Album review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Colours

Album review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Colours | Random J Pop

If there's one thing you can bet on with an Ayumi Hamasaki album, its that it will be wildly inconsistent. Love again bucked Ayu's streak of inconsistent albums, but it was incredibly safe to the point of rendering the album forgettable. Whilst Colours isn't as consistent in its sound as Love again was, it at least shows Ayu taking a much needed step in a new direction with her sound. But Ayu's uncertainty in regards to her sound has never rung as true as it does on this album. Ayu has not rung he alarm this hard since Party queen.

Ayu wants to be the gay loving Party queen and the singer of Love songs, but showcases an inability to meld the two sounds or hone each one convincingly enough that she can straddle the two effectively and convincingly together.

Club mode Ayu has not been this turnt up since Next level. Ayu's decision to feature as many as four club records on this album is probably a decision which has been made collectively between Ayu trying to prove she can keep up with her contemporaries and rivals, many of whom have shunned ballads and pop records in favour of hi energy club tracks, and also her wanting to build a catalogue of 'bangers' she can perform on tour. After all, it's pretty f**king boring to sit on a swing in a satin dress and sing a ballad when you could be surrounded by dancers and whipping your hair in a strobe light. RedOne produced "XOXO" is Ayu's best original dance record in ever. It's simple, it's catchy, it doesn't sound like it's trying to hard to be anything. It's just a really good song. "Terminal" feels overblown and Ayu feels secondary on it, but the key changes in the melody elevate this from being just another piece of trance tripe. Despite Ayu's presence on the song being minimal, the music uniquely feels like an Ayu song, because it features the sweeping dramatic elements of interludes which have featured on several of her albums. "Feel the love", "Merry-go-round" and "Lelio" on the other hand all feel completely desperate and are completely throwaway. We've heard Ayu do each of these songs before and we've also heard Miku Hatsune do them better.

The mid-tempo's are a case of strong production, but a mismatch with Ayu. "What is forever love" is a duet with Naoya Urata - Ayu's guest feature bae. The song is very Stargate and Ne-Yo esque. It's a tried and tested musical template which we have heard many times before, but it works. It would have made a nice Winter single had anybody in Ayu's team had a clue. "What is forever love" is a duet, but it's easy to forget Ayu on this track when Naoya is throwing her under a bullet train every 10 seconds. Naoya owns the entire thing and is the most prominent vocal on the track. It's a display of great humility on Ayu's part. She is clearly smitten with Naoya (having collaborated with him three times) and it's sweet that she seems completely comfortable sharing equal mic time on songs with him. But it makes Ayu look irrelevant on each of these instances to the point where you wonder why she is even on the song when it woul dhave been just as good without her and better with somebody else who had more a vocal presence which matches Naoya's. Somebody like say, Kumi Koda's, would have been a much better match on this song, as her texture and tone would have compliment Naoya's perfectly. "Angel" is produced by US super Rodney 'Darkchild' Jerkins, although you'd be hard pressed to tell as it is not of his signature style at all. "Angel" is permeated by a muted glockenspiel and a rousing chorus which blossoms into a sweep of hard synths and a semi dub step bounce. The music itself is good, sounding like a more synthy take on Beyoncé's "Halo". It very easily could have been the albums big defining power ballad, but Ayu's vocals are so thin and lack the texture and power to do the music any form of justice, that the whole thing just falls flat. Her Engrish also doesn't help, causing the chorus to lose any of its affectionate qualities. Between her wailing off key out of sync with the track and her singing 'I wanna be angel for you', the song swiftly becomes a mess. But Ayu gets points for trying.

The ballads are your typical Ayu fare. They are all good songs, but what we know of Ayu from her past few albums - every album in fact, is that she's good with ballads. But the problem is that she's done so many now, each one less indistinct than the last, that they just aren't memorable. To such an extent that her new ballads are overwriting the legacy of her classics. The sound of these ballads is so atypical, that when sat along side the other tracks on this album they sound as though they are from a completely different album. The disparity is far too stark.

Colours reinforces that Ayu doesn't have any real concept of what truly works for her outside of ballads. Every time she delivers a song in a style which really suits her, she never revisits it again, almost as though she is oblivious to the fact that it worked so well for her. Every album Ayu has released over the past 5 years has featured a sound which suited her, but does she act on it? No. "Next level" was a nice mid-tempo which wreaked of Frou Frou in the best possible way, delivering a nice ballad with a common time tempo. But did she ever revisit this? No. "Why" from Five was a ballad banger and one of Ayu's best songs. But she hasn't put out anything like it since. The remix she commissioned for "Wake me up" and performed on her Countdown live tour was amazing. But did she use it as a point of reference for any of the club tracks on this album? No. But Ayu drops a song which is God awful, she taps into it again. "You and me" was f**king awful and one of the worst songs Ayu has ever done. Yet she went running back to that shit for "Feel the love" and gave it an equally awful music video. The woman has no clue. None at all.

Ayu took a step in the right direction and out of her comfort zone with Colours. But the end result is still a weak album which which is void of any clear form or focus. Colours feels like a really weak attempt at what Namie Amuro has been doing for the past 10 years for her albums. A far cry from the woman who was boldly doing things on her own terms back in her Avex hey day when Hikaru Utada was still active, Kumi Koda was still trying and Namie Amuro was being eclipsed by about every other female artist in the game. Now Ayu is scraping the bottom of the barrel for clues. Working with US producers, clutching at Engrish, hooking up collaborations with DJ Hello Kitty and M-Flo like it's 2005. These choices aren't bold, they're reductive. What Namie Amuro set in motion for Uncontrolled was bold. What Ayumi Hamasaki did for Colours is clutch at straws. Ayu has become too complacent with delivering the bare minimum, because she knows that whilst she won't sell as much as she used to as a result, she will sell enough, which is what she seems content with at the moment.

Ayu's insistence to cling to the past whilst reaching for something new is hurting her. Ayu seems willing to move in a new direction, which is good because she's acknowledging her need to do so. But Ayu's approach seems to be to regurgitate her old shit because it's the easy thing to do, then throw some stuff at the wall and see what sticks, only to turn her back on it. By this point Ayu should have her shit together and be so confident in her sound that she can effectively play around with it as her peers have done. But Colours is proof she does not really have a clue what to do with herself. Ayu needs to step out of the music game for a while, figure it out and then return to the scene with a new A&R who can steer her in the right direction, because home girl is once again in the wrong lane.

Colours is not a terrible album, but it's wholly forgettable. Remembering it in a year's time will be as much of a struggle as Ayu's vocals on the chorus of "Angel".

Album highlights:
■ XOXO ★ J's fave
■ What is forever love
■ Terminal
■ Now & 4eva


  1. Not that I needed any confirmation or reiteration of it, but the great "A STRUGGLE" continues musically, vscsnt emotions, relevance and all the rest. Ayu did at least kill the art direction and promo pics this go round of an era; no other J-pop chick has done so this shamelesly since Utada Hikaru's DEEP RIVER but that's pointless when the collective tunes & vocals blow this hard even still...

  2. It's growing on me. There is only so much you can do with 10 tracks from has-been producers. Some songs musically and vocally sound like they are from a past era (i.e.: Hello new me + NOW & 4EVA) so I feel cheated and betrayed by avex AS ALWAYS. I was OBSESSED with this girl until I realized that the quality of most of her work after Secret just didn't fulfill my needs.

  3. Miku Hatsune.........EL-OH-EL-OH-EL!

  4. Yeah, that's kinda the score I'd give it… now, where's that 'Bon Voyage' review…? (*´ω`)o

  5. It's a damn shame that she brought the hotness with weak ass album...

  6. I'm not gonna lie; I really like this album. There are a few songs on here that can get the fuck out (*coughs in the general direction of Hello New Me and Pray*), but I earnestly think this could be my favorite of the albums from this woman that I've heard (read - I'm a basic bitch with absolutely no taste in music). It's just a shame that Ayu had to ruin half these songs with her horrid ass vocals; Angel and NOW&4EVA (pukes at the Engrish) would have been amazing if Thirstumi or Kuri-chan had gotten a hold of it. Lelio might not have been as bad if Namie had laced it with her standard 500 overdubs. But yeah... Me can endure. Unless an instrumental album of this surfaces (and I mean a real instrumental album, not instrumentals with badly processed background vocals). Ayu can fuck herself in that case.

    Btw, I think Feel the Love is a better song than You and Me. Not that that matters much since I happen to like Feel the Love, but yeah... At least Feel the Love is pure Para Para Paradise throwback without trying to merge it with current dance trends.

  7. whow!!! BRUTAL!!!!!!!!!!!! i love it.


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