Ayumi Hamasaki – We are the QUEENS

October 2, 2016 at 5:39 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Ayumi Hamasaki – We are the QUEENS

1. We are the QUEENS

We are the QUEENS is the eighth digital single by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on September 30, 2016. The song was used as the theme song for the smart phone game CLASH OF QUEENS.

So basically this is ‘just’ a digital single, but hey, it’s October 2, happy 38th birthday Queen Ayu!

The opening of the song is very mysterious with some distant strings and an orchestra building up with slow marching drums. It suits the bombastic ambiance they were probably going for with the game. After a little more than a minute, the actual song starts, and Ayu’s style becomes more evident. It’s kinda like arena rock, and it’s actually very exciting with great and energetic vocals. That guitar solo in the bridge, followed by a heroic break with trumpets and strings, makes me want this track to appear on an album soooo much. All hail Queen Ayu!

5 stars


Ayumi Hamasaki – M(A)DE IN JAPAN

September 12, 2016 at 3:25 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

madeinjapan1_zpsc7hizsdqALBUM REVIEW
Ayumi Hamasaki – M(A)DE IN JAPAN

1. tasky
3. Mad World
4. Breakdown
5. Survivor
6. You are the only one
8. Mr.Darling
9. Summer Love
10. Many Classic Moments (globe cover)

♦ ♦ ♦

madeinjapan2_zpsa1txra5tM(A)DE IN JAPAN is the seventeenth studio album by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki. It was first released via the Japanese streaming service called AWA on May 11, 2016, and was released physically on June 29, 2016. The album debuted at #2 on the charts and has sold 40,609 copies to date.

After quite some years, Ayu throws in another ‘task’, but this time to open the album. Since the name of the album is M(A)DE IN JAPAN, the Japanese sound of tasky fits the album very well. Halfway through the intro, the traditional sound is mixed with some typical Ayu dance music that really spices things up. It gets me so excited for what’s to come.

FLOWER opens with a similar Japanese vibe, but whoever thinks this is a midtempo track needs to think twice. Near the chorus, the arrangement builds into this amazing rock track that easily fits right in with tracks like ‘Microphone’ and ‘WARNING’. Somehow it’s a bit reminiscent of her older days (‘GUILTY’, anyone?). Overall a great first full-length track.

I really enjoy Mad World, simply because it’s so straightforward Ayu. It’s powerful, but it has a more pop/rock sound than FLOWER had and the melodies in the chorus are very easy on the ears. I must say her vocals are a bit better than in the previous track, she sounds more at ease in her vocal range here.

Breakdown is the album’s big ballad and the way the arrangement is built it could easily be a winter ballad. It features a lot of piano melodies, bells and chimes, and there’s a sense of mystery to it. This song also takes me back a few years, like 6 or 7, back to when she did a couple more songs like this. Not the type of forgettable ballad, so this one will tend to stick.

Now Survivor is quite an interesting track because the opening sounds like it could be the opening to one of her concerts, before leading into a big chanting chorus. I don’t think many of the other songs on this album are as powerful and original as this one and I must say this is the one (together with Many Classic Moments) that stayed with me most of all. A must on the album.


I like how You are the only one opens with bagpipes, I LOVE bagpipes. The rest of the song kinda takes the middle road between a ballad and a midtempo song, which is quite interesting to hear. The chorus does not fully appeal to me, but it’s far from bad. In the end, it’s a nice track in which Ayu delivers an emotional vocal performance to top it off.

I comparison to the experimental SurvivorTODAY sounds like a safe choice for the album. It’s an uplifting track and there’s some nice power in it, but it’s more mainstream than some of her other songs. That having been said, I think it’s also an underrated song on this album. Ayu’s vocals sound amazing and the arrangement is very nice.

Mr.Darling is a bit like ‘Life’ remastered, but fortunately it does not sound TOO much like it. It’s a pop song, balancing the album in a nice way. However, it does sound a bit generic and the repetition of the line ‘soba ni ite‘ in the chorus kind of annoys me after couple of listens. It’s not bad, but it’s not special either.

Ah, I thought we were missing something and here it is: an Ayu dance track. Summer Love is like ‘You & Me’ and ‘Merry-go-round’ with a lot of energy and synths, and today it feels like no Ayu album is complete without a track like this. It’s catchy, uplifting and suprising in its own way. I like it!

Now I’ve always been a bit on the fence with Many Classic Moments, I don’t know why. It’s nice and I like the fact that it flows nicely from Summer Love, but there’s something to it that just holds me back a little bit. Nonetheless, would this album be better without it? No. Ayu doesn’t do many covers, but when she does, she does them well. This is another example and maybe I need to get a bit more aquainted with it.

I’m very pleased with M(A)DE IN JAPAN, it’s like Ayumi has finally returned to her roots and releases stuff she is actually very good at. No experiments (except for Survivor, then), no goofy stuff as in ‘Party Queen’, just the sound that made her so great as an artist. It’s also not that long, so I don’t show any signs of fatigue after completing this review, haha. It’s a nice album, I have listened to it a couple of times already on my way to work and I don’t remember skipping anything. Good job, Ayu!

Favorite trackstasky | FLOWER | Mad World | Survivor | Summer Love

4 stars


Ayumi Hamasaki – sixxxxxx

November 6, 2015 at 3:05 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | Leave a comment

Ayumi Hamasaki – sixxxxxx

1. Step by Step
2. Summer diary
3. Sayonara feat. SpeXial
4. Sorrows
5. Shape of Love
6. Sky high

♦ ♦ ♦

sixxxxxx is the fifth mini-album released by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki on August 5, 2015. The album debuted at #1 on the Oricon charts and has sold 44,410 copies to date.

Ayu didn’t waste any time after A ONE, she released this only five months after that! Opening this mini-album, Step by Step kinda feels like it’s a bridge between A ONE and sixxxxxx, since it won’t sounds out of place on A ONE. It’s easily recognizable that this song is a theme song for an anime, it has that typical Ayu anime song feeling, but with a touch of summer. I needed to get used to it a bit, but I really like it now!

I have loved Summer diary ever since I first heard it and saw the (emotional) MV, too bad summer is over already and I should’ve played this on repeat all the time, but unfortunately I didn’t. Still, I can imagine doing so, because this bubbly summer song (with a little Ayu edge) totally slays everything.

Time to fire it up for the next song. Sayonara feat. SpeXial is a collaboration with a Taiwanese boy band, and it sounds pretty awesome! After some typical Ayu rock songs, they threw in some dance beats for this one and it actually works very well. After four and a half minutes it does get a bit monotonous, but the rest of the song is better than I thought. Also, Ayu’s English sounds so good!

Wow, I’m surprised by how dramatic Sorrows sounds (yes, even despite the title). The verses are quiet and even ominous, but I wasn’t expecting the aggressive chorus with the full arrangement. This is Ayu’s other side, more focused on heavy music and kicking serious you-know-what. I’m even more surprised that I find this one of the better songs on the album.

Shape of Love interestingly features a 6/8 beat, but that’s not everything. Where did that amazing mandolin come from?! I was about to think Ayu didn’t have any more tricks up her sleeve, but boy I was wrong. It makes the whole song much more interesting, and it’s less bombastic than the previous song too.

Last (but definitely not least), Sky high closes the album with an airy vibe. After two darker and more emotional tracks, this is a great way to end the album upbeat and cheerful. It has the same feeling that Summer diary also has, so I think that makes the song instantly likeable.

I wasn’t expecting to be so satisfied with the album. Ofcourse it’s going to need multiple listens because I basically remember only the first three songs (I know), but I was overall very pleased. I hear Ayu is going to release another mini in about a month, so it makes me even more curious if she can keep this up. I hope she can release more songs that do not sound to much like older songs.

Favorite songs: Step by Step | Summer diary | Sorrows | Sky high

4 stars



Ayumi Hamasaki – Memorial address

July 15, 2015 at 10:51 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | Leave a comment

Ayumi Hamasaki – Memorial address

2. Greatful days
3. Because of You
4. ourselves
5. HANABI ~episode II~
6. No way to say (Original Mix)
7. forgiveness
8. Memorial address (take 2 version)

♦ ♦ ♦

Memorial address is the first mini-album by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on December 17, 2003. It reached #1 on the Oricon charts selling 524,028 copies on its first week. It charted for 48 weeks and sold a total of 1,220,000 copies. It is currently the best-selling mini-album by a Japanese female singer, having sold over a million copies in Japan.

Only three new tracks, and ANGEL’S SONG is the first one. It opens in quite a dramatic way but then it develops into an uptempo dance/pop track with just a little hint of Ayu’s signature style. I was expecting a ballad, so this kind of blew me away. It reminds me a little too much of a song she released later on, but since this one was there first I don’t mind. Quite a nice opening for the album.

Because the first track was already uptempo, Greatful days and its bright summer sound comes out way better here than it did on the single. It’s very catchy and this should’ve been more popular during this era than it actually was. Uplifting!

Moving on to the more mysterious tracks on the album, there is the new song Because of You. Putting this on the album was genius because it spices it up with a kickass rock track that is on the heavier side. Ayu always nails these types of songs (just listen to ‘Microphone’) and this is definitely no exception. The standout track on this album.

Next are the four songs she released earlier, including the three major A-sides. ourselves comes out great right after Because of You, somehow it just fits while being on the more mellow side. Quite a typical sound for the year of 2003, but in Ayu’s discography this stands out so much. Love the works on the strings and drums.

Staying on the darker side, there is HANABI ~episode II~. By now I can’t really find anything to dislike about this track and it really starts to grow on me more. The use of electric guitars in the chorus while the verses are more on the quiet side is very cool and Ayu’s vocals are strong and steady. The male chanting adds something nice as well.

First we had a summer track, now we have the winter ballad No way to say. I think this was my favorite A-side of the era, most of all because of its dramatic winter sound and acoustic guitar and piano in the arrangement. It’s a bit ominous at times and you can almost feel the winter all around you, but that’s what I like about it. Recommended!

Followed by my least favorite A-side forgiveness. I still don’t know what it is, but I think it’s about the use of melodies, especially in the verses. This just isn’t my thing, while the song is actually quite good if you listen to it objectively. But writing reviews isn’t about being objective so…..

Is there a take 1 version of Memorial address (take 2 version)? Maybe it’s because this melody was already used in LOVER SOUND TRACK’s song “kumo” (both are composed by Tetsuya Yukumi). Anyway, this has always been one of my favorite tracks because after about a minute and a half of quiet piano music they go full out with drums, electric guitars and Ayu’s fierce vocals. This is a bit like Because of You, real Ayumi Hamasaki rock at its best. As a fan, I adore this.

After most of the singles proved a bit disappointing I was anxious for this mini-album, but eventually it turned out so much better than I expected! This is actually a pretty solid effort, I only dislike forgiveness for some strange reason I don’t really understand myself. I never really cared much for this era, but now I just have to remember myself of the fact that this mini is worth my time and there are some very strong tracks here that deserve more plays. Nicely done, Ayu!

Favorite songs: Greatful days | Because of You | ourselves | HANABI ~episode II~ | No way to say | Memorial address (take 2 version)

4 stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – No way to say

July 15, 2015 at 10:23 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | Leave a comment

Ayumi Hamasaki – No way to say

1. No way to say “Original Mix”
2. No way to say “Acoustic Version”
3. SEASONS “Acoustic Version”
4. Dearest “Acoustic Version”
5. Voyage “Acoustic Orchestra Version”
6. No way to say “Vandalize-Realize Mix”
7. No way to say “Original Mix” -Instrumental-

No way to say is the thirty-first single by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on November 6, 2003. No way to say was used as the Panasonic’s Portable MD Player “MJ57” CM song and theme song for TBS variety show “Koisuru Hanikami”. This single reached #1 on the Oricon charts and sold 242,473 copies in 2003, becoming the #32 single of the year. It charted for 15 weeks and sold a total of 371,171 copies.

Ah, a winter ballad. No way to say “Original Mix” definitely kicks ass more than ‘forgiveness’ did if you ask me, probably because I like the use of melodies and arrangement better and Ayu’s vocals are much stronger. It has this real winter feel to it that I love, like you can almost feel the ice cold wind blowing by (ooh, it’s summer as I’m writing this, so strange). I can’t really find anything that I don’t like about this!

Ofcourse No way to say “Acoustic Version” also slays because it’s the exact same song, but now with just an acoustic guitar accompanying Ayu. It suits the style of the song very well and usually I love Ayumi’s acoustic versions of songs, so I’m in for a treat with this single.

One of my favorite songs is SEASONS, so to find SEASONS “Acoustic Version” here is quite something. They changed the melodies quite a bit with this piano tune they incorporated, but together with the guitar and accordeon it sounds pretty awesome after all. Nice take on a wonderful song.

Another amazing ballad brought back to life, this time from the ‘I am…’ era. Dearest “Acoustic Version”. Although… wait. This is actually pretty cheap. This version was already on the single version of Dearest, only then it was called “Acoustic Piano Version”. Caught in the act, Ayu.

Voyage “Acoustic Orchestra Version” starts off in the exact same way as the original and it stays pretty much the same. The only thing they did to it is strip away the percussion and leave the orchestral arrangement, which already makes up the most important part of the song. Not all that new.

From the very moment No way to say “Vandalize-Realize Mix” started I was a bit anxious of what they changed, because the first thing I heard was a fast dance beat, synths and piano. If you ask me it’s often a big no-no to turn a ballad into a dance track and… this isn’t really an exception.

I gave this single this rating because I didn’t like the remix and there were two pretty cheap acoustic versions (one copied straight off an older single and one sounding too much like the original). I did like the first three tracks so… In case you guys were wondering…



Ayumi Hamasaki – forgiveness

July 15, 2015 at 10:03 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ayumi Hamasaki – forgiveness

1. forgiveness
2. ourselves “Kentaro Takizawa Remix”
3. HANABI ~episode II~ “HAL’s MIX 2003”
4. forgiveness (Instrumental)

forgiveness is the thirtieth single by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on August 20, 2003. ‘forgiveness’ was used as the theme song for the dorama Kougen he Irasshai. This single reached #1 on the Oricon charts and charted for 12 weeks. It sold 222,194 copies, becoming the #36 single of 2003.

forgiveness is the main ballad of this era and it’s quite a mysterious and emotional one. I always found the melodies in the verses a bit off, but that’s just personal taste, it just doesn’t really sound all that appealing to me. Other than that, I really like the buildup and the full out use of the strings in the chorus. Vocals could’ve been better, but for a long track it flows very well.

Okay, so they repeat the ‘Gyuttoshite mitari // jintositari // shintoshitari‘ part of ourselves “Kentaro Takizawa Remix” way too much in the first part of the remix and it’s basically just a very fast beat and hardly any melody (the melody that is actually there hardly fits the vocal melodies). They stripped away everything that was appealing of the original. The only thing I liked were the alterations to the vocals, like vocoders and such.

Thankfully they stayed pretty much true to the original for HANABI ~episode II~ “HAL’S MIX 2003” and it isn’t too long. They added a soft lingering beat in the background and that’s pretty much it, but it gives it just the right touch-up. A very subtle remix and the better one on this single. The rest of the single… a bit of a pity.

2½ stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – &

July 15, 2015 at 4:26 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ayumi Hamasaki – &

1. ourselves
2. Grateful days
3. HANABI ~episode II~
4. theme of a-nation ’03
5. ourselves (Instrumental)
6. Grateful days (Instrumental)
7. HANABI ~episode II~ (Instrumental)

& is the twenty-ninth single by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on July 9, 2003. The single reached #1 on the Oricon charts and charted for 16 weeks. It sold 591,481 copies, becoming the #8 single of 2003.

Years ago I was so much in love with ourselves because it was such an interesting an different song, I replayed it over and over again. I really like the use of strings and the hollow drums in the hooks, it makes it all very catchy and memorable. Also, Ayu delivers some strong vocals here, she makes it even more energetic and fierce.

Grateful days brings out the summer feel in this single, something ourselves didn’t do. It’s a much cuter track, which is also clear from Ayu’s vocals, but if you ask me this is quite fun. Ofcourse it’s not her best, but at least the melodies stick and I remember how the song goes long after it’s over.

Oh, a new ‘pairing’, this time a continuation of HANABI that was on the ‘RAINBOW’ album. HANABI ~episode II~ is even much better than the original in my opinion because it’s so much more out there. The electric guitars play a major role in the arrangement and I like the male chanting in the chorus as well. Ayu’s strong vocals have just the right amount of emotion in them. Upgrade of the original? Definitely.

theme of a-nation ’03 sounds very traditionally Asian with all these typical instruments. It’s almost like an alan song (at least that is what it makes me think of) with the erhu and such. When it comes to the vocals, Ayu blends in very well with the serene ambience, the true vocal cameleon that she is. It’s a long track, but very different from everything she usually does so it’s very appealing.

4½ stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – A ONE

April 7, 2015 at 8:10 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 2 Comments

Ayumi Hamasaki – A ONE

1. a Bell
4. Anything for You
5. Last minute
6. Zutto…
7. Out of control
8. Story
9. The GIFT
10. The Show Must Go On
11. Walk
12. Movin’ on without you

♦ ♦ ♦

A ONE  is the sixteenth studio album by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on April 8, 2015. It was released in three versions: a CD+DVD edition, a CD+Blu-ray edition, and a CD only edition.

The album kicks off with a very calming introducion called a Bell, and ofcourse it’s filled with bell-like sounds in the very beginning. It eventually becomes something more orchestrated, very beautiful and actually very much in style of Ayu’s classical albums.

If I didn’t know WARNING already I would’ve been blown off my seat now since it’s the complete opposite from the calm and peaceful introduction track. From the moment I first heard it I have loved it, it’s like this album’s ‘Microphone’ (you know, the track on the ‘Rock’n’Roll Circus’ album). Strong music and lyrics and an amazing MV, the Queen strikes back again.

Now NO FUTURE is quite a long track at almost 6 minutes, but it’s striking nonetheless. It sounds very much like what she has done for the last couple of years when it comes to the musical style and that’s exactly what I’ve been missing. It’s energetic, yet calmer than WARNING, and features some amazing vocals in the choruses.

Anything for You is even longer at over 7 minutes, but oh well. It starts off with an amazing piano introduction and it’s clearly one of Ayu’s power ballad tracks (which she usually does pretty well). It’s one of the few tracks I hadn’t heard in previews yet and I have to say it progresses very smoothly for a track this long. It doesn’t drag, so it’s another wonderful new track presented on the album.

Just when you think there will be a couple of ballads coming, Last minute changes the game entirely. Although it starts off like a piano ballad, Ayu’s edgy vocals give away what’s to come. When the second verse comes around a lot of electric guitars and percussion are thrown into the arrangement and it makes it more mysterious and aggressive. I remember calling this the best song on the single it was on and I stand by my opinion, incredible track!

Although released in April, this album even has a winter ballad (at least that’s the way I see it). Zutto… needed a little time to grow on me but I really like how dramatic it sounds in the chorus. In this context (on the album) it makes for a lot of variation in the tracklist and it brings out the highlights in the track so much more. Loved the guitar solo in the bridge too, goosebumps all over!

I wouldn’t exactly call Out of control a ballad, but it’s definitely a more edgy version of some of the previous songs. I like how the verses contain some sort of subtle marching band percussion pattern and that the arrangement becomes bigger and bigger as the song progresses. Although sometimes Ayu’s vocals can be a little too loud, I’m very impressed by this new track.

Story is the first song I come across that doesn’t impress me the way it should. I’m pretty sure I would like it more if I hear it in isolation, but right now with all the other tracks preceding it, it comes off as more generic than it probably should. Nonetheless, counts as a good power ballad.

The most emotional and stunning track on the album has to be The GIFT, I was so impressed by the melodies and Ayu’s approach here that the tears were almost burning in the back of my eyes. If I have to recommend one song to you guys it would be this one, and I’m glad she picked this as the promo song for the album. WONDERFUL ❤

Am I the only one that instantly thought of the song ‘snowy kiss’ when hearing The Show Must Go On for the first time? The ambience and sometimes even the melodies remind me of that song sooo much.. Still, I can hear the differences and it doesn’t make this track boring or unoriginal. It’s sassy and I quite like it, a necessary song after a few ballads as well.

Walk is one of the three official A-sides on this album and it distinguishes itself from the rest with a more orchestral approach in some parts of the song. It’s the sister song to Zutto… since it still owns that winter ballad theme, but the melodies are totally different and more emotional in a way. In some ways not very distinguishable, but breathtaking in its own way.

Ayu doing covers, wow. Ayu doing GREAT covers, even better! I never expected her to cover Utada’s Movin’ on without you and she made it completely her own with the modern synthpop sound. I like the sound of Ayu’s voice in the verses, so different of what she usually does. I remember liking the original version very much and Ayu comes soooo close, great job!

When ‘Colours’ proved itself disappointing for me I was hoping for a better follow-up. The ‘Zutto…/Last minute/Walk’ single was promising, but I didn’t expect Ayu to release such an amazing album now! This tops ‘Colours’ by far, only ‘LOVE again’ is a better album (my favorite Ayu album ever) and that certainly says a LOT. Ayumi has released many great albums and I’m more a fan of her earlier works, but this album exceeds a lot of what she has done before. True, some tracks don’t really stand out 100%, but there isn’t a single bad song on the album. If I have to recommend a song it would be the pure perfection that The GIFT is, but be sure not to miss out on any of the other tracks either!

Favorite tracks: WARNING | NO FUTURE | Anything for You | Last minute | Out of control | The GIFT | The Show Must Go On | Movin’ on without you

4½ stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – Zutto… / Last minute / Walk

December 21, 2014 at 10:28 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | Leave a comment

Ayumi Hamasaki – Zutto… / Last minute / Walk

1. Zutto… (Original Mix)
2. Last minute (Original Mix)
3. Walk (Original Mix)
4. Zutto… (Original Mix) – Instrumental-
5. Last minute (Original Mix) – Instrumental-
6. Walk (Original Mix) – Instrumental-

Zutto… / Last minute / Walk is the fifty-third single by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on December 24 2014.

It’s been a while since we had a real digital single release from Ayu! Zutto… takes you to some magical winter wonderland but with a dramatic little twist. I think this song needs to grow on me in the future, but I must say it appeals more to me as it progresses. As soon as the song reaches the second chorus and that amazing guitar solo in the bridge it finally gets to me.

Last minute feels like the better song then, completely throwing me off of my chair. Why? Well, consider the peaceful opening of the song and then suddenly so many electric guitars and percussion are thrown in, it became a lot darker and more mysterious/dramatic all at once. I think this is one of the most aggressive power ballads of that kind Ayu has released lately, I loved it!

I liked the orchestral opening to Walk, which is followed by a lovely melody in the first verse. Although all three songs on this single are winter power ballads, that orchestral touch is what makes this song stand out on its own. Just like Zutto… it takes a little more time to get used to, but then in the end I think I quite like this song too.

Okay so lately I dropped the summary paragraph in single reviews, but this post just wasn’t complete without a little conclusion. Am I the only one who genuinely thinks Ayu has gone back to her roots with this single? Just ditch the electro and give us more of your edgy pop/rock style! That’s why this single deserves extra credit, I have been waiting for this for so long after the disappointment I felt when ‘Colours’ was released.

4 stars

Ayumi Hamasaki – Colours

July 5, 2014 at 6:20 PM | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 2 Comments

Ayumi Hamasaki – Colours

1. Feel the love
3. What is forever love (duet with Urata Naoya)
4. Hello new me
5. Pray
6. Terminal
7. Angel
8. Merry-go-round
9. Lelio
10. NOW & 4EVA

♦ ♦ ♦

Colours is the fifteenth full-length studio album by Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki, released on July 2, 2014. The album was released in five different versions and debuted at #5 on the Oricon Charts.

Let’s just say I’m curious about what this album will bring me, since I haven’t been too excited lately. It doesn’t surprise me that Feel the love opens the album because I thought it was a very strong A-side when it was released on Christmas Day. It’s an EDM track with an English chorus and it’s actually the perfect Summer song for an A-side that was released in the middle of winter. Let’s give it another try in this season, shall we. I’m starting to like this one a lot.

I love the way Ayu’s voice sounds when she opens XOXO, it just sounds so fierce. That fierceness stays throughout the song and that totally makes up for the cheesy lyrics she’s singing. A lot more of the song is in English as well, and she has improved her pronunciation a lot. The fact that this song is another dance track makes it fit very well at this spot, behind Feel the love, I like the loud beats and synths. Good job, Ayu.

Dem besties Ayu and Urata Naoya reunite for What is forever love, they sure love working together. They turn out good songs as well, and I was surprised to see them collaborate on a more dance oriented track (produced by DAISHI DANCE). The track needs to grow on me a little, but after a while it starts to appear less empty to me and more catchy.

Hello new me was one of the digital singles (and I didn’t review it indeed), and thank god the previous track already toned things down a little bit. I wasn’t really expecting a ballad here since the album has many dance tracks, and this pop ballad is the kind of ballad you can find on any Ayumi album. I love how it starts off peacefully with just a piano, and then afterwards it gains more power. Loved the melodies as well.

Pray was the other digital single for this album, and somehow I think it’s strange that these two ballads were used to promote a dance album, but anyway.. It’s like a throwback to albums like ‘FIVE’ with a classical and emotional touch. Pray uses piano and strings very well to build up the tension and it actually made this the first track I really love. I like this Ayu so much more than the dance oriented Ayu.

Now Terminal is quite a shock coming right behind Pray, but oh well. This trance track is produced by my fellow countryman Armin van Buuren (who also produced “Connected” on Ayu’s 2001 album “I am…”) and ofcourse it’s very synth-heavy. I didn’t expect to like it all that much, but as soon as Ayu starts singing it’s starting to sound better to me already, her voice sounds really good here. I’m not too fond of dance and trance music, but this kicks ass to say the least.

Slowing things down a tad with Angel, it’s almost a power ballad but not quite. Ayu’s vocals are so different here, I haven’t heard her like this before, and musically she’s going all Miley Cyrus on us (‘Wrecking Ball’ anyone?). This could’ve been so much more, the music sounds too familiar and yet it has potential. I just don’t like Ayu’s voice here, she’s crying out too much.

Merry-go-round was the B-side on the physical single released in December together with Feel the love. The latter was the better song on the single, but mostly because VERBAL messes up parts of this one. To me, this song is much more Ayu than the previous track, and actually this could’ve fit on an album like ‘LOVE again’ too. I’d take this over Angel anytime, but that doesn’t mean I have to love it. Just kick VERBAL to the curb and I’ll give it another chance.

I heard Lelio some time ago and now in the context of the other tracks I must say it’s a standout track. I wasn’t too enthousiastic about it, but now it’s like a good wake up call. It’s a strong dance track with a lot of production value, Ayu and her team really put their best effort into this. At first I thought I might wanna skip this one, but now I could easily play it on repeat.

NOW & 4EVA is like a throwback to ‘old Ayu’, somehow this is more typical of her. It’s different from all the other tracks since it’s not dance-centric but more power pop, but still it’s the perfect closing track for the album. I also loved her vocals much more, and my goodness how I missed a nice electric guitar solo on this album.

Well, as I admitted earlier I wasn’t fangirling over this album before and to be honest, I won’t be now either. I used to love Ayu’s music so much more before she turned to dance music and her previous album “LOVE again” was on repeat for the entire year of 2013. This one won’t be on repeat, I doubt if I will ever give it multiple listens in a row. Maybe it just needs to grow on me, but I have the feeling this just isn’t my cup of tea. There are some really good songs on this album though, let’s not forget that. But overall, this just doesn’t capture me, as much as I want it to.

Favorite songs: Feel the love | XOXO | Hello new me | Pray | Lelio | NOW & 4EVA

3 stars

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