Album review: Namie Amuro - Uncontrolled

Namie Amuro - Uncontrolled | Album review

Uncontrolled. This album title and the album art concept is interesting because it signifies much of what this album is about. Uncontrolled has Namie come full circle with Pop and wholly embrace it for the first time for the majority of an album in a long while. Much of this is probably to do with the current state of R&B and what many now consider Urban. A sound-scape which has become near indistinguishable from Pop; and it's had a direct effect of Namie's music naturally. The great thing about what we get here is that the results do not sound like bastardizations of Namie's music in the way it does Ayu's, Usher or Nicki Minaj's. As many artists do, they deviate from what they started out doing for credibility, only to revert back to what made them big in the first place. It's a journey many artists have made and Namie makes it here. The transition isn't seamless however and it's wonkily made across this album.

Uncontrolled feels like two albums smashed together. One half fo the album sounds wholly superior to the other and there are so few songs which sit in between this that it really does feel as though you are listening to two different albums. Or at the very least the fruits of two sets of songs recorded at entirely different times; which is more than likely what happened here given the space of time between "Break it", the release of "Go round / Yeah-oh" and the looks of the production credits for the songs.

The production of the album is split between a team of the Nervo twins and Korean producer T-SK, with contributions from Norwegian producers Christian Fast, and long term Namie collaborator Nao'ymt. Shinichi Osawa, Verbal of M-Flo and a long term Namie collaborators Giant swing help fill in the gaps. Namie always works with a select few producers on her albums whom she knows well, which is why her albums sound consistent. But Uncontrolled has stark divides throughout, causing the album to sound patchy in places and ruining its start to finish play flow. The track listing as it is is as spot on as it could be. But revising it and recording a few extra songs to help gel the whole album together would not have gone amiss here.

The songs which come from the Western posse are the most polished sounding songs in terms of production and mixing. They sound exceptionally clean, current, stalwart, and are in fact the albums strongest songs. Where-as Nao'ymt's productions sound slightly dated and feature muddy mixing which causes the music, Namie's vocals and everything to just bleed into a monotonous drone. Shinichi Osawa and the Giant swing duo do a great job of tethering the two sides of the album. Whether it were intentional is anybodies guess. But they do a solid job of marrying the Namie who wishes she were an American pop act and the Namie who solidified her Pop to Urban crossover 7 years ago.

The Western posse bring the hotness with every song and drag Namie through the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's harder than Avex and Patricia Field did with a ho 4 years ago. "In the spotlight (Tokyo)" does rave. "Go round ('n round 'n round)" and "Sit! Stay! Wait! Down!" do 80's electro pop. "Hot girls" titters on a Rick James flavour of funk. "Let's go" works a bounce of early Prince. And album stand out "Singing 'Yeah-oh'" takes dance and runs with it in knee high stiletto boots. Namie started out doing pop and then abandoned is spectacularly for R&B. So for her to come full circle with it again is a welcomed return. You almost forget she went through an urban phase for 5 albums, with this being the only album in years not to feature heavy amounts of R&B. In fact, it features only one song you could class as such...and it's as dry as melba toast.

Nao'ymt's contributions in comparison to the rest of Uncontrolled sound like Play leftovers. "Fight together" is a nice song, but it comes 3 albums too late. This would have fit perfectly on Queen of hip pop. But here it feels out of place. The cuteness of the verses and chorus goes against every other song on the album and the contrast is not a positive one. "Break it" was never that strong a song to begin with, but it truly suffers here. For the album version he gives the song a re-working by dialling back on the rock elements, hamming up the generic dance beats and ruins it in the process. The original version of "Break it" was much, much better.

Shinichi and Verbal's contribution "Naked" is brilliant. It's cold, hot and filthy. This is the sone song which tries for dear life to hold the 2 sides of the album together. It buckles, not by fault of the song, but because it's the only song on the album which tries as hard as it does. "Naked" is the song where Namie truly sings. She gives n***as sass, a couple of notes here and there and also da Engrish. There's also that bad ass music video where Namie snatched Beyoncé's flag from "Run the world (Girls)" and shit on her mutha. "Sit! Stay! Wait! Down!" (aka the dog song) was a song I hated at first. But after having it drilled into my skull after watching Watashi ga renai dekinai riyuu I began to like it. And much like "Naked" it sits nicely in between Nao'ymt's outdated contributions and what the Western team brought to the table.

A strong subject for address is Namie's decision to sing over 50% of the album in Engrish. Namie has always been the trailblazer when it comes to bringing Western sounds into the world of J-Pop. She wasn't always given a great deal of credit for it, as it seemed like a fad and some of her hood attempts on Genius 2000 and Break the rules were borderline ridiculous. But she's found a niche now, something which was solidified with Queen of hip pop and truly honed with Play. Namie continues to push these boundaries by going one better and not only abandoning R&B (as every R&B artist pretty much has) but recording over half of her album in Engrish. YOUR FAVE COULD NEVER! I make fun of Namie's Engrish, but I love how she sounds in it. She sounds more like herself singing in Engrish than Hikaru Utada did on Exodus and BoA did for her auto tuned English flop. For Namie to do such a thing is incredibly ambitious and shows bravery. Not only is English not her first language, but she's releasing this album as a Japanese studio recording and will have to perform these songs live on tour. And it's not like she's had much practice running through them on live television. (Lazy bitch).

Uncontrolled turned out to be a much better album than the earlier singles led me to believe it would be. But there is such a disparity between the earlier material and the later releases, that there is no escaping that Uncontrolled sounds divided. This said, Uncontrolled is still a more consistent album than Kumi Koda or Ayumi Hamasaki have managed to put together over the past 2 years. Namie also manages to show a level of growth and evolution in her sound that few of her Avex peers have managed to show and this is where the album really comes through. But there is a lack of warmth with this album. Namie has never been the most engaging of performers on the mic and her delivery has always been cold. But the flecks of playfulness we got treated to on Play and the wholesomeness of Past < Future, they're just not here. And despite the bravery of Namie embracing Pop once again, singing in Engrish and giving what is still a wholly decent release, a part of you wonders if she still truly cares any more.

Album highlights:
■ In the spotlight (Tokyo)
■ Naked
■ Let's go ★ J's fave
■ Yeah-oh
■ Only you


  1. Great review first of all.

    But I feel like Namie is going the same way as Britney, without all the crazy. Passion (as much as Namie can give) at the beginning of their careers and a sudden drag of dontevencare attitude towards their newest releases.

    Of course, both release on point albums; but it feels as though it's purely technical and that no input came from Namie herself, like she's letting other people completely control what she does with her image and music.

    Even in very recent interviews, she has stated that 'she would keep trying hard for the next year or two for her fans' and doesn't seem genuinely interested in continuing.

    Even through all the complete SHIT Ayu releases, she keeps it hers in a way, and seems eager to continue doing what she does best, releasing nonsensical albums containing a gem or two.

    Maybe Namie is bored, but it's hard to tell because she always looks that way.

    1. I have to disagree with you about Namie's image and sound being controlled, if anything this is the most uncontrolled she's probably ever been in her career, hence the title of the album. Namie has said herself in recent interviews that at this point in her career she has the freedom to do as she pleases. She also said that she wanted to appeal to a worldwide audience and get ppl interested in the Japanese music market, which is why she decided to record half of the album in Engrish. If she was truly being controlled songs like Yeah Oh, Go Round, In the Spotlight, Only You would have never been released. All of these songs have a western feel to them, and it's pretty evident that western music no longer appeals to the Japanese music market. Had this been any other artist they would have flopped horribly *side eyes Crystal Kay's album sales*.

      I do agree that Namie may be bored with making music. What more is there for her to do really? She's had a long prosperous career, at least she knows it may be time for her to gracefully step aside instead of making a fool out of herself like other artists 40 and up (Madonna and Mariah). I would like for Namie to continue releasing music (Everything Style on-wards has been great), but not if she's going to half ass it like Ayu and Kumi.

    2. The English part doesn't make sense. Everybody and their great grandmother knows that you don't appeal to a 'market' by just singing in their language; you have to actually try to sell the album to that market. And considering Avex doesn't even allow their music on Itunes, I'd say that was some scripted bull. If it was aimed at a worldwide audience, they would make it available to a worldwide audience, like the many Asian flops before.

      I still feel that those are just words without meaning, but it's completely my opinion.

      I think girl should go all suite chic R&B again, pop Namie is boring.

  2. I love Namie Engrish, even if I can't understand a damn word she says lmao. Sometimes her pronunciation is pretty good (In the spotlight) and then other times it's horrid (Only You), but I love it either way. The Track listing is a mess and the album does not flow at all. I'm kind of disappointed in Namie because she broke her steak of releasing solid, hot albums. Every other album that she has released within the last 6 years has gotten serious spins from me, but I found that I got bored of Uncontrolled fast. I think the omission of some songs (Love Story and Tempest), and the inclusion of others (HIGHER, I can't believe this bitch left it off the album) would have made the album a lot better

    1. I agree that this album got boring fast, although some of the songs I still heavily play. I just can't listen to it as an album, which is something that I can still do with her other albums. But she does get my respect for recording half an album in a language that she doesn't understand.

  3. This album sucks. The old songs are old and tired and not one of the few new songs did anything for me. And none of the remixes/new versions of old songs bested their original versions. Those felt like gimmicks anyway to cast shade over the eyes of fans in hopes that they wouldn't notice just exactly how much of this album they had already heard before. Well I noticed.

    To come out with this Singles Collection and not come hard with any of the few new songs. I call this a failure and am shocked at how well it has sold.

    It has been her most disappointing release for me.

    She should have held off on Yeah-Oh and saved it for the Album because as can be seen, this Album just couldn't afford it.

    The title sucks too and isn't aesthetically pleasing to the eye to see written out across and Album Cover. So weak.

  4. I would have given this album a 5.5 or maybe a 6. There are songs on this album I can't deal with. Especially Break It (Al. version) and SINGING ''YEAH-OH''. Break It wasn't an amazing song but the new version is shit. The song supposed to be to the point and raw, and now they killed that. They ruined the point of the song.

    Namie's engrish on SINGING ''YEAH-OH'' sounds good, but the production fails on some parts. The ''you just can't gnore gnore!'' parts are funny in a bad way. These songs should have been left alone.

    I enjoy Go Round (n'Round n'Round) though. Her engrish sounds really cute on this track. It gave the song a boost.

    Some tracks do nothing for me. Sit! Stay! Wait! Down! still has no climax, the song goes nowhere. After all this time, I still don't enjoy it. Hot Girls is such a mess, I can't even explain.

    LOVE STORY, Tempest and Fight Together really try to be nice songs, but they come off as being a little boring and forgettable. Her voice sounds good on these songs, but she doesn't sell them the way she usually does.
    Even ONLY YOU is a bit forgettable to me. I just can't help thinking about Bruno Mars listening to it.

    Despite all of this, there are still some good songs. NAKED is a great jam, no doubt about it. This is the best song on the album. In the Spotlight (TOKYO) and Let's Go do their jobs well. Get Myself Back and Go Round (n'Round n'Round) are more convincing than the other sweet songs.

    I really miss Higher, It was one of the better single tracks. It would have fit nicely together with YEAH-OH and Let's Go.

    In the end Uncontrolled feels like a let down. After all these weak singles, the album just couldn't be strong. I felt like re-arranging Uncontrolled. I have never done that with a Namie album!
    I hope she can start from this point and deliver a better album next time. She can definitely keep the engrish! It sounds great!

    The highlights of this period are:

    in The Spotlight (TOKYO)
    Let's Go
    YEAH-OH (single version)

  5. The best album release in 2012 from a solo Asian artist.

    Ayumi Hamasaki, Koda Kumi, BoA, Se7en, G-Dragon, (insert other K-pop and J-pop artists solo acts who I can't recall), etc. have all been pretty crap.

  6. I don't get where some people found Namie saying she wanted to appeal to a worldwide audience. Namie never said that. In Billboard Japan interview (www dot webcitation dot org / 68uD9rtMv) she revealed a little on her motivation to sing English and it's just personal musical taste and not about entering US market.

    People also commented that Namie didn't care as much as she used to with this Uncontrolled. but i could you tell whether an artist cares? how can u be sure? just becoz she looks bored and miserable on magazine/CD? or the album does not flow well? RandomJ gave a (imho) very technical analysis of album in terms of genres, but I don't care much about flow of songs in album, maybe its my age, i m not so sensitive towards coherence of album. I certainly notice the messy style of album, but it is not a negative.

    i think it's hard to truly appreciate/hear Uncontrolled without paying attention to the fact that Namie is old enough (34?35?) to grow out of her hip-pop shell. You get older, you become less attached to ideal in life, and care less whether ppl enjoy hearing you singing English as much as you hear yourself singing English. Maybe its true she no longer cares as much as she used to about having a distinctive Namie-style, and thats just a reflection of growth as a singer and human being.

    1. I totally agree with you. People here are out of touch with reality.

  7. MY NAMIE knows what she's doing. Uncontrolled is like the climax of her career for me, from here on there's only two options:

    1.Make better quality music or
    2.Decline and start floping hard no matter what.

    On her 20th anniversary, 17 years at the top and yet she's still being promoted and recognized as one of the best Japan has to offer when it comes to pop music. She broke those stigmas (shotgun wedding, tragedy, drastic music style change, singing in another language etc) and she's overcoming them and fighting hard, while Uncontrolled is not in the league of QOHP/PLAY/PF it does a good job, a bit messy but decent album. She's showing to her fans and those who buy her music, that she can still grow and try new things, take risks - fail and miss - but she's doing it. She's giving us new things (i know she loves a good chair on her videos since 60's 70's 80's but well...)

    I truly respect Namie for what she's done and how she manages herself, her music, her public image and everything. She's like a role model many bitches should follow, you chose to do generic music but you can ROCK IT live while singing and dancing like a good performer (Kumi also does that). You can appeal to people even when you've been on the game for so long and you do that by being consistant (hit and miss as i wrote before). For that Namie gets my love and Uncontrolled's a nice album just doesn't flow very well. I'll give it a 7 out of 10 IMO


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