Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

This Is The One

UTADA’s 3rd English album
14th March, 2009
(Japanese release)

I was a bit skeptical about this album. I wasn’t all that fond of Utada’s previous English album, Exodus, because I found a lot of the lyrics to be really awkward (“You’re easy breezy, and I’m Japanesey”?). In general, I’m much more fond of her older stuff than her newer stuff… I didn’t like her most recent Japanese album, Heart Station, all that much either. I didn’t listen to the “Come Back to Me” single when it came out, so I was walking into this album blind more or less. Here are my first impressions during my first run through of the album:

TRACK 01: On and On (YouTube it)
Very upbeat opening; I like the guys yelling in the background in addition to Utada’s voice, which is gorgeous. Steady beat continues into main melody, and it’s very energizing in that you-gotta-tap-your-feet-and-move-your-body kinda way. Awesome transition into the chorus via a sudden silence in the background, same with the transition into the second chorus. This song definitely has a very American feel to it, which I almost find surprising because I didn’t think Exodus was very American at all. I really love all the layers of voices in this — the guy in the background just keeps going and going, then there’s Utada’s voice, and at the bridge and end, there’s a second layer of Utada’s voice; it’s a very nice combination of sounds. What a great way to start the album!

TRACK 02: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI
Loud, commanding piano intro followed by another steady beat and Utada’s familiar “ah, ah, ah.” Lyrics sound Japanese for a moment, but gets clearer very fast. The repetitive nature of the lyrics goes really well with the continued beat. The lyrics themselves are pretty interesting — she uses a lot of modern elements such as “FYI” and mentions of mp3s. It’s very characteristic of Utada in a way. Some of the piano in the bridge feels very Asian… it’s kind of strange that mixed-culture elements seem to stand out so much in her music because it obviously makes sense. I mean, I find it less jarring when it’s as obvious as singing in both Japanese and English in the same song, but when it’s as subtle as the feel of the sounds, it’s almost disconcerting. Final chorus is as upbeat as ever, but then returns to the piano, just a bit slower, and fades.

TRACK 03: Apple and Cinnamon (YouTube it)
More upbeat piano and steady back beat. Really like this minor key. Opening lyrics aren’t very impressive, and the spacing of the words to fit the tempo feels a little forced… gets better though — I really love Utada’s lower notes; I think they sound much better than her higher notes, which are a little strained and airy. Chorus feels very mixed as far as the aesthetics of the sound. I like the repeated portions of the verses better; the flow feels more natural. Aw, man, I hate it when people sing with bad grammar: “I can’t believe that you and me…” It’s usually done for a rhyming reason, I know, but it always bothers me. I mean, if you can force “love” and “us” to rhyme, then surely you can find a way to use “I” instead of “me”…? That’s the grammar nazi in me though. Bridge has some interesting buzzing… back to the chorus, and some weird, airy “ah”s before the end.

TRACK 04: Taking My Money Back (YouTube it)
Starts with a very pretty piano accompanied with some distortion, not as upbeat as the others. Voice starts kind of suddenly, but it’s soothing and crisp. Lyrics seem startlingly familiar — I feel like I’ve heard all these words before in other songs by other people. I suppose the theme and sentiment of the song is far from original, but it’s still a little disappointing to hear that certain lines seem almost word-for-word from other things I’ve heard. I’m not particularly fond of Hikki’s “ooh, ooh, ooh, I, I, I~” for the chorus, though that does set the sound of the song apart from other things it might remind me of. The piano and beats in the background are pretty consistent throughout, and it fades out at the end. It’s not a terrible song, I just hope that the tired subject matter doesn’t come back for the rest of the album; then again, perhaps it’s this kind of subject matter that will sell her more albums in the States?

TRACK 05: This One (Crying Like a Child)
Beautiful guitar and soft drums for the intro. Whoa! Utada’s voice sounds really different at the beginning and slowly works into a more familiar sound. Some really nice piano starts working its way in also. Chorus brings in a deeper backup voice, but I can’t tell if it’s her or someone else. Lyrics have a nice ring and beat to them — subject is still a little on the cliche side, but much more passable — and the feeling behind the voice sounds great. The melody is very refreshing… the more I hear the chorus, the more I think I like it. Outro brings back more of the pretty guitar, then end.

TRACK 06: Automatic Part II
Whoa, really awesome intro — great bass beat and synth. Opening lyrics sound really strange and have a low echo. The background music remains good, but I’m really unsure about Utada’s vocals here. It’s particularly strange because the original Automatic is one of my favorite songs by her; to have it revisited now in such a manner is… disorienting? The lyrics being in English is strange enough, but the “yeah”s and “ah”s really throw me off too. It’s a bit better if I try to forget the original; I mean, it’s far from being a terrible song, and it isn’t exactly just a remix. It feels very Utada, anyway.

TRACK 07: Dirty Desire
Vocals start immediately, very ominous, but then the main melody starts and the steady beat starts up. Lyrics flow very nicely… except… did she just say, “I love you long time”? Wow. I don’t even know what to say to that. Chorus is very catchy; the beat is fun, and the song feels more American again. Hahaha, maybe part of it is just the subject matter though. Nice overlapping of voices for the chorus, full of Utada’s standard “ah”s. Bridge has some interesting synth action along with the beat. Outro/bridge #2 sounds really weird; other voices come in and the melody kind of departs from the rest of the song. Then it fades and ends. Man, I have such mixed feelings about this song.

TRACK 08: Poppin’
Spy music intro? Then the beat starts with a round of back and forth “hey”s and some very high-pitched vocals that I’m not so fond of. There’s a secondary vocal here that’s decidedly not Utada (it’s slightly British sounding?), but most of Utada’s vocals are in the high register, which I just don’t like listening to… so thin and airy. The background music really reminds me of this weird mix of spy and horror music… complete with howling wolves at some point. Bridge seems like it’s from a different song almost, but then it’s back to Utada’s high vocals. And weird distortion. I do think this is my least favorite song thus far.

TRACK 09: Come Back to Me (YouTube it)
Dramatic piano opening, but then it goes to a completely different sound — a very poppy, upbeat-but-sad kind of thing. Lyrics start out nice, but then she mentions “Photoshop[ping] all [her] bad memories,” and I can’t help but think that that’s ridiculously corny. It’s nice to see those modern references, but come on… Chorus is pretty though. Second verse’s lyrics aren’t terribly better, but there’s no more Photoshop at least. Second chorus extension is all in that high voice, ugh, but the beat is catchy. Chorus lyrics are pretty cheesy too, actually, but the melody is just awesome… final chorus has some nice canon action going on too, and I am a sucker for canons. Some pretty “la, la, la, la”s at the end… then fade out.

TRACK 10: Me Muero
This sounds like oldschool arcade music to start with. Specifically, I suddenly got visions of Streets of Rage 2 on Sega Genesis, haha. Lyrics sound a little forced at first, but it’s not that bad… there’s some nicely placed whistling; the background music is pretty soothing and lounge-like. It’s really weird hearing Utada trying to sound Latina though — her accent seems to change with certain words. Most of the song seems like the chorus, haha, and this song feels a lot shorter than it actually is because of that.

TRACK 11: Come Back To Me (Seamus Haji & Paul Emanuel Radio Edit)
Starts off like a DDR intro… and moves into a DDR-like song! The heavy beat works really nicely with the lyrics though; it’s a well done remix. I wouldn’t mind dancing to this, anyway, though it’s still a bit on the slow side. Hm, just realized that Utada goes from first to third to first person in the second verse — kinda weird? Final chorus has a resurgence of energy and it speeds up. I’d really like to hear an ultra-fast version of this song now… maybe this last track will do it.

TRACK 12: Come Back To Me (Quentin Harris Radio Edit)
Well, it sounds faster! Kinda? Hm, nope, first verse seems about the same tempo as the previous mix. Some neat distortion and random noises in the back though — is that a cow bell? I hear a cow bell. Still lovin’ this chorus, but yeah, not as fast as I’d like to hear it. Bridge sounds pretty different; it’s always good to hear more significant changes between remixes of a song (Utada did like a dozen remixes of Exodus ’04, but most of them sounded the same).

OVERALL: I’m definitely much happier with this album than I was with Exodus. The overall sound of This Is The One feels much more connected and cohesive, and I think it has a much more accessible sound for an American audience. Many of the songs still have a peculiar Japanese feel to them, but I think the less obscure subject matter along with the strong pop sound will push it a bit further in the States compared to Exodus. The mixed format release schedule should also help a little. The physical US release won’t have the two remix tracks at the end, which is fine, though I wonder why they also switched up the track order for the US release. They move “Come Back to Me” and “Me Muero” to the beginning and “On and On” to the end; the rest of the listing is the same. I guess it doesn’t really matter though, this album doesn’t really have any songs that lead into each other, so order isn’t that big a deal.

But yeah, pretty good album here. A few nice songs, a few less attractive songs, but it’s an altogether decent mix. I don’t see Utada Hikaru breaking into the US mainstream anytime soon, but she’s taking the right steps if that’s her goal. Unfortunately, it might be that going for a more American sound will sacrifice some of her Japanese popularity. This Is The One is Hikki’s first album to not top the Oricon weekly charts (it debuted at #3) since Precious — her first album. Meanwhile, it’s just broken the top 20 downloaded albums on iTunes.

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  1. Toonleap on April 3, 2009 1:52 am

    Hiya Kiri
    Just stopped by your site to tell you that you were right about the “Japanese Britney Spears”…She was in fact Ayumi Hamasaki, but I place her photo instead of Utada so I could confused people for April`s fool…you got it right…:)

  2. Kiriska on April 3, 2009 2:00 am

    Haha, I just commented on your post revealing thus. XD What timing!

  3. Omi-kun on April 12, 2009 11:17 pm

    Loved your highly detailed review!

    Personally, I loved Automatic II better than the original. I always thought the original was too restless and… some how vapid. This one has a very unique personality and feels fresher.

    I guess it’s just that I am such a nerd, but her mentioning photoshop really caught my attention, and in a very good way. It was inventive and sort of poetic. I can really relate to it, since I have photoshop open 24/7.

  4. Kiriska on April 12, 2009 11:23 pm

    Haha, I consider it a first impressions thing more than a review since my opinions generally evolve after repeated listenings. I think one of the reasons I like the original Automatic better is because of its multilingualism, which could be horrible bias on my part. It also has the power of nostalgia since it is an old favorite.

    And really? I can’t help but think the mention of Photoshop is anything but corny — it sounds like a teenager’s silly angst poetry. It wouldn’t be the first of her lyrics I’ve found to be silly though.