Album review: Namie Amuro - Past < Future

Album review: Namie Amuro - Past<Future | Random J Pop

To say I was excited when I heard Namie was releasing a new album in time for Christmas and the new year would be an understatement. Because when Namie releases a new album, I play the hell out of it. Queen of Hip-Pop got rinsed like Colgate mouthwash. And I thank God for mp3 ripping. Otherwise my CD copy of Play would have had the data played right off of it. After checking in some serious listens with Namie's Past<Future. I think I've got another album that needs playing to death on my hands. I adore this bitch.

One thing that Namie knows how to do is hit square between the eyes with a smooth catchy number with a chorus that worms it's way into your head and takes up residence there. Past<Future is an album full of catchy numbers. “Put 'em Up”, “WoWa”, “Can't Sleep, Can't Eat, I'm Sick” - not even near the tip of the iceberg. As has been the case with many of Namie's albums: she keeps things moving with the uptempo's. And her latest effort has to feature some of her hottest bangers to date. “Copy That” is pop perfection. Namie hasn't done a song this frivolous, catchy and sweet since Queen of Hip-Pop's “WoWa”. The retro instrumentation and 60s style vocal scats give this song an instant sense of familiarity. Whilst throwing in enough tricks of the new millennium to give it a current feel. The song features just enough English and repetition that you can sing along to the bulk of it. It's a real shame it wasn't released as a single, as it has 'hit' written all over it. I still sit in marvel as how the hell producer T. Kura managed to throw a hip-hop beat at the end of this song, complete with a snare pattern snatched straight outta Bangladesh productions “A Milli” and “Diva”.

“Bad Habit” starts off sounding like some whack copy of a US R&B club record. But once the synths on verses and the chorus kick in, the song truly takes off and becomes something hot. The song has that same dark, ominous feel that Play's “Full Moon” had, but with some Bryan Michael-Cox like production tricks thrown in ,and a bit of an 80s vibe for extra kicks.

As with “Bad Habit”, “First Timer” adopts an 80s vibe, but goes for a kitchen sink approach. Synths, 808's, bells, vocoders, auto-tune, record scratches, choppin' and screwin': all the things. It's a lot. And it would be easy for this song to become a bloated mess, and yet it doesn't. The production and the mixing on this song is crazy. It's like a Timbaland, Danja and Rodney Jerkins production all rolled into one, and then some. “First Time does feature the dreaded auto-tune and a vocoder. But this is one of those rare occasions where I don't think the song could have worked without them. And the arrangements of the affected vocals are done in such a way that they become part of the music itself. Michico once again does the damn thing with the song writing and the vocal production. This chick is running things with the J-R&B game. She could teach bitches in America a thing or two.

T.Kura, Michico and Namie roll out the hotness straight after “First Timer” with “Wild” - which is a full on pop club banger which commands that you dance every time it plays. As is the case for every single song Michico ends up writing, the chorus is stupidly infectious and features enough English for you to sing-a-long to. The woman's a bloody genius. Whenever I play this in the car I'm always singing along ♪ Legs, arms, shoulders, knees. Fingers, toes. Hips and belly. [My own made up Japanese] Let's get wild!!!

Unfortunately Namie manages to fall off with a couple of her bangers, breaking the streak. Double hollered at Namie for a guest feature on her song “Black Diamond”. And now Double repays the favour by penning “Love Game” for Namie. “Love Game” has got just about enough going on for it to be likeable. But the chorus is a mess. It doesn't stick out and it causes the song to feel monotonous. “Steal My Night” sounds like Queen of Hip-Pop's “Want Me, Want Me” and “Queen of Hip-Pop” had sex with a really bad basement reggaeton record. The song is garbage, and is the worst song on the album by far.

Namie experiments with a wholly new sound with her non club bangin' up-tempo's, with varying results of success. Namie's sound gets thrown back for “Fast Car”, with its burlesque inspired horns and piano. A down right funky song which grows you with each listen. “Dr.” was not a song I liked at first. I guess loved “Wild” so much when it released as a double A-side along with “Dr.” that I just disregarded it. But upon watching the music video, the song worked its magic on me - and now I adore it. It's a complete shift in style for producer Nao'ymt, and its unconventionality is what makes it stand out. Namie's voice does sound a bit too thin for the song. A vocalist with a stronger tone and more range such as Crystal Kay would've done wonders with it. But the production is so hot that Namie's vocal limitations won't be something that will flag itself. On the other side of the same coin is “Defend Love” - which is being touted as the sequel to “Dr.”. It has a similar other-worldy vibe to it just as “Dr.” did, but is much darker and harder hitting. The bridge section is stunning, and there's so much going on with the song that it never bores. “Shut Up” is like “Top Secret” with a much heavier rock influence. The music itself is well produced; but it's too much for Namie's vocals and she gets completely lost amidst the guitars, synths and bass lines. A song like this needed a much stronger vocalist with grit. Kumi Koda comes to mind. A good song that I think went to the wrong lady. Nao'ymt did a great job with the production though. I'm glad his fusion of pop and Rock didn't end with Play's “Violet Sauce”.

In a rather welcomed turn, Namie slows things down for two of the albums stand out cuts. “My love” sounds like Play's “Pink Key”, but with more bang and a beat that knocks harder. The song moulds to the template of many a mid-tempo R&B jam. Synths. Hard kicks. Some hand claps. And a bit of auto-tune. But it is a really nice song. Different, yet within the scope of something Namie would do. Up and coming producer Hiro did a great job here. Hiro found his way onto my radar with Crystal Kay's “Help me out” from her Color change! album. And now “My Love” has me waiting in the wings for future productions. “The Meaning of Us” will please fans greatly, as it marks Namie's first full on ballad in a long-ass while. The song is beautifully arranged, and Namie's voice exhibits a clarity and sweetness that is often masked by the busyness of production and the heavy stacking of her vocals that we'd been getting for the past few albums. So it's nice to hear Namie in a different gear, and for her vocals to be front and centre on a song.

Album review: Namie Amuro - Past<Future | Random J Pop

The songs on Past<Future are so well produced and catchy that (regardless of your Japanese proficiency) it's easy to latch onto songs and find something to like. And this is what makes this album a great starting point for those wanting to get into Namie. But being good bait for potential Namie fans doesn't mean there's nothing for long term fans to enjoy. Namie does a great job of marrying what's she's done on her past two studio albums, with something new (which partly explains the album title) and fans will appreciate this given how good the resulting album is. But the album isn't perfect. Half of the album is comprised of perfectly produced songs, with another half that feels like it's playing catch up. The songs which are good and represent Namie's new style are amazing. But it's just a shame that this new style wasn't spread throughout more of the album. I personally feel like Namie could have put out a better album after a two year wait. But this album is good enough to suffice, and is her most polished album to date. It has a lot going for it, and features enough hot songs with lasting appeal to ensure they get spins for years.

VERDICT: *Tears a photo of Ayumi Hamasaki in half*

■ Fast Car
■ Copy That 🔥
■ Bad Habit
■ First Timer 🏆
■ Wild 🔥
■ Dr.
■ My Love 🔥
■ The Meaning of Love 🔥

💿 Namie reviews: Single: 60s 70s 80s | Album:Play


  1. I give this album a 4 at best. The main problem is there is to much auto tune and other machanical manipulations. In most of the songs I can't even hear her actual voice and the album is all over the place. The only songs I really like a lot are Bad Habit (music) and The Meaning of Us (can actually hear her real voice). I'm all for trying new thngs and I think she should continue to do so but this album just doesn't do it for me.

  2. Waiting for iTunes to pick this up. They have all of her other stuff, including Play. I gots itunes money to spend!

  3. this is the first namie amuro album i want to get :P so i will . . .
    can't wait! :D


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