Album review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Love songs


Love songs is business as usual for old Robot face. Some big songs, lots of Banshee style warbling, and a generous track listing with a bunch of interludes and instrumental segues every dozen songs. This however is the problem with Love songs: it's just business as usual. Nothing about it feels fresh. Nothing about it feels new. The whole thing feels and sounds like some cheap attempt to cash in on a full length release before the end of the year, when Ayumi really could have gotten away with releasing a mini album instead.

Many had their doubts about Ayumi's 12th studio album centering around love songs. Fearing it would mean a long player full of slow songs. But opening track, aptly titled "Love song" is a great beginning to the album, and does away with the qualms. The track opens with a catchy little piano melody and a set of oprchestrated strings, before kicking off with an acoustic guitar which builds up to an amazing crescendo during the chorus. If you liked "Last links" from Rock 'n' roll circus, you'll like this. A great song.

"Cross roads" is a nice follow up from "Love songs", but it sounds so outdated. It rings of familiarity purely because there are probably hundreds of anime's and Japanese films which have had songs just like this one play during the credit roll. Outdatedness aside for a minute, the instrumental bridge section is 80's hotness.

"Moon" was a song which had to grow on me. But once it did, it pretty much engulfed me. The song plays out like a more rock driven version of "Ballad". A similar tone, and similar melodies in places, but more angst. It may or not have been Ayumi's intention, but it acts as a great partner to "Ballad".

"Sending mail" is what I will have to refer to as 'the monster song' on the album. Straight up 80's, overblown, and a chorus full of awesome. This song really is all about that chorus. It just hits you out of nowhere and makes you wanna just stamp your feet and whip some hair back and forth. The production is spot on, and the way the song just builds and builds until the final moments really is something. Best song on the album, and one of the best Ayumi Hamasaki songs I've heard in a while.

"Last angel" sounds like a really badly produced track from a chillout CD which came free with a Sunday newspaper. There's nothing good I can say about this song what-so-ever. It's crap and kills the flow of an already trudgingly paced album.

"Like a doll" tries to marry electro pop with orchestral backdrops and pop wizardry, but it comes off sounding like a bad mis-match of styles. Ayumi also does the song no justice vocally. The few flecks of sparkle within the mediocrity that is the music manages to out shine Ayumi completely. A solid vocal performance and some kick ass vocal arrangements could have helped elevate this song. But as it stands, it's just a piece of crap.

"Blossom" is your atypical Ayu power ballad. A bit of joy, a bit of pain, overblown instrumental sections around the bridge, a few warbles and some strings. Not a bad thing by any means. "Blossom" is a pretty hot song. By numbers. But still hot.

"Thank U" is like throwing up in your own mouth. Terrible. And you wish it hadn't happened. Ayumi's vocals sound awful. Fans may defend this song to the death and claim how amazing it is because it's this and it's that. But the song is plain garbage, and I don't care how heartfelt or personal this song may be. Ayumi's vocals sound piss poor because she sings in ranges which do not suit her. And hearing her try to sing over what sounds like a left over piece of music from Yoshi's story on the Nintendo 64 does not help.

"Sweet season" sounds like a miscellaneous Japanese karaoke song. I can't say much more about the song other than that. The same goes for "Do it again", which highlights greatly how Ayumi is in serious need of  somebody to arrange and produce her vocals for her. The lack of vocal production, layering and harmonizing on this song is glaring. Notably because the chorus is so bare bones lyrically being nothing but "Dance...dance...dance. Do it again. Punctuated by moments of silence and then a switch out of the word Dance for Sing.

Just when you thought you'd been sucked into a time hole or a Yakuza karaoke mini game, in comes "November". It still features hints of the karaoke house which stagnated the previous two songs. But the production is much stronger, and the song features a much better chorus. It's just a shame the chorus wasn't made bigger, and that all of the dramatic moments within the production are thrown in during random moments, and not the part of the song which could have benefited from them.

"Virgin road" (again...) is your typical Ayu ballad, with orchestral theatrics and dramatic flourishes to bring on the grand gestures. It's a wonderfully produced song. The same goes for "Seven days war", which is a great close to the album. It's a shame that the album only picks up within the last two tracks of the album. Because once "Seven days war" kicks in you really are left wanting more; only to sit in the end of CD silence at the realization that what you just listened to was boring, and that perhaps you should stop buying the annual releases of Ayumi Hamasaki so willingly.

Ayumi Hamasaki's vocals are what are sure to divide listeners. She has a very distinctive voice, but she still doesn't seem to know how to use it to the best effect across every song. She can sound amazing on one song, and then like a haggered banshee on another; and there are a few instances on Love songs where good songs are made hard to listen to because of how Ayumi is singing them. She really does need to work on her vocal production. Not every song needs to have the most intricate of vocal layers. But many of the songs on this album really do need them, and feel empty without them.

Love songs is one of Ayumi's more consistant albums in terms of sound. But it feels like background music, or a collection of J-drama, anime or video game themes. Very few of the songs stand out and leave any real lasting impact. As much as I disliked Next level, at least it had songs which packed a punch. The whole of Love songs also sounds really outdated. I'm not sure if a whole album sounding like a karaoke songbook composed in the 80's was the intention. But if it was, then Ayumi Hamasaki succeeded with flying colours. Because Love songs sounds so dated you can taste the dust and smell the ass crack of Father Time as you listen to the songs.

Had Ayumi made a mini album out of Love songs' best tracks, she would have had a solid EP which left fans wanting more; because the songs on this album which are good, are killer! But the sheer amount of filler suffocates them to the point of dragging the whole album down. And that fire that Ayumi had about her for Rock 'n' roll circus is sorely absent here.


Album highlights:
■ Love songs
■ Sending mail ★ J's fave
■ November
■ Virgin road

6 comments:

  1. I agree with you that it's by the numbers and nothing new, but I like it. I love the kinda 80s - 90s vibe from this album , and the interludes are some of her best in a long time. The songs themselves are outdated, yes, but it's kind of a timeless outdated that you never get tired of... does that make sense? XD

    I really liked all of the singles for this album, and it's one of her most consistent recently in terms of sound. Rock 'n' Roll Circus and NEXT LEVEL, while having some good high points, were utter messes. NEXT LEVEL couldn't decide what it wanted to be (rock, electro... MAYBE BOTH! XP Let's throw in a couple winter ballads at the end for good measure) and Rock 'n' Roll Circus, while pretty good, was held back by mediocre A-sides and a fair amount of shitty songs(COUGHyouaremeaningofloveladydynamiteCOUGH). Love songs doesn't have the highs, but it's WAY more consistent.

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  2. I was hoping you would review this album, but I also know in the past you tend to get a bollocking for your opinion when it's not "OMG AYUMI 4 EVA!!!"

    Aside from 'Moon' no other single track has grabbed me, but a fair amount of people have praised the album tracks (like you have) so I may check it out later.

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  3. bad album. im so done with her.

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  4. This is the first Ayu album i ordered, so i ordered the CD/DVD version and unfortunately the DVD won't play over here coz it's the wrong region FML ~_~

    The album however i think is fantastic, I used to think most Ayu songs sound the same but once you get into it you appreciate each song individually.
    I love all the songs on this (except "Thank U" which i just found really corny) my favourite songs are "Crossroad" which is my favourite Ayu song EVER, "Love song", "Moon" and "Last Angel".

    The booklet inlay pics are really nice too (of course there are the obligitory open mouth shots all over lol) but Ayu looks great and so does the setting and outfits.

    Overall i would give this album 8/10.

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  5. Bad review, but the Album is great!

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  6. I think the album deserves 7 or 8 stars personally, It's a lot more cohesive sounding than "Next Level" and "Rock n Roll Circus" and there's some great songs on here "Love song", "Last Angel" Moon" and my favourite "Crossroad".

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