Album review: Namie Amuro - _genic

Album review: Namie Amuro - _genic | Random J Pop

_genic feels like the album Namie has been gearing towards for years. With Namie's past 2 albums you got a sense of what she was striving for, but the end results were lacking. Uncontrolled had its overall direction dictated by the album cuts, but was anchored so heavily by the singles that the end result was a very divided album. Feel felt very cold and as though Namie was singing other people's songs. "Hands on me" and "Heaven" took on lives of their own and superseded the legacy of the album as a whole, but nothing else truly stuck. _genic on the other hand is a solid amalgamation of who Namie is and where she stands musically. Deciding to record an album of all new material and not including the singles she had released leading up to the release of this was one of the best decisions Namie could have made. It will be interesting to see how she handles her approaches to recording singles and albums from this point on.

Namie came under fire for her albums which came before: Uncontrolled and Feel. Not only for recording the bulk of songs in Engrish, but for abandoning the R&B sound that she spent years trying to convince everybody she could make a living off of. Her 12th studio album _genic is a consolidation of all that she has done over the years. Not just from the point at which she began to cross into R&B, but across her whole career. There is a real sense of consideration for Namie's full discography here, to the point where this album feels like a successor to her greatest hits album Best fiction.

Where-as Feel featured almost no trace of Namie's pop tinged R&B style that she had honed and cultivated on albums such as Queen of Hip-Pop and Play, _genic sees it return. Album opener "Photogenic" flirts with the same 80s funk that Namie delved into on Play. "Time has come" and "Fly" are heavy on the rock; towing the same line as "Wonder woman" and "Damage". But the difference here is that these are both pop songs with rock influences, as opposed to trying to do rock full out.

"Fashionista"'s march-esque drum line feels very reminiscent of Play's "Hide and seek", but transcends it thanks to its bright choruses, and Namie doesn't sound as though she's singing the entire song into a pillow. "Golden touch" is a horn laden summer banger. Think "Can't sleep, can't eat, I'm sick", but with a slower tempo and harder hitting drums and you're halfway there. Namie has not worked with her partners in crime Michico and T. Kura for quite a while, but "Golden touch" feels very much like a Namie and Giant swing collabo. It's a great song. Elsewhere on this album Namie is in full club mode ("Scream", "Stranger" and the Sophie produced "B who I want 2 B"), singing a cover of a David Guetta song ("What I did for love"), delivering an acoustic ballad which echoes TLC's "Unpretty" ("Anything") or in playful pop mode on songs like "Birthday", "If", "Every woman" and "Space invader".

Album review: Namie Amuro - _genic | Random J Pop

Whilst Uncontrolled and Feel featured songs which felt like other peoples songs as sung my Namie (i.e Feel's "Supernatural love" sounding like a Girls' generation song, "La la la" sounding like a Rihanna leftover and "Only you" from Uncontrolled sounding like a song written by Bruno Mars) all of the songs on _genic feel like Namie's songs. A real understanding has been grasped here of the type of songs Namie should be singing and where things went wrong on her last two albums. There was very clear consideration in terms of how this album should come together, and the music speaks for itself. The insistence on singing so many of the songs in English needs to stop, but I'll get to that.

The album does feature a couple of moments that had me feel uncertain. When the album preview released, "B who I want 2 B" was the one song I was most intrigued by, because you didn't hear Namie sing and the beat went so hard. Not long after the preview was released, the original version of "B who I want 2 B" (as sung by QT) surfaced. I fell in love with it, and was awaiting Namie's version to drop, only to be disappointed. Not only are Namie's vocals drowned in auto tune and filters to the point where you can barely understand her, but special guest star Hatsune Miku takes over the entire song to the point where Namie's presence is rendered mute. The original song features such a cool set of kiss off and sassy lyrics, all of which are buried in Namie's version of the song. The back and forth between Namie and Miku, the horrific mixing which renders the chorus as little more than just noise - it's a bit of a mess. The production on _genic is so high in quality, that it's a real shame that a great song got done in such a fashion. The song isn't terrible in its current state, but there's definitely a wide margin for Namie to make it better when she performs it live. Whether it's by performing the entire song by herself or creating a spectacle by performing it with a holographic Miku. "It" feels like a leftover from Past < Future or Best fiction. It lacks the punch of the other songs on the album, and is probably the weakest song on the set. I never skip to the song or find myself wanting to listen to it. But when I'm playing the album from start to finish and it comes on, I have no urge to skip it. The same goes for "Space invader". It's not a bad song, it's just not great. I could have done with "Brighter day" and "Ballerina" in the places of both of these songs.

Whilst _genic opens well, it starts to run out of steam towards the end. And whilst this album doesn't have any flat out terrible songs, there are a fair amount of filler songs. Given that Namie had said that she had listened to over 300 songs for consideration for this album, I find it worrying that she picked "If", "Every woman" and "Space invader". There had to have been better songs.

Whilst I like that Namie feels brave enough to sing in English for many of her songs, I would really like her to tip the scales in favour of singing in Japanese. Her English still isn't great enough to warrant her recording 90% of an album in it. Not being able to understand a song because of the language is one thing. But not being able to understand a song in a language you know is a whole other thing. I'mma need Namie to be singing at least 60% of her next album in Japanese. Her non English speaking Japanese fans can't understand the English. And English speakers can't even understand the English. So what is the damn point!? If there is one thing that could end up hurting her sales, it's this. Her Japanese fans will get tired of her singing entire albums in English and feel a bit cheated. And her English fans will grow tired of Namie recording albums in English, but not releasing them internationally.

Album review: Namie Amuro - _genic | Random J Pop

_genic is one of Namie's better releases. It's a solid, consistent body of work. But most of all, it's a fun album. You can tell Namie enjoyed recording it, and she's sure to have a blast performing it on her tour. But the one area where it falls short is its evolution, or lack there-of. _genic is a great honing of Namie's sound, but it is not an evolution of it. Namie took many risks with this album in regards to singing so much of it in English and scrapping the singles. But the album as a whole is far too safe. This album does not break any real boundaries or push Namie in any way. She has honed her sound to a tee and to a level of consistency that her peers are continually struggling to. But the next step for Namie is to start venturing outside of the box. Or to flat out start working with more US producers, something I imagine Namie would like to do. This isn't a dismissal of how good this album is. Especially when world renowned artists had dropped albums over the past 2 years which were inconsistent and felt grossly imbalanced (i.e Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Madonna).

_genic was the album where Namie could and should have taken the biggest risks. But at the very least it provides her with a good springboard to do so for her next album.


Album highlights:
■ Photogenic
■ Time has come 🔥
■ Golden touch 🏆 J's fave
■ Scream
■ Fashionista 🔥
■ B who I want 2 B
■ Stranger