Album review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Love again

Album review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Love again | Random J Pop

Love again is in many senses a sequel to Love story. Not just in name, but the over arching message of the songs, Ayu's current weave choices, her decision to hue the entire album shoot in peach and orange, and to feature her current fuck buddy in at least 2 of the music videos. When you put aside the bastardry behind releasing an album which features all of the songs on the 2 mini albums which were released 2 - 3 months before, Love again is a pretty consistent release. But the consistency and decency of this album as a whole doesn't mask that Ayu can do better, has done better and needs to do a heck of a lot better.

Ayu has always struggled to create conceptual albums. She never sets out to, but then goes and names her albums in such a way that she forces an over arching theme on them which doesn't always work. She did this with Next level, Rock 'n' roll circus and Party queen. All of which featured 4 tracks which encapsulated the album theme and then a couple of interludes to try and shoe horn on the theme a little more. Love again holds together conceptually to a much better degree. Although the album yields very few surprises, twists, turns or goes out of its way to illicit any strong reaction as the aforementioned albums did. Even if that reaction is "This album is a piece of shit". Love again It's a pedestrian effort. There's a general feeling about this album that Ayu went about it in the wake of Party queen flopping commercially and all of the rap people talked about Five and Rock 'n' roll circus. As a result, this album is as safe as it gets and is one of Ayu's safest releases to date. Ayu took no chances with this album which comes with it's own set of problems.

Love again features some good songs, but aside from the odd 2 or 3 songs, nothing else from this album will hold your attention or be deemed a classic as per some of Ayu's past works. Album opener "Wake me up" is an album highlight. An anthemic song full of angst that you can fist pump and whip a weave to; steeped in an 80's gloss which renders it sounding like something from a Duran Duran album of yesteryear. The song also features copious amounts of Engrish for an Ayu song. Not only does Ayu growl the song title over and over in in the hook, but she shouts ♪ I golla let'chu go, I golla let'chu go ♪ before the chorus kicks in. I cite Namie Amuro's Uncontrolled as the influence here. See how that miserable bitch is changing your faves' music!? (Queen Namie. Bow before the bitch who kept Avex's books balanced in the last fiscal year). "Bye bye darling" relays the torch carried by "Wake me up", swapping the 80's synths for funky picked basslines. It's more of Ayu wailing about some relationship gone wrong and that a n***a needs to back some bags and leave dem keys, but it ticks all the right boxes. It's a damn shame Ayu's taken out restraining orders on releasing singles, because "Bye bye darling" would have made a pretty good one.

Ayu also turns in a nice set of mid-tempos, but they all bleed into the same sound. "Missing", "Melody" and "Song 4 U" all sound like generic songs you'd hear in some TV commercial or in the intro sequence to some Sega Saturn game. The songs aren't bad. In fact they're good, well produced songs with a vocal turn from Ayu which doesn't make testicles shrivel and a uterus clench. But there's nothing distinct enough about any of them which will make you single any of them out as 'amazing' or worthy of slinging onto an iPod playlist. They're nice songs. But that's all.

Japan's recession has not only hit the Yen in the bollocks, but J-Pop ballads too. The past 4 years in J-Pop have been dire on the ballad front. But Ayu manages to come through here with "Sweet scar" - exhibiting the albums' only moment where she changes gears from her quotidian norm when it comes to ballads. "Sweet scar" consists of little more than a piano, a violin and a small set of woodwinds. A nice change from the overblown ballads laced with big orchestrated strings and stadium drums that we usually get. It's a beautiful song which shows that less is more and that Ayu can deliver a nice ballad without musical theatrics and that's Ayu's voice is at it's most emotive when she isn't screeching like some demon ho of the underworld.

The only bum note on this album comes in the form of "You & me", which has managed to tack itself onto pretty much every Ayu release since A Summer best. The song is like a fucking parasite. The song is awful. Love again could have done without it, because nobody likes the song and it puts a sour note on what is an otherwise a nice album.

Love again is a complete re-tread of what Ayu has done numerous times before over her 14 year career, but it's her first album since Guilty where the sound has been cohesive - which is largely in part to it being produced solely between long term collaborators Tasuku and Yuta Nakano. The album is very late 90's, early 00's and is steeped in a throwback type of sound much in the same way Love songs was. The songs are good, but they do not have much of a lasting impact because everything Ayu throws at you for this album, she's thrown it at you so many times before. It's almost annoying given that the production is top notch, the instrumentations on the songs are so rich and Ayu's vocals stay within a range which doesn't make you want to scratch a bitches' neck out. Make no mistake. Love again is nothing new. If you weren't keen on anything Ayu had to offer before, then you will not be converted by hearing her wailing on any of the 14 tracks this album has to offer. But long term Ayu stans will be glad for this album. Especially after the train wreck that was Party queen and those who held onto their money and didn't shell out for Love or Again.

This album proves that Ayu has a handle on her own sound and knows what works for her, but she needs to evolve this in some way. I also feel that Ayu should have worked her remixes into more of these songs. Ayu's Countdown live version of "Wake me up" incorporated the remix and gave the song a great edge. And the A classical version of "You and me" completely transforms the song and makes it decent. For her to meld these new arrangements / elements into songs on this album would have helped it greatly. The sense of newness and reaching for a new sound is exhibited into many of Ayu's recent remixes and a new take on her material was showcased beautifully on A classical. So it's a shame that none of this was injected into Love again. It also would have felt like less of a slap in the face to those who had bought Love and Again as they would have gotten re-worked versions of songs.

I was sceptical that Ayu would be able to record a cohesive album as such after falling off so spectacularly with Party queen, but she proves me wrong here. However, I still feel that after 14 years of being active that Ayu should be delivering better albums than this. There is no evolution of her sound. Just complete re-treads of it. As much as I disliked many of Ayu's earlier works, at least there were flecks of newness in her music. As the soundscape of J-Pop and Pop in the West began to shift, Ayu's music and image did the same. I was no fan of the bitch, but always respected that she at least acknowledged music outside of Japan; despite not being able to emulate it and make it her own in the same way Namie Amuro has done over the years. Whilst Namie Amuro is taking chances with half an album sung entirely in Engrish, Crystal Kay is completely revamping her sound and Kumi is risking her life covering people's songs and having Hide fans come at her with butcher knives, Ayu is just trotting out the same ol', same ol'. Ayu needs to start branching out her sound and delivering something fresh, exciting and new. Once upon a time Ayu thrived on attempting something a little new, but she's now fallen into a state of complacency. And given that Love again debuted at number 1 in its first week after a string of number 2's and chart fall off's, this may be Ayu's 'Go' card to just keep doing this shit over and over for another 15 years. If Ayu's up for boring long term fans and going to no lengths to acquire new ones, then she's on the right track with this.

Album highlights:
■ Wake me up ★ J's fave
■ Bye-bye darling
■ Sweet scar
■ Glasses


  1. yes, indeed, somehow I got bored with her released (save 2 or three songs), but we appreciate her to try, we need a new brand single, a good brand new single from her,

  2. This shit sucked. It wasn't nearly as bland as Love songs in my opinion with songs like snowy kiss and wake me up, but she could have done alot better and she knows it. Recycling love and again songs is just another quick cash scheme by avex to screw die hard ayupan fans over and over. If she keeps this shit up, thats all she will have left. nothing but a few remaining fans who buy anything she releases, even if it is the same ol' shit. Nothing new imo since rock 'n' roll circus. this shit is getting real old. r.i.p original ayumi hamasaki 1999-2010

    1. I totally agree, Sasha!! Avex keeps milking her fans. During 'Rainbow', she became more of a product than an artist. I lost my love for her music since 'Rainbow'.
      RIP 1999 - 2001

  3. "Glasses" and nothing else and who even knows how much of it an intended verses an accident.

    I want to hear how the actual track sounded before all of the editing into tolerable bloops and beeps, which appearingly is the only way I can take her hard warned voice.

  4. I loved this album, because I'm still a huge fan, despite my constant spewing hate; and I like her same old same old.

    Music wise, the album is cohesive and listenable the whole way through, unlike other albums like Loveppears where you'd skip every other track. I'm a big fan of orchestras and power vocals and Ayu delivered with this album.

    Now let's talk sales. I've already accepted the fact that Ayu is done. Over. She could pull a Madonna 'Ray of Light' and Japan wouldn't give a single fuck. Japan's music industry is fickle as shit, and all the antics she's been pulling lately have gotten her in deep shit. Look at poor Ami Suzuki, one wrong move and she'll never sell even close to 100k again.

    Her decline started with (Miss)understood (my favorite album coincidentally...) and the Japanese even have a fucking name for it, something akin to 'Bold & Delicious Shock' in English.

    All big artists go through it, and you don't recover from it. At least not more than twice. The problem with Ayu is that instead of gently gliding down like other big name artists have, she took the route of pounding her sales into the pavement all at once. LOVE again has sold almost 70k for god's sake.

    Truth of the matter is, she can release whatever she wants now, because she'll never increase her popularity and I'd be surprised if she ever has another gold certified album ever again.

    Jpop is moving on, and it's moving on fast, but no matter how you reinvent your music, IMAGE IS THE LARGEST PART OF BEING A MUSICIAN/ARTIST.

  5. This album wasn't bad, but it was extremely forgettable. Ayu honestly deserves to flop for the scam she pulled with her anniversary. Honestly, Ayu must think You & Me is an innovative masterpiece with how she attaches that shit to every release, it's either that or she wants to troll her fans for buying every one of these anniversary scam releases. You & Me is the equivalent to musical herpes, just when you think it has died down and is gone for good, it pops right back up again to punish you.

  6. lmao, I love this review. I miss Ayu's old sounds.. not her first albums but the five or so in the middle. Ugh.

  7. I love your review on this album. Its smartly written and the vulgarity including in it is hilarious and right on par. Ayumi needs to step up her game if she wants to be relevant in today's music industry. Still dig her music though but she's sounding complacent as you said.

  8. Ummm, you must've missed where LOVE and again were formatted similarly to singles. They were mini-albums in name only. The multiple a-sides, "Original Mix" tags, remixes, instrumentals... I mean, yeah, they were called mini-albums, but the tracklisting for both looked like any Ayu single from Boys & Girls to Daybreak. At worst, they pussed out because they didn't wanna break her streak, but acting all indignant because you SUPPOSEDLY didn't see the "LOVE again" album coming makes you either look disingenuous, or just fucking stupid.

  9. The only fucking stupid thing here is your comment. I had referred to Ayu's previous singles featuring multiple songs, remixes and extensive track lists elsewhere on the blog - which made 'Love' and 'Again' look even more shady. Avex and Ayu themselves had referred to 'Love' and 'Again' as MINI ALBUMS. They were marketed as MINI ALBUMS. They were priced as MINI ALBUMS.

    If Ayu was going to just chuck 2 mini albums worth of material onto her follow up album, then she may as well have included the tracks from 'Five' too and just called it a day. This was extremely lazy of her and Avex to do. Especially within such a short time frame.

    Which ever one of Ayu's discarded wigs you crawled out from under to make this comment, I suggest you crawl back under it.

  10. to me the lyrics of this album were better than the last things she did
    but I think people got sick of her since next level, but that album sold anyway cos the horrible dragon ball movie
    anyway, there's cool songs here, but the most are so sad that sound almost the same


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