Album review: Hiromi - Magic

Album review: Hiromi - Magic | Random J Pop

After Hiromi's debut Rainbow came and then vanished without a trace, I wondered whether the ho whom I'd put in line to be crowned my J-R&B princess would be back with a second studio album. And as the album once in question is appropriately titled, like Magic its existence popped up out of nowhere. Rainbow was a dangerous album, because it came so close to being such a classic that Hiromi was always going to have a tough time besting it. And whilst her tricks up her sleeve may have gotten her at shot at a second album, sadly she wasn't able to pull a better album out of her top hat. But that doesn't mean Hiromi's sprinkle of pixie dust worked no wonders. Oh, hells no!

Magic kicks off with an intro, which I'm sure many went and skipped simply because it's an intro. Fool to those who did. Magic's intro despite only clocking in at just over a minute is one of the albums strongest cuts. Hiromi's silky smooth harmonies glide over the soft keys and finger snaps beautifully in a short 'n sweet intro which serves up a nice helping of R&B and soul. A brilliant intro.

Hiromi proved to be a triple threat on her debut - delivering killer up tempo's, killer mid-tempo's and killer slow jams. So let's start with the up tempo's first.

"Magic" is an odd song to take at first because it feels so unfocused, and for the lack of a better word 'woozy'. It's probably all part of the plan to give the song a real sense of wonderment and etherealness, but it does make the song difficult to latch onto. Repeated listens will eventually win you over into liking this song, and rightly so - as there is a lot to like here. The production is tight and Sway's rap is cringeworthy in places - but sits on the right side of suiting the song. But this will not be a song you'll play often, because Hiromi fans know that her best uptempo's are those which hit you square in-between the eyes on a first listen. Not those which take time to warm up to.

"More & more" on the other hand is instantly likeable with its slick production and sweet glossed sound - giving everything fromt he get-go which "Magic" doesn't. Hiromi and Emi's vocals pair together nicely and the chemistry they have in the video (which is just as sickly sweet as the song) makes the song even better. You've gotta admire Hiromi for giving Emi some shine after getting dropped by her record label. As admirable as this gesture is, given how low profile Hiromi's career currently is, I doubt this song will help Emi get signed again. Home girl best put a resume in at her local Family mart.

The prominent force on Rainbow that was producer U-Key zone teams up with Hiromi once again for "Superwoman". The song is very much in the same vein of Meisa Kuroki's "Are ya ready?" and Bright's "Dance with us", except it has a greater focus on melody and is much darker in tone. From the moment the song opens, the beats tackle you down through the speakers and it only gets better. Very contemporary, with a sound that puts US productions in the same vein to shame.

"Lucky ★ girl" is Magic's equivalent to Rainbow's "Dr. Angel". You could almost say it's a sequel to the song as the vibes and lyrics and themes are so similar. But "Lucky ★ girl" has the upper hand of featuring cleaner production, being easier to latch onto and just having a plain kick ass piece of music behind it. Hiromi's playful vocals shine here; as she giggles, puts on accents and randomly talks in small sections of the song - which really give off that spontaneous feel of her genuinely being in love. Great stuff.

"Not your rules" sounds like a Namie Amuro B-side (and not one of the hot ones). The song isn't flat out terrible. But in comparison to "Superwoman" it falls short. The music sounds like it was produced by numbers, and no amount of swagger and slick vocal production that Hiromi slings at the song is enough to really make it work. Filler. Plain and simple.

Hiromi falls off big time with "Love hangover", which sounds like a leftover Fernando Garibray production from a Sean Kingston album. Generic beats, euro-house synths, auto-tune and sheer repetition. This sits at the bottom of the deck as being one of Hiromi's worst songs. The song will go down well with some, as it's very generically club ready. But it lacks the substance of some of the other songs, and as a result will end up being forgotten about long before.

Magic marks some departures for Hiromi in the form of "My way" and "Rain" - which tap into a more rock, pop power ballad type sound. Think Rihanna's "Fire bomb" and "California king bed". Despite the boisterousness of the guitars, Hiromi manages to project her vocals well enough to stay afloat. But there is no denying that an artist with more power to their vocals would have sounded better on both songs, and stood tall above the production instead of just above keeping their head above it. Hiromi's efforts are admirable though, and she gets a cupcake for trying something new. "Addicted" swaps out the rock flavour in favour of something a bit more sweet. Strummy guitars and pop overtones make it a really nice summer song, even if it is completely forgettable.

Whilst Hiromi does a great job with the up tempo's, it the albums slower, more sensual moments where Hiromi's talents truly shine. "If I can't have you" was a song I used to skip with the quickness. But somewhere along the way I found myself skipping through tracks to get to it and keeping it on repeat. This isn't Hiromi's most memorable song, but it's really nice. Think of it as Hiromi's "We belong together", and that should give you a slight idea of what to expect. "Unforgettable" is the Magic's big, dark, synth driven pop ballad. I'm not sure what it is with Japan at the moment, but many J-R&B and J-Pop artists really seem to be jumping on this whole Usher's "Moving mountains" and Brandy's "Fall"-like sound. I shall not complain though, because Hiromi's take is one of Magic's highlights. The first word which came to mind when I listened to this song was Brandy. This song sounds so much like a Brandy song; from the tone, to the sound, to the vocal arrangements and the way Hiromi ad-libs her note at the 1:53 mark. There are sections in the song where you'd swear blind you can even hear her vocals in the background! U-Key zone has openly declared he's a big fan of Brandy. Past productions of his have attested to this. But no song he's done quite implores his love for Brandy like "Unforgettable". It'd be amazing to have heard her on a joint like this. As he clearly had her in mind when he produced it. One of my favourite songs on the album by far, and one which Western fans will probably dig the most.

Magic turns down the dial on the slow jams by only featuring one in comparison to Rainbow's handful. R&B slow jam "Cook" works the same Asian influenced angle as Rainbow's "Hikari hoshi" did, with plucked koto's setting the tone for the song, and rolling bass lines and drums giving the song a seductive and laid back vibe. Sweet 'n sexy.

"I'm fallin' in love again" is a complete switch of gears for Hiromi, because it is so stripped down. Initially, I wouldn't have thought she could pull off such a song because she doesn't have the kind of voice which can really stand out without hot, busy production behind it; but she proved me wrong here. The simplicity of the song really shines through, particularly amidst an album with such an emphasis on over-production. And Hiromi sounds really nice and soulful. "Y.O.U" is very much in the same vein, featuring a piano and strings which leave room for Hiromi to show she's no vocal slouch and can carry a song without every synth within a producers sound library going off every second.

"I believe" is the only moment on the album where Hiromi conforms to the template of a J-artist, by delivering a typical Japanese ballad-esque song. Every box is ticked here. Acoustic guitars - check! Orchestrated strings which soar - check! A rousing middle eight section - check! A few warbles here 'n there - check, check and check! "I believe" is wonderfully lavish, and will act as a great showcase for film and J-drama producers that Hiromi has the chops to deliver a nice theme song. The ballad closes album nicely and will sit well with those who perhaps find the rest of Magic a bit too contemporary and R&B heavy for their tastes.

Hiromi's vocals are much stronger on this release than they were on Rainbow. Her vocal arrangements are much more daring. She holds her notes better. And the range of music this albums spans in comparison to Rainbow shows how much more confident she is in regards to her vocals. Granted; she doesn't have the strongest voice. But she knows how to get the best out of it and she owns every song in cases where other artists would get lost amongst the production; which at times are grand affairs which could easily smother an artist if they aren't playing their cards right.

Magic is a nice album. But it doesn't feel as instantly tangible as her debut. If anything, it's the strength of her debut which forces you listen to this album extensively until you like the songs. Otherwise, this would be a quickly overlooked release. Given some repeated listens, you will discover that Magic is a decent album which gets better and better with each spin. These albums are great on one hand, because you feel as though you're discovering something new within it every time you play it - whether it's days from when you first listened to it, or months. But on the other hand it can also mean that if you're not sold on the album on the first couple of play-throughs, that you could potentially end up casting it aside and never playing it again. Do not make that mistake with Magic. It may not be as good as Rainbow, but it is a solid album with some great songs. And the one's which aren't so great, they'll work their magic on you in good time.

Album highlights:
■ Intro ~Magic~
■ Magic
■ More and more
■ Superwoman
■ Unforgettable ★ J's fave
■ Cook
■ Lucky ★ girl
■ U need love
■ I believe


  1. I really liked your song by hiromi! I just downloaded Magic today, but I haven't got a change to listen to it.

  2. Chance* not change lmao

  3. I didn't really like the album that much. The only songs I liked were unforgettable, cook, you need love, and lucky girl. Maybe I'll give it a second listen. You should do a review for Angela Aki's latest album life. She wrote all the songs and produced the album. Also, half of the songs are in English :) I've recently fallen in love with her music.

  4. I didn't think Life was that good. Answer was much better. I LOVED that album. I reviewed it a good while back.

  5. I remember being sorely disappointed the first time I heard the album. But, I heard it again while stuck in the snow and it kind of came to life. I don't listen to the tracks that often, but they're none too bad. None too great, either.

    The fact that I can still hate on the album must stand for something in my eyes. I barely remember any of the songs by name and am hard-pressed to recall their melodies. So for me, I'd have to say 5/10.

  6. @Random J
    I agree that answer was much better, but my favorite album by her is Home. I want her to release a new Album. I've been in need of new material from one of my favorite artists.


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