EP review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Five

EP review: Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ) - Five | Random J Pop

Five. The number of minutes in-between Ayumi Hamasaki releases. The number of times Ayumi changes wigs in a day. The minimum number of music videos she will record for one album. The number of J-Pop singers who will find themselves bald, shaking and crying the second Avex announce an Ayu album release date. Also the title of Ayumi Hamasaki's second mini album.

Ayumi's albums are often semi conceptual in some form. Some of her releases have been cohesively more conceptual than others. But after a messy patch of inconsistent albums, she managed to tie her shit together well for Rock 'n' Roll Circus and (as much as I couldn't stand the album) Love Songs. And Ayu seems to be on a roll with Five. Showing that she can deliver a unified body of work which collectively feels whole and thought out as a whole and not just singles strung together with a few interludes attempting to over-arch a theme.

Much like Love Songs, Five focuses on the subject of love. But where Love songs chronicled the path to love, Five chronicles the separation from it: Opening with a song about the aftermath and closing with one about the admittance of defeat to the separation itself. Rather depressing. But richly produced depression.

EP review: Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ) - Five | Random J Pop

"Progress" is a love song to those who have stuck with Ayumi back when she looked as though she could pass as a human and not a Square Enix CG render for a Kingdom Hearts game. She is giving you ballad Ayu and rousing fist pumping rock Ayu in the space of one song. Given how this song starts, you would not expect things to switch how they do at the 1:56 mark. There is a real sense of familiarity with this song. Even if you're not familiar with Ayumi's discography or the J-music scene is general, you'll still feel as though you've heard this song somewhere before. For some reason the later half of this song reminded me greatly of "Fairyland". Something about the vibe keeps pictures of a Hawaiian hut burning every time I listen to it.

"ANother Song" marks the second song Ayumi and Urata have done together. And oddly, the sounds have switched. "ANother Song" sounds more like something you'd expect to hear Urata front with Ayumi featuring, with "Dream on" sounding more like a song Ayumi would front, with Urata featuring. This is all rather irrelevant though. Because all it boils down to is that "ANother Song" is one of the weakest songs on this album, because it doesn't go any where. The sound doesn't suit Ayu at all. And there isn't that cohesiveness between their vocals that you got with "Dream on" - which was a bloody good song.

"Why" is bullet proof. It is everything Ayu fans love from her, with enough of a new gloss that those new to her music can roll with and appreciate. The verses of the song tread along with an R&B vibe, with the chorus building into a clash of guitars, orchestrations and the overblown grandiosity you can always expect from an Ayumi Hamasaki mid-tempo ballad. This is the song which punctuates Five in the best possible way and elevates it from being just a slow mid-tempo mini album. Ayu and Juno's voices go really nice together. Almost so to the point where you wonder if this song would have been as good if Ayu had done it on her own.

As a nice surprise, a remixed version of "Why" is also tucked away as a hidden track and it features none other than Naoya Urata. You'd think Ayu had a think for him. I hope Mannie is keeping his ho in check. Naoya could well be hitting it on the low. The new production of this remix takes the R&B undertones of the original and runs with it. The sound doesn't pack as mean a punch as the original though, and it comes up short as a result. What prevents this remix from falling completely lop sided into a doo-doo bucket of fail are Naoya's vocals. Juno sounds great on "Why", but there is a greater sense of cohesiveness between Ayu and Naoya's vocals here then Juno and Ayu's - even though Ayumi's vocal takes are exactly the same. Naoya's tone just suits her's better. The original version of "Why" still beats this remix. But this is a better collabo than "ANother song", which plain stinks.

Ayumi Hamasaki goes all sappy with "Beloved". I would not be surprised in the slightest if she was stroking a photo of her husband with one hand and hovering her hand over her vagina with the other. Jokes about Ayu's time bomb marriage and adamantium vagina aside, "Beloved" is a really nice song. The bright chorus and majestic soaring of the strings are a nice ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleaky ominous sounding album.

"Brilliante" is what i can only describe as an Arabic funeral jam. It's a cool song, but it comes off much better with the video. On its own the song just doesn't hold up, because it sounds as though it's an accompaniment to a visual. Had I not seen the video beforehand or known who the song was by (although there really is no mistaking the Banshee cry that are Ayumi's vocals) I would have thought this was a piece of music for a temple in a Legend of Zelda game or a Desi remix of Final Fantasy VIII's "Liberi Fatali".

EP review: Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ) - Five | Random J Pop

With the exception of "ANother Song", Five is solid offering. But I find myself left with a feeling of wishing that Ayumi had taken this mini album as an opportunity to try something a little new, despite being won over on how Ayumi (with the exception of one song) managed to stay true to her sound and deliver a really cohesive album. An album which has more going for it than the full length release which came before.

At this point in her career, Ayumi really isn't trying to push envelopes or try anything new, because she doesn't really need to. She could put the same albums out every year with a different cover and it would still debut at number 1. If truth be told, Five did not need to be a segregated release. The songs very easily could have been included on Love Songs and made it stronger. But in true Avex trax fashion, any chance to milk an Ayu release shall be capitalised upon.

Ayumi Hamasaki is an artist who is now fully confident in her sound, which Five is proof of. But she seems a little too wrapped up within it to the point where I wonder if she will take any form of risk with the full length album she's sure to release by the end of this year. Ayumi's last venture into a wholly new sound spawned Next Level, which was such a hot mess that even she had to sweep it under her biggest wig. But for how much I did not like that album, I'm able to appreciate (much more now than back then) that she at least tried to step out of her musical comfort zone. Even if her timing and execution was a bit wonky.

Ayumi may be trumping everybody in Japan chart wise, but musically she's somewhat being left behind. Her albums are much more consistent than the likes of Kumi Koda's. But in terms of sound, Kumi can be heard pushing her sound in new and exciting directions. Namie Amuro continues to really hone in on what works for her and be more musically assertive with each release. Hikaru Utada delivered an retrospective, yet forward thought set of new material for her Single collection vol. 2 and then some. And as much of a flop as Crystal Kay and BoA's last albums were, they exhibited a form of growth, musical control which saw them writing much of their own material and a new sound which coloured their palette nicely. Ayu cannot come all this way to just stand still. And a mini album was the perfect opportunity for her to try something a bit new and experiment a little. Especially after delivering two full length studio albums which were not only consistent, but a bit safe.

Five feels like an extension of Love Songs, offering more of what that album lacked. Ayumi is to be commended for just doing a mini album of songs which are true to her and free of gimmicks. But at the same time I can't help but feel a little disappointed that she didn't give a bit more with these songs, and use the release as a form of testing ground for something new.

But if you are an Ayu fan who is not looking for Ayu to do something bold, different and blind-sighting, then you will love Five. As a mini album, it is a solid release. Overly safe, but solid as a whole.


Album highlights:
■ Progress
■ Why 🏆
■ Beloved


  1. WOW! that was a rather positive review O_o LOL
    Seriously though I'm in the same boat as you, while i think "FIVE" is a good (mini) album (except "ANNother song") i do wish she'd try something new, i havn't heard all of "Next Level" but the singles were really good but since "Rock N Roll Circus" Ayu's been stuck in this soft rock sound which although i do like is getting a bit predictable now.

    My favourite track on "FIVE" is actually "Brilliante" it just grabbed me from the first time i heard it (although i never saw it without the vid first time) but i just love it, i love the Arab theme and all the wailing and stuff lmao! it's my favourite Ayu song since "Crossroad" which i also innexplicably loved and still do.

    I think AVEX need to take a look at how they handle Namie and apply that to Ayu (and maybe even Kumi) because for some reason while Ayu and Kumi are throwin albums out faster than you can blink Namie usually gets a 2 year period between hers (WHY?!) but this is really good, It gives the fans a chance to miss her and it gives Namie the chance to put an album full of great songs out every 2 years without having to spread those tracks over 2 albums with a few filler tracks.

    P.S LOL I was wondering about Ayu and Mannie earlier today and checked his twitter and apparently all's well as far as i can see, no way would you cheat with Urata Naoya when you got Mannie Schwartz at home lmao #JustSaying

  2. I haven't listened to FIVE yet so I can't comment on your review of the tracks, but I'm again shocked that our views on Ayumi's past releases are so opposed when often I agree with your opinions on most other releases.

    I think NEXT LEVEL and GUILTY and Ayumi's strongest releases in her entire discography, and I enjoy them so much because not only did she step out of her usual comfort zone for NEXT LEVEL in particular, but she really suited the rock style of GUILTY and electro-pop-rock of NEXT LEVEL. GUILTY's tracklisting was pretty much perfect; the album had a great flow with superbly placed interludes. NEXT LEVEL was a bit messier in the track order, but with a quick shuffle (and removal of lame tracks like EnergizE and Curtain Call) the album is consistent. I don't think it's a hot mess at all. It's probably my favourite of all her albums, ever, and that's because I think she suits the style of music on that album so well. Her more "classic" J-pop ballads I can usually pass on, but these two albums were full of up-tempo or more edgy songs.

    Rock 'n' Roll Circus, on the other hand, was a huge mess. The album lacked consistency, jumping from one style to another with no apparent connection. The themes suggested by the album title seemed rather absent. I don't think all the songs are bad as such, but the album is far less than the sum of its parts because it just has no flow or reason. Ayumi can do so much better than the Sunrise/Sunset rubbish she put out in that era.

    Love songs, however, I do more or less agree with you there. It had real flow, even if the songs were consistent(ly mediocre). She stuck with a concept with that album, and made what seemed like was going to be a huge flop of rubbish ballads actually fairly decent when put together as a whole.

    There's no doubt in my mind that Ayumi Hamasaki can make great songs and albums, but so often I have to jiggle the track order in my iTunes to get what I think is a solid, consistently good album out of her.

  3. LOVED the opening paragraph! XD
    Sadly, I listened to all these songs whilst watching the PVs and nothing grabbed me, I don't think I've liked a Ayumi's song since her Rock 'n' Roll era...shame...nice covers for the mini album though!

  4. I've been a fan of Ayumi since practically day one, and as much as I like this album, her voice is starting to sound pretty bad, and it's making it hard for me to have this on repeat.


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