Album review: Thelma Aoyama - Emotions
After the explosive success of "Soba ni iru ne", Thelma's arrival was cemented and she was guaranteed some staying time in the J-music game. So it came as no surprise that Thelma eventually returned with a second album. What did come as a surprise however, was the musical direction. Thelma's debut album was not amazing by any means, but it showed she had potential. And its's with Emotions that this potential is consistently realized. Not only showcasing Thelma in a different (better) light, but completing her transition perfectly from a young girl, into a young woman. Most female artists struggle with this phase, but Thelma seems to have done it nicely with Emotions.
There seems to be a much greater sense of mid-tempo's, instrumentations and melodic structure with Emotions than Diary. Chord changes, piano's, orchestrated strings, acoustic guitars: all beautifully arranged to help gloss the album with a really rich and textured sound. The songs are still J-R&B, but in a much more organic form; with less reliance on synths and auto-tune, and every other trend that seems to be running amok in current charts worldwide.
"Futari no yakusoku no hi" is a beautiful song. The production is on point and Thelma sounds great. I thought "Wasurenai yo" was Thelma's hot winter ballad, but it's definitely "Futari no yakusoku no hi". The song clocks in at around 6 minutes, but it doesn't feel all that long because every second is captivating. Chances are you'll skip it back to the start before it finishes anyway!"Todoketai..." is a jam. That's all I can call it. A jam! With a common time stomp, orchestrated strings and a melodic piano: the song sounds very Stargate-esque: along the lines of Ne-Yo's "Because of you" meets Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight", mixed in with a little bit of Brandy & Monica's "The boy is mine". I wasn't all that keen on the song when Thelma released it as a single. But once I got a hold of this album, I began to play it constantly. Guest feature Ken the 390's raps don't feel essential to the song. It's one of those things where the song isn't bad with it, but it wouldn't have felt lacking without it. It's just there. "Baby, I love you" sounds like a song you've heard before. It reminded me of a theme song from a chick flick or a Disney film. It's a nice song that sounds like it'd make a good karaoke number. But it's not the album's strongest cut. And I wouldn't have missed it if it had been left off. It would have been more fitting as a single B-side.
Whilst the album tows very much a J-R&B line, the album deviates on a couple of occasions. "I'm sorry" is a hybrid of dance, pop and light rock; with a ominously soaring chorus. It's completely different from anything Thelma has done before, but it works well in her favour. Not just because of Thelma's heart felt vocals, but the 150% on-point musical production and mix between electronic sounds and live instrumentation. It sounds like the kind of song Ayumi Hamasaki would do, and has done in the past. Thelma's soft vocals matched with her age give the song a wonderful sense of vulnerability.
Bringing in the more uptempo elements that songs such as "Paradise" and "Rhythm" brought on her debut, comes "Keep on" and "Look". "Keep on" sounds like a song from Diary. I get the sound that the producers were going for with the song, but it doesn't quite work. "Look" is just 3 minutes and 15 seconds of club crack. The organs, the warbling bass lines and the synth work. Crystal Kay immediately came to mind the second Thelma opened her mouth to sing, as the song reminded me of a couple of her Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis collaborations ("Kirakuni" and "I can't wait"). "Wanna come again" is a cool song, but it feels completely out of place and sounds more like it should have been slotted onto an M-Flo album. Sounding like Sowelu's "Material world" mixed with a little of Crystal Kay's "Over and over"; you'd think it'd be hot, but it isn't. It sticks out far too much.
What makes Emotions work so well as an album is that its sound is consistent without sounding samey. The album flows well. And if it weren't for "Wanna come again", the flow of the tracks would have been perfect. Thelma's debut felt divided between songs a young woman and a young girl would sing, which caused an odd dichotomy. Emotions on the other hand has a much more focused sound. And it sounds as though she's being led onto the Crystal Kay-like musical path that I had a feeling she would have been based on her debut.
Emotions is a nice album. It hits a couple of bum notes, but the album doesn't feature anything I'd deem rubbish or completely crap. Aoyama's sound is much more refined and concentrated on this album than it was on her debut, and showcases her brilliantly. I was not expecting Thelma to drop an album this good, so I was thoroughly surprised. Hot vocals, slick production and catchy hooks make this album one worth checking out. Crystal Kay in the making most definitely. I cannot wait to hear where Thelma goes from here.
■ Wasurenai yo
■ Futari no yakusoku no hi ★ J's fave
■ I'm sorry
■ Sunao ni nare nkute
■ Baby, I love you