Album review: Hikaru Utada - Ultra blue

Album review: Hikaru Utada - Ultra blue | Random J Pop
In complete honesty Ultra blue's sound isn't greatly removed from that of the album that came before: Deep river. There is a stronger emphasis on synthesized sounds on some of the albums cuts. But overall the sound and tone of the songs is similar: tittering between jubilant playfulness, and poignant emotion. If anything, half of the album sounds like it was recorded around the same time as Deep river. The more stripped down songs such as "Dareka no negai ga kanau koro", "Colors" and "Be my last" certainly wouldn't have sounded out of place on Hikaru's last album. It's the synth pop tracks that really do lift this album and help it stand out from Deep river. Ultra blue's sound has enough newness to it that long term fans will love it and hear the evolution of Hikaru's sound, but it's not so new that Hikaru is likely to win over those who weren't sold on her previous effort.

When Ultra blue is in loveable pop mode, the album really does come alive as it showcases some new sides to Hikaru and her music. "This is love" has Hikaru taking the synth pop sound to the max. Blips, synth basslines and phased pads wailing in and out between verses. It sounds unlike anything she's done before, yet is undeniably Hikaru. An amazing song that western listeners will latch onto easiest because its sound, which sounds more current and relevant now during the electro-pop explosion than it did when it first released 3 years ago. "Keep tryin'" was a song I hated at first. But loved on forced repeated listens. The song is wonderfully playful, with an other worldly quality about it and a 'made for radio' feel. "One night magic" is a bit of a deviation for Hikaru. Not only because of how sexyily free the musical backdrop is (even by Deep river's "Travelling"'s standards), but because it features another artist: Yamada Masashi of J-Rock band The Back Horn. He is gravely under-used on the song, to the point where there was no point on him being on it at all. A real shame he wasn't exploited, because he has a great voice. If "One night magic" is a fun sexed up Saturday evening, then "Nichiyõ no Asa" is the loving morning after. A really nice song that really does evoke that mood of just waking up on a nice morning and just lazing around. You could so imagine Hikaru walking around her apartment in her PJ's, unkempt hair and Kuma-chan to this song. Hikaru's spoken hook is incredibly sexy. Something about the way she says "Ice cream toppings" makes me wanna sprinkle them over myself and do a sexy dance for her.

"Dareka no negai ga kanau koro" and "Be my last" punctuate the pop proceedings with raw organic sounds, and have Hikaru wailing in an emotion stricken voice; with nothing nothing but a piano, an acoustic guitar and some strings backing her. A lovely song. "Be my last" is Ultra blue's second acousticy number with a prominent acoustic guitar and keyboards coming in for the chorus. It's a beautiful song. These 2 songs initially sound out of the place on the album, but oddly fit. They also act as an answer to those who wonder if Hikaru can do songs with greater substance than the likes of the poppy "Keep tryin'" and "One night magic".

Hikaru bridges the uptempo electro-pop and the raw organic sounds with songs such as the beautifully uplifting and ethereal "Making love" and "Blue". I don't think "Blue" is supposed to be all that uplifting. But as Hikaru often does, she takes lyrics evoking one mood and glosses it in a sound that almost contradicts it completely to make a beautiful tragic song.

Ultra blue is a solid album harmed only by the fact that half of it had been released as singles a good while before the album dropped. Singles released as early as 2003 and 2004 find their way into the track list, which is probably why I never gave this album a fair shot when it first released. I bought it in the mind set of "Argh. I've heard all this shit already!" and never really listened to it from start to finish until a good while later. If you haven't followed many of Hikaru Utada's singles and like most of what she does, then this won't bother you. But for a long time fan such as myself it did bother me greatly that upon listening to this album only 7 of the 13 songs were new to me. But when all 13 songs are so good, it shouldn't matter really should it?

This album showcases Hikaru brilliantly. The production is as tight as ever and Hikaru sings as though she has complete control over her voice. Where as some of her previous recordings had her voice wavering and sounding pitchy, she now she sounds smooth and controlled - but this is not at the expense of emotion, as she's still as emotive as she ever was. She just sounds vocally stronger whilst doing it. "Dareka no negai ga kanau koro" and "Be my last" are so damn filled with passion and emotion that it takes you aback.

Ultra blue is another fine album from Hikaru Utada. One of her more playful albums and probably one of her better releases. The synth pop vibe the album adopted once again shows how Hikaru stays ahead of trends and works a sound without it coming off as gimmicky or at the expense of a song not sounding like something she'd do.

8 / 10
Album highlights:
■ This is love ★ J's fave
■ Keep tryin'
■ Blue
■ Nichiyõ no asa
■ Making love
■ Dareka no negai ga kanau koro
■ Colors
■ One night magic
■ Wings
■ Be my last
■ Passion


  1. Well this is a nice surprise!

    Your album highlights are spot on! This is my favourite Japanese album of Utada's, and features some of my favourite songs of hers. One of my personal favourites on this album is Making Love (the lyrics refer to a long distance relationship, which I can relate to).

    I'm surprised you didn't like "Keep Trying" at first, after hearing your thoughts on Ayumi's cute new track and other songs like "Gee" I would have thought you would've falling in love with "Keep Tryin" at first listen! It is a great track though, the music video is cute too.

    Great read, and good review. :-)

  2. lol, it must be a joke to call colors a stripped down song?!


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