hikki’s world with this album.

Devil Inside is a synth-driven pop song with lyrics speaking about not being the person everyone thinks she is. The song begins with a cool instrumentation before the first verse starts. She uses a somewhat deep voice during the verses, which are rather short before the hook comes in. This is where the instrumentation begins coming to life and Hikki’s vocals begin to show a little more power as she sings “they don’t know I burn.” The chorus continues this atmosphere as her vocals are even more powerful, particularly on the lines on the words of the title and the music keeps the hot addictive element. Hikki’s dirty side appears slightly as she sings “you’re missing all the action underneath my table” during the verse, which also fits with the song’s theme. The pure instrumental section puts an emphasis on the guitar before she sings “time to make it burn; this is how I burn.” Pure instrumentation finishes the song, spotlighting the elements of traditional Japanese instruments, which sound great. Devil Inside is a perfect first full song on the album that is addictive and thematically strong.

R&B is explored with the sentimental Exodus ’04. Following a instrumenting instrumentation, Hikki uses a deeper voice to sing the verses. In contrast, the chorus features higher vocals during certain lines and phrases. The lyrics are powerful as she speaks about leaving her world with her loved one, leaving behind even her family and friends. Overall the song is somewhat bland but Hikki’s vocals are nice and the music is interesting at some points. There is also that personal touch that makes the listener travel on a voyage through the lyrics.

Hikki’s sexual energy is released on The Workout. The song opens up on a hot beat before the first verse comes in. Hikki’s vocals sound great and from the opening line “I was dancing with a dirty blonde Texan,” the magic of the song really presents itself. The hook sounds absolutely perfect although the lyrical content is simplistic “push it up, push it down” as well being filled with sexual metaphors. The chorus continues the song’s catchiness as Hikki’s says it’s good to be alive before she counts her way up “one life, two time, thee girls, four guys…” The second verse establishes a slightly different feel as the instrumentation is slightly varied and she sings about taking to a born-again Christian. The song ends strongly with the hot dance instrumentation that lasts for a good duration. The Workout is definitely unlike her Japanese works but it’s a great song that is absolutely worth the listen.

Hikki’s humor comes full force with the poppy song, Easy Breezy. The song begins with the chorus, which has some nice vocals and with some fun lyrics such as “you’re easy breezy and I’m Japanesey.” The verses start and Hikki uses more of a deep voice to really work with the music in capturing the song’s atmosphere. The hook is very interesting as she steps up a little vocally and the lyrics are delivered with a little more rapidity and it makes a smooth transition into the chorus. The song ends nicely with Hikki singing “she’s got a new microphone” repeatedly and the guitar comes more into the instrumentation. Her vocals during this section sound great and it brings the song to a perfect close as she does an adlib and it sounds like she is cut off just as she finishes. It somewhat ties the whole humorous aspect of the song together at the end. Easy Breezy is a light-hearted and fun pop song that let Hikki show off her humor and is a pretty catchy song as well.

Hikki takes the position of “the other woman” on the pop song, Tippy Toe. The song starts with instrumentation before the chorus comes in. Hikki’s vocals are strong here as she reaches a little higher and the line “every time I think about you heaven needs a prayer cause you’re married and you’ve even got a family too” shows off Hikki’s vocals as she holds the “too” very nicely. She then finishes off the chorus by using the metaphor of “dancing on your tippy toe” to describe having an affair. The verses show a very interesting touch lyric-wise as the listener really believes what she is singing. The hook continues the interest level of the song as she sings “synchronize it” very nicely after each line, making it really step out. During the second verse, there is a small instrumental break after she sings “worry infiltrates my head till I kill it, I fill it instead with” that really sounds great and connects back as she finishes the line “improper visions of you.” Nearing the end, the piano makes itself more noticeable in the instrumentation before the song ends with Hikki’s “heaven” repeated various times as the song comes to a close. Tippy Toe is a very interesting song, both in terms of its lyrical approach as well as its sound and is a song that really stands out on Exodus.

Hotel Lobby is an interesting song that centers around the theme of prostitution. The song begins with a catchy pop instrumentation before the first verse starts. Hikki sings her way through nicely through the verse as the two sets of vocals, one deep and one high, intertwine. Between the two parts of the verse is very catchy “ahh” that sounds great. Its repetition throughout the rest of the song is still catchy. The chorus is even catchier as Hikki’s vocals sound great and the instrumnentation retains its style. Some of the lyrics talk about reportings and things that “go unseen,” which display a certain education on the subject that stands out lyrically. The somewhat haunting “she’s unprotected” right before the final choruses also stands out during the instrumentation. The final chorus features a different ending line “catch me cause I think I’m falling; I’ll be waiting in the mirrors of the hotel lobby.” The echo effect of the word “lobby” really stands out and the final instrumentation is a perfect finish to the song. Hotel Lobby is a fantastic album track worth listening to.

Animato is the most interesting track on the album and the best song the album has to offer. Hikki has stated that this song is her favorite from the album and was the one who translated the song into Japanese for her fans herself. To her, she says the song is about her being a singer. The song opens up with a very cool instrumentation before the first verse starts and the lyrics show off her flare as she sings “somebody out there better get this, not many people can do it like this.” The sections of pure instrumentation connect the verses and the chorus and it is these small breaks that really stand out and keep the listener hooked to the music. She ends the verse very nicely as she sings “life’s messy so I clarify it, simplifying things for everybody.” The chorus features some nice lyrics such as “I’ll take my diamond shoes” and “I need someone who’s true; someone who does the laundry too.” Lyrics such as these stick out as being very “Hikki.” The song ends with that magical personal touch as she lists some of her favorite musical acts such as Elvis Presley and F. Mercury. Animato is definitely a track to be remembered and is truly the album’s strongest offering.

The same sound from Opening appears in the album’s interlude, Crossover Interlude. Interestingly enough, the very same music is used but put to more of a dance beat, which keeps the interlude lively and enjoyable. The song also features the same lyrics and once the lyrics start, the instrumentation changes a bit, keeping the song fresh in the listener’s mind. Unlike Opening, Crossover Interlude fades out with the dance beat rather than letting the beat finish at one point. Although Opening does a better job of matching the sound with the lyrics, this interlude is a nice listen.

The haunting fan-favorite, Kremlin Dusk, appears after the album’s interlude. The song begins with a dark and cold instrumentation before the Hikki sings the first verse, with pretty vocals that capture the atmosphere of the song perfectly. The lyrics here also show the overall lyrical theme of the song – “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, who is directly mentioned in the first verse. Mentions of “Lenore” and the “the raven” round off the verse perfectly. Her emotional vocals on the word “home” really do show the song’s emotional presence. The song is interesting here as there is no real chorus and pure instrumentation connects the two verses. Half-way through the song, the tone changes and a more rock sound is channeled as Hikki delivers some wonderful lyrics such as “torn by the arms in opposite direction.” The section is a very nice change of pace and after the song returns to its beginning beautiful instrumentation. She emotionally sings “is it always the same when a heartache begins, is it like this?” The instrumentation brings the song to a perfect finish as one of the more memorable songs on the album.

You Make Me Want To Be A Man is one of the most interesting songs on the album, thematically. The central theme is the desire to be a man so that she can better understand her husband. The song opens up with a very interesting instrumentation before the chorus comes in. Her vocals sound great as she hits higher notes strongly, particularly when she hits the note on “man.” During the verses, her vocals are lower and are followed by a small adlibbing section that introduces the chorus nicely. You Make Me Want To Be A Man isn’t the strongest song on the album but it’s a nice listen every now and then.

Wonder ‘Bout displays an interesting instrumentation with a pop sound. The song begins with some cool music and Hikki’s vocals are echoed as she sings “every day” before the first verse starts. Her vocals sound very nice here and the lyrics do a good job of capturing the anger and other emotions that Hikki brings to life with her voice. The hook features some interesting lyrics such as “are you asleep or are you still afraid of the dark” before nicely moving into the chorus. Hikki shows off more controlled vocal power during the chorus as she sings various questions and finishes nicely “I wonder ’bout but I don’t give a damn about you.” It’s somewhat surprising coming from Hikki but it makes the chorus pop at the end. The second verse features a particularly striking lyric “rather be out of the rain, now I understand why my mother ran away.” That lyric stands out to the listner before going into the hook. The pure instrumental section is a nice spotlight on how interesting the instrumentation is before the same echoing of “every day” appears again. More instrumentation brings the song to a nice close as the listener enjoys the song from beginning to end. Wonder ‘Bout is an excellent track that shows a certain anger that comes across strongly from her vocals and the lyrics.

More sexual energy appears with the album’s semifinal song, Let Me Give You My Love. An instrumentation that circles around pop flare opens the song before the first verse starts. Hikki’s vocals are great and the lyrical content is also interesting as she sings that after the young boy next door passed away, she came to the realization that people shouldn’t waste any time and soon the sexual metaphors come in with “mixing gene pools” and getting “multilingual.” The hook makes a smooth transition between the verses and the chorus as she describes soulsearching and a body that is “jaw-dropping.” Her vocals go a little bit higher on the chorus and there is a certain fun-ness to that sexual atmosphere that is refreshing like when she sings “giddy-up baby giddy-up baby, let me give you my love.” The third verse features Hikki singing in a deeper tone while another set of her vocals are heard singing higher and the two come together particularly at the last moment of the verse as she sings “hot, hot, hot.” Pure instrumentation brings the song to a close, making Let Me Give You My Love a truly wonderful addition to the album.

A personal touch is put on the acoustic finale, About Me. The song opens up with Hikki playing the guitar as she sings the first verse. Her vocals sound wonderful and the honesty of the lyrics really stand out to the listener. More of a beat comes in with the chorus as she sings lyrics such as “right now you’re sure you love but are you really ready to know more about me?”  and the moment after the chorus is finished, the piano is showed off. Another noteworthy lyric is “what if I don’t want a baby; what if I’m not cute and naive?” which really shows off the personal flare that the song emotes. The song ends wonderfully as she sings “right now you’re sure that you love me but are you really ready to know more about me?” and then finishes it with “up and down…and down, round and round and round, where do we go?” Her vocals on the final “down” really stick out, bringing the song to a wonderful finish. About Me is a personal acoustic song that allows Hikki to be honest lyrically and makes for the perfect album closer.

Album Ranking: A +

Hikki’s second English album is a collection of magnificent songs that are both interesting instrumentally and lyrically. Hikki’s dirtier side is brought out on songs like The Workout and Wonder ‘Bout. A highly personal touch was put on the album with her humor showed off on Easy Breezy and her feelings on being a singer on Animato and the beautiful honesty of About Me. Exodus reflects a side of Hikki that isn’t necessarily reflected in her Japanese works and really is one of her best albums to date.