Album review: Crystal Kay - Vivid


Let's not beat around the bush. Spin the music was not that great an album. In fact, it was a little bit shit. Sales indicated that fans didn't care. And the quality of the music kinda showed that Crystal didn't either. A new label jump gave fans hope. Hope that homegirl had woken up to her senses and realized that Sony did not care about a bitch. It also some-what justified the quality of Spin the music. That perhaps Crystal stopped caring because she honestly didn't at that point and already had one foot out the door. Crystal's follow up puts her in an interesting yet dangerous position. Fresh off the flop of Spin the music many were eager to see where Crystal would head musically. Would Vivid be a reinvigoration of Crystal's sound or would it conclude that Crystal had lost sight of it?

Vivid is Crystal's first album at her new home Delicious deli records. In a metaphorical sense Vivid feels like Crystal's first album. For 10 years Crystal had worked the same sound and rarely ventured out of it. You don't realize how much Crystal was being restrained until you listen to this album. 13 tracks of Crystal giving it to us with the shackles off. Breaking out of the mould Sony had set her in and that she had complacently allowed herself to be in up until this point. It wasn't all that clear from "Superman", but "Delicious na kinyoubi" marked a new lease of life for Crystal. The energy in both the song and video set much of the tone for Vivid and all it encapsulates: which is that Crystal is a woman who is in a good place in her life. That spark which wasn't there for the past 3 years is reignited and ready to leave a bitches home char grilled.

The brilliant thing about Vivid is that it isn't trying hard to be one thing or the other. Creating a more pop driven album was clearly the aim of the game here, but it doesn't feel like a complete bastardization of what Crystal had done before. It feels like an evolution. A truer showcase of Crystal's musical capacity than anything she had released before. Crystal runs through so many genres on this album that the lines blur by the time you hit track 10. Crystal is no longer that mixed race girl who does R&B. She is Crystal Kay the artist. Undefined. Vivid is the first album in Crystal's discography where a risk feels as though it's been taken and seen through to the end. Color change! and Spin the music took risks here and there, but their attempts to do so felt completely half-arsed in comparison to what Crystal gives us here. Vivid not only see's Crystal re-writing her own sound, but doing so with confidence. There is no air of uncertainty about anything Crystal delivers on this album because she's 100% sure of it and sells it so well.

Part of growing with Crystal was hearing her vocals flourish and get stronger with every album. The potential strength of it was realized with All yours, which featured some of the most intricate vocal arrangements and the strongest vocals of CK at that point - the versatility of which was played with on Flash and Spin the music. But what Crystal gives us on Vivid is scope. She really plays with her voice on this album and she never sings the same way twice throughout the whole of it. Only upon listening to Vivid do you realize that Crystal wasn't really doing much with her voice before. You always got the feeling that Crystal has no idea just how good her voice was. Singing pretty much the same way on every song and in the same keys. That all changes here. Crystal goes high, goes low, she raps, she recites. The most distinctive aspect of Crystal's vocals on Vivid is that she works her lower registers a heck of a lot more and sounds stronger for it. Accustomed to hearing her sing light, sweet and airy for so many years, it truly takes you aback when you hear her drop into a seductive drawl. It's like you're not listening to the same girl. Crystal finally sounds like a grown ass woman who is taking the reigns of her vocal ability. Something the warbling banshees of Avex should take note of. If only Ayu had 'vocal ability'...

Vivid is Crystal's most varied album yet. Dipping in and out of a range of styles and genres. It was clear from Color change! that Crystal was moving out of sole R&B and Flash was the confirmation it had already happened. Vivid marks Crystal's first album which cannot be defined as R&B. The easiest category to sling it in would be 'Pop'. But it's easy to overlook 'a pop record' with the connotations which are attached to it. Samey songs. No vocals. Nothing new. Fans and newbies may overlook Vivid because of this based on the likes of "Take it outside" and "Delicious na kinyoubi", but it'd be a crime to do so. As Crystal schools bitches with this album.

Crystal managed to hold off of the dance bandwagon longer than most. Often dabbling in it for B-sides and bonus tracks, but never anything more. I was a one man army policing for bitches to like "Over and over", because it showed that Crystal slays a house beat how Buffy slays vampires. "Haru arashi" in English means the 'Spring storm'. Named as such because the song will blow wigs clean off a head and send that shit so far away that you'd have to call a global rescue party to get it back. It's great that Crystal is embracing dance on an album and no longer sweeping them under tatami mats as bonus tracks and B-sides, because she sounds great on them. House suits her voice. It always suits chicks who can sing. The Black eyed peas-esque "Take it outside" caught a fair bit of flack when Crystal first leaked it. I didn't hate it when I first heard it, but didn't love it either. Within the context of the album though, I now love it. When that chorus drops, it makes me wanna put on some ripped jeans, a leather jacket and throw elbows on a bitch. It would have made a great single and won over a lot of the haters had she shot a hot video for it - as it's a song which works its magic when it's within a context and a package.

Typical J-pop ballads are seemingly no longer cool, with many artists shunning them completely on albums, when 5 years ago no album in Japan (aside from Namie Amuro, who was doing what the f**k she wanted and was hard on that R&B) would have released without one. If you want that slow J-ballad type shit, you'll need to cop that "Superman" single and hit up "Love road". "Come back to me", "Memory box" and "Rising sun" are as close to ballads as you're going to get on this album. Initially you feel cheated that this album doesn't feature a "Kitto eien ni" or "Kaerimichi", until you begin to ask yourself why it ever needed one and what exactly constitutes a ballad nowadays? The true meaning of ballad was lost years ago, so what gives?! Crystal sings the absolute shit out of all three songs and gives me more emotion on each of them than "Kitto eien ni" and "Kaerimichi" combined. "Come back to me" and "Memory box" both feel like spiritual sequels to "Joruney ~Kimi to futari de~" pulling from different strands. "Memory box" is the warmest and sweeter of the two, whilst "Come back to me" is haunting, cold and very Jeff Bhasker (think Alicia Keys "Try sleeping with a broken heart" mashed with a bit of Enya). It's easy to forgive Crystal for not delivering a typical J-ballad when she gives you so much for these two songs. "Rising sun" is the weakest of the three and the weakest song on the album PERIOD. It's just a boring piece of shit song which sounds like a Tina Turner leftover. It's a shame this rubbish song ends the album, as it causes the whole thing to end on a whimper when it should have ended with a bang. "Haru arashi" or "Delicious na kinyoubi" would have been the perfect album closers in its place.

Spin the flop was a mess. But Crystal going into a funk, disco direction with the likes of "Konya ha no.1" was a move in the right direction as it highlighted the stank and soul in Crystal's vocals. Showcasing a delivery from Crystal that very few females in the J-game could give. Crystal goes black on hoes for "What we do". She gives us vocals, sass, neck snapping, rapping, swag and gives it us in English. If Delicious deli want to test the waters with an international single, they've got one here. Written and produced by Norweigan based Dsign music and easy to mistake for a Stargate production (guess there must be something in the water in Norway) the song is primed for radio. Mums and Dads will get caught in the 70's groove and young girls will have pyjamas parties and sing into their hairbrushes about creepin on their n***as.

Despite fans getting into a twist that Crystal had abandoned R&B completely, it's hard to take the R&B outta the girl. Long term Crystal collaboration production team Bachlogic are on hand to bring R&B to the table and bring it correctly. Janet Jackson-esque "Superman" features dashes of pop and a typical J-melody on the chorus, but the verses are distinctlvely R&B. "Superman" to me is a classic. Immediately familiar and as smooth as silk. Despite being the albums first single, it's a song I refuse to skip when playing Vivid all the way through. "Fly high" is on some 36 Mafia shit and it goes harder than Rihanna's forehead. Crystal's vocals on the verses will f**k your life and f**k it slowly. When she drops the line ♪ There is no keeeeeeeeeey ♪ on the second verse, I go weak. I'm still clapped, bow legged and paralyzed on the whole left side of my body from that shit. "Fly high" is a middle finger to anybody who said Crystal had abandoned R&B and that she could no longer do it. You just got served. CK gave this shit to you in a doggy bag to take out and go home with. This is the type of shit other J-R&B chicks try to do and fail to. The only one coming close being Beni. But Crystal even threw her wig in a toilet with this.

Crystal's sweet tooth for pop reared on Color change! then manifested into the likes of "Step by step", "Never say goodbye", "Flash" and "Love game" for Flash and Spin the flop respectively. But many of CK's pop efforts on this album shut all of these efforts down because Crystal sells them with such conviction. Album opener "Forever" is light, breezy and so sweet that it should come with a warning for diabetics. The tribal chants and percussion which underlie the pop melodies and house synths bring on an overwhelming sense of Kenya, strobe lights and Rafiki holding Simba above the lion kingdom whilst a trio of women in leopard print bras pop their p***sies in the background. "Be mine" may garner some eye rolls due to it sounding a bit dub-step ish and throwing wub-wub in your face. But once the song gets going you realize it's barely dubstep at all. "Be mine" feels like the type of song Crystal would have dropped regardless of whether dubstep was a thing or not. T. Kura and Micicho have worked with Crystal for many years, so they know her sound better than most. And it's great that between "Forever" and "Be mine" they managed to craft songs for Crystal which bridge the gap perfectly between her old sound and the new sound Crystal is going for at this new stage in her career. Both songs coming in first and second on the tracklist respectively act as a nice segue into the new sound CK exhbits for this album. Easing you into it slowly, without spinning you round and throwing you arsed out over a sofa with it. "Delicious na kinyoubi" comes at the tail end of the album, bringing the sound of Vivid full circle. "Delicious na kinyoubi" feels like celebration and in an odd way feels like every uptempo Crystal has done, compacted into one amazingly tight song. Crystal sounds unrestrained and completely free, which gives the song an irresistible charm. The beat knocking harder than a debt collector and featuring a catchy chorus doesn't hurt neither. "Yo yo" is the love-child of Kylie Minogue and Donna Summer. The album features a Japanese and English version of this song. Both are hot, but I find myself leaning more towards the Japanese version. There's just something about the way Crystal's voice slinks in-between the additional word count and syllables in the Japanese version I like. Where-as Crystal sounds almost too controlled on the English version. The only shitty aspect of the song is that the bridge feels incomplete and this was the one point of the song which everybody was stoked about hearing Crystal ride when the demo leaked because it was SO her. Way too much silence.

Where-as Spin the music was plagued by a complete lack of aural focus and shitty songs and Color change! was hindered by a tug-of-war of new and old. Vivid is a complete departure for Crystal Kay, but without compromise. Even when she is dabbling in dubstep, disco and house, the sound still remains unmistakably Crystal Kay. There is never a sense of her selling out. Vivid is scarce on R&B and is a huge risk for an artist who came up on this genre. But after 10 years of doing pretty much the same sound, I think Crystal is allowed to break the shackles and do a pop record. The end result is so f**king good, that to cry over the album being 'too pop' would be stupid. Please remember this chick sung the theme song to Nodame cantabile and a Pokémon movie. The only hurdle this album trips at is with the track order (aside from "Rising sun") is the track order. The album doesn't flow as well as it could have done. You roll with it because up until the final track, everything you're listening to is so good. But a revised tracklisting could have made this package even tighter. And if it were better placed in-between the right tracks, even "Rising sun" could have been more tolerable.

Vivid is a defining moment in Crystal Kay's discography. If All yours is the polished and refined package of Crystal's sound up until that point, then Vivid is the polished and refined package of what Crystal was trying to do with every album which came after. But what makes this album stand out amongst CK's discography is that it marks the first album where Crystal sounds assertive. The confidence in her delivery shines through like a beacon. Not only does she vocally shut every track down, but having written 80% of the songs there's never been an album which features more of Crystal in it than this one. Crystal didn't just bring it with this album. She Fed-ex'd it to bitches and included a copy of that shit on USB for them to give to their mothers.



Album highlights:
■ Forever
■ Be mine
■ Take it outside
■ Yo yo
■ Come back to me
■ What we do
■ Superman
■ Memory box
■ Haru arashi
■ Fly high ★ J's fave
■ Delicious na kinyoubi

15 comments:

  1. ... I actually don't think I've ever seen you give anything this high of a score. This album deserves it, though. This is probably the best album I've heard out of any Japanese artist this year. Even though she kinda flopped on Oricon (the first week sales are even lower than Spin The Music :X), I'm sure her digital sales were pretty damn good, because she's been amazingly strong digitally and airplay-wise this era.

    I will not have your shade on "Rising Sun", though. It's probably my favorite album track. ;A;

    But seriously, I'm so happy for her. She got the artistic freedom she wanted and desperately needed. I need more music from her, because it's guaranteed to be good.

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    1. Most Albums don't deserves a score this high, but I have seen J give a few albums this high of a score or higher. Janelle Monae, Utada, and Michi, to name a few.

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  2. 100% agree with you. This is her best album since ALL YOURS. All the songs (sans "Rising Sun") are amazing. I could care less if she does pop or R&B. She could do some f**king country and I'll love it, as long as she has much involvement in it. And I'm not going to get over how amazing she looks in that cover. I swear, I'm hoping the next album makes a lasting impression on the charts longer than this one. This one deserved to make the top ten/five, but as long as it sells more than charts higher than Spin the Music.

    All I'm praying for now is that she makes it as an international artist and travel overseas to UK or US. She could be huge...

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  3. Idk, the more I listen to the album, it seems like I enjoy it less and less. It doesn't seem to have the longevity that some albums seem to have for me. But that's more my problem.

    Based on quality alone, this album is really good.

    Yo yo is my favorite from the album.

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  4. If the demo of "Yo Yo" hadn't leaked, I would probably think more of the album versions. Crystal just doesn't deliver it the same cutesy way the demo artist Emily Phillips(?) does.

    I didn't think so little of "Rising Sun," though. Sure, it's a little too Celine Dion/early '00s pop ballad, but it feels right to me. It's in the vein of "Hold On," or a watered down type of "I Pray". Seriously, where were those halting vocals this time around?

    And, like I said a week ago, Jonas Jeberg and Stargate had a music baby on "What We Do". I don't mind personally, since I have this inclination for Jeberg/Cutfather and Stargate songs (and imitations).

    That said, this album didn't arrest me immediately like ALL YOURS. I fell in love with the chick instantly after hearing that album. I know this album is where my love for CK rekindles, but I've been slow to embrace the love.

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  5. this album is extremely solid!
    I followed Kay's music in the past but then.. it started to be boring and I didn't care (I didn't even download her last two albums). But then I heard the new singles from this era and I was pretty much blown away by its quallity!

    Vivid is a perfect pop album, strong melodies, well-produced, balanced! I wish more albums sounded like this one. Thanks for your review, I pretty much agree with everything you've written :)

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  6. Shawn Desman penned Rising Sun? No wonder why I'm keen to it.

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  7. 1000 thanks to J for reviewing this album. I have been waiting with baited breath for days on this review. This album is definitely in the ranks of All Yours with me. It has been awhile since I could listen to a CK album all the way through and not have the urge to skip a track or two.

    I even enjoyed "Rising Sun" as a closer. I think it is a strong album closer because it is one of those songs that I feel like it is the type of song that Kesha could walk home to at the crack of dawn after she slept with 5 guys in a row because she drank too much in the club and somehow still find a sense of empowerment about the whole thing. Something about it imbues me with a sense of strength and resolution and I like that. "What We Do" will forever be my form of musical crack because of all of the songs that indicate that Crystal is growing up into a grown ass woman, this track declares it the most. I wish a n****a would try to creep on Crystal. His penis is going to be in a ditch on the side of an abandoned road.

    Crystal may not be impacting the Oricon the way that she deserves but she is holding strong on iTunes. She peaked at #4 and has been bouncing between 5-6 all week. I am proud of her for that. I know I did my part and bought the album there. I just need to sell my kidney and get a hard copy of the album too. I for sure will be purchasing a physical copy because I want to say that I have a copy of Crystal's debut album as a grown woman and artist who has truly come into her own skin. If Color Change marked the milestone of graduating from college, Vivid is a celebration for Crystal landing her dream job and starting a new career.

    I can't help but have a sense of pride when I listen to the album, and I am praying to baby Jesus that this is the start of bigger and better things to come from CK in the future. Her next risk should be to release an English album. As talented and brilliant as Utada is, Kuri has the best chance out of all the other Asian artist to break into the US market, especially with tracks like "What We Do". I hope her collaboration with the Far East Flop Movement is sparking some interest. I still can't wait for that video to drop. She look volcanic in her live performances with them, so I know her video will be just as hot. Thank you again for the detailed album review, J! I am looking forward to Namie's next.

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  8. first of your album review where we have the same favorite song.

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  9. Oh my goodness - this album is everything to me! It's fun, confident, and inspiring, but so original and unique. There were no comparisons to other artists in the review, only statements that others should be more like Crystal -- that's telling. CK is the standard, never the imitation, it's a shame that her success has yet to reflect that.

    Much like J shinoske & sylfi, I love "Rising Sun" with an ever-loving passion. J Shin summed it up in words better than I could hope to write. Much like ?J, I live for "Fly High". That booty beat and the breakdown had me so LIVE I almost drove off the road trying to two-step behind the wheel in my car when I first heard it! The super poppiness of "Be Mine" and "Yo yo" keep me coming back everytime. "Superman" is indeed a classic and will forever be the song that made me a CK stan, but there's just something about this album that I can't put down. Bravo to Crystal for such an awesome result to her and Universal's hard work, may it grow and blossom into much MUCH more.

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  10. The only thing on this Album that's worth it is "Yo Yo".

    But this is Crystal Kay, and this is probably why it's the first time I've paid any attention to an Album of hers before.

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  11. My Mama did it like i knew she could ! I need a U.S Debut now! Im a R&B fan its what i listen too daily but i like that she venture off because to me her album sounds like a women with a beautiful R&B voice on pop songs. Vivid is as a Stan waited for she been a Janet and Alica fan since she was a kid so im glad she brought that out of her ! my fav track is Superman but others i like are "Take it outside" "Fly High" "Forever" "Yo Yo english" "What We Do" Memory Box" "Be Mine"

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  12. as the songwriter of YoYo, thank you for the kind comments :)
    Also wrote Flash and Never Say Goodbye. I love Crystal. She's a great person and artist!

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  13. I totally I agree with everything in this review! It's amazing and I've been listening to it non-stop <3

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  14. Love this album. I think it was a complete masterpiece. I personally liked Rising Sun, her other song Come Back to Me sounded similiar. But, I have to go with Rising Sun.

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