Album review: Utada - Exodus

Album review: Utada - Exodus | Random J Pop

After running things in Japan for almost a decade, Hikaru decided to put out an album in the Western hemisphere. Why? Because she felt like it. Hikaru isn't on a mission to be the biggest selling female artist in the West. She just wants to experiment with music. And experiment is what Hikaru did for her first major English language debut.

Exodus opens up with "Devil inside"; an interesting start to the album. The lyrics are pretty odd, but matches the dark tone of the music well. Hikaru's vocals sound pretty dead pan on the verses, but she sounds great when she soars on the chorus. "Exodus '04" is an album standout. Most notably because of its sound, but also because it's the one song that tells the story of Hikaru deciding to try this music thing in the US. When I first heard Hikaru was hitting the studio with Timbaland I flipped. And then I heard this song and I was gobsmacked. "Exodus '04" is a beautiful and Timbaland's production just sets the whole thing off. Def Jam missed an opportunity by not releasing this song as a proper single. It's not indicative of the sound of the album as a whole, but it's the most radio friendly and the song with the most crossover appeal. "Exodus '04" is song which never gets old for me. "About me" is a great close to the album and is one of the few songs which channels the Hikaru we hear on her Japanese language releases. The acoustic guitar and occasional emergence of drums and synths acts provide a nice ever changing musical backdrop. Hikaru's vocals are pretty wavered and inconsistent, but the song is so catchy and charming you forgive her odd vocal inflections here and there. In a way, they kinda add to the charm of the song. The album swings from dark, emotive numbers such as "Animato", to the uptempo, bubbly, gibberish laden "Tippy toe" and "The workout", which helps keep the album interesting. No 2 songs sound alike and because the sound of the album is so varied and constantly shifting, the album never sounds boring, even if you're not keen on some of the songs along the way.

Exodus feels like the album Hikaru had wanted to get out of her system for a while. Due to essentially being a new artist to many in the west, there was no need to cater to an established fan base, so she could essentially start from scratch. Whilst Hikaru's Japanese albums feel as though they're primed to being well produced songs tethered to a particular style, the songs on Exodus feel much more visceral and experimental. Exodus gave Hikaru a chance to do all the things she felt, for whatever reason, she was unable to do on her Japanese releases. Her song writing is even more wacky and the music itself is different to anything she'd done for her Japanese albums. Experimentation is all well and good, but the problem with this album is that it's far too unpolished. Given how tight Hikaru's Japanese releases are in terms of production, it's odd to hear her wail uncontrollably over such loose sounding beats and melodies. Near enough all of the songs are insanely catchy, but the production is so shoddy it ruins more than a few of the songs. Numbers such as "The workout", "You make me want to be a man", "Hotel lobby" and "About me" have great potential. The foundations are there for amazing songs, but the production sounds so basic and unpolished. They contrast starkly to the Timbaland productions which sound so much richer and slicker by comparison.

Hikaru's vocals take a hit with this album. She sounds great in Japanese, awful in English. It's almost like she's struggling to sing in time with the music and that she just cannot hit any notes right. When she sings in higher registers (such as the chorus of "Easy breezy" and "Devil inside") she sounds good. But when Hikaru takes it down to any mid or lower registers, she sounds like shit.

Given how Hikaru's sophomore album featured productions from Rodney Jerkins, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and that she had previously worked with The Neptunes, you'd think she would've hooked up with them again for this. It definitely would've helped this album sell if it had more big name producers tied to it. It also would've tightened the sounds.

Album review: Utada - Exodus | Random J Pop

The craziest thing about Exodus is that you listen to it now and you hear elements of what many popular artists have risen to prominence with years after its release. "Devil inside" works the taiko percussion and minimalist style that Kanye exploded back onto the scene with on his single "Love lockdown", whilst "Animato" once again works the minimalist style Kanye showcased on songs like "Welcome to heartbreak" and "Say you will", fused with the Disney-esque marching line he experimented with on songs such as "RoboCop". "Let me give you my love" works the Electro synth pop vibe that Timbaland and Danja would popularise on Nelly Furtado's Loose and Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds amongst others. "You make me want to be a man" romanticises what it would be like to be a man in a relationship - a subject Ciara and Beyoncé both made songs out of for their hit singles "Like a boy" and "If I were a boy" respectively. The album was ahead of the curve in many respects, which in itself showed how great an artist Hikaru is, and that she's constantly thinking outside of the box, way ahead of everybody else.

Exodus is an okay album by an amazing artist, and this is what has caused me to feel quite bitter towards it. The extent of Hikaru Utada's talents aren't showcased to maximum effect on Exodus. Fans of her Japanese material will know she Hikaru is capable of and let this album off on the merits of knowing that Hikaru is still an amazing artist because of what she has brought to the table prior to this albums' release. But for those whom Exodus is their first introduction to Hikaru Utada, they may find the album underwhelming, badly produced and call Hikaru out for not being anything special. Still, if you're looking for an album which is different and doesn't pander to gimmicks, you could do a lot worse. Exodus doesn't compare to any of Hikaru's Japanese language albums, but it's still decent and certainly original within the soundscape and lyrical scope of what other female artist in the West have released. I'd say if you want a real sense of Hikaru Utada as an artist, then pick this album up along with one of her Japanese releases.

VERDICT: JAPANESEY

Album highlights:
■ Devil inside
■ Exodus '04 🏆 J's fave
■ The workout
■ Easy breezy
■ Animato
■ You make me want to be a man
■ Let me give you my love
■ About me

Comments

Unknown said…
Kremlin Dusk not listed as a stand out automatic failure lol. J/p but that's actually my FAVORITE song.
Random J said…
I dunno...I fall in and out of love with "Kremlin dusk". I like the very beginning, but don't really like where the song goes as it progresses.
Junlee said…
"Easy Breezy" is a funny song. Talk about quirky lyrics. "Devil Inside" is one of my jams and I love how it sounds. The other highlights you mentioned are also really good, but "About Me" is, IMO, one of her best songs. It starts out so simple, and then the chorus drops and it's like heaven!
Unknown said…
That's what I like about Kremlin Dusk it starts a certain way and then it progresses to be more uptempo then it just goes all out. It's actually my favorite song out of all the songs I like. And I really enjoyed Exodus '04 because when the album came out I was in my first semester of college and felt like I made an Exodus of my own.
Unknown said…
That's what I like about Kremlin Dusk it starts a certain way and then it progresses to be more uptempo then it just goes all out. It's actually my favorite song out of all the songs I like. And I really enjoyed Exodus '04 because when the album came out I was in my first semester of college and felt like I made an Exodus of my own.
Anonymous said…
I did actually wonder the other day what your review for Exodus would be like...and here we are!

Exodus was actually the first album I heard of hers, just after hearing 'Simple and Clean' in Kingdom Hearts. Exodus is one of my favourite albums of all time, and is probably my 2nd favourite Utada album (behind Ultra Blue, but that could change once my new albums come through) :-)

I personally have no problems with her vocals, I love the album for somewhat converting me.
Before I met her I was purely listening to heavy metal/industrial stuff such as Linkin Park, Cradle of Filth and Rammstein.
When listening to Exodus; I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the over-poppy-ness of Easy Breezy, the heavy R'n'B of 'Let me Give You My Love' and the dance influence of Devil Inside. So thanks to Hikaru my musical taste are very broad now. It also converted my boyfriend, who happened to only listen to Korn since he was 6 years old, that's saying something - that's the power of Utada Hikaru!

My personal favourite tracks from the album are Devil Inside, Exodus 04, Hotel Lobby, Kremlin Dusk and You Make Me Want to Be a Man.