Album Review: Namie Amuro - Style

Album Review: Namie Amuro - Style | Random J Pop

When Namie Amuro returned to music with a new album in 2000, everything had changed. Not just the landscape of the industry, but her own personal tastes. Feeling like she could not longer be a part of the Tetsuya Komuro machine, Namie started to venture into music more in line with what she was a fan of - which at that point was Hi-Hop and R&B. Mental images of Namie Amuro rocking her baby to Missy Elliott and Total absolutely send me. But, I digress. These types of artists, along with the likes of Aaliyah, TLC and Janet Jackson were what Namie was into. Genius 2000 and Break the Rules saw Namie dip her toe into these sounds under the wing of Dallas Austin, the song writing and production force behind TLC. The results weren't great. But their working together was a necessary journey for Namie to jump on-board the Suite Chic project and then end up at Style, by which point Namie developed the courage to shed her pop persona and see that maybe this new avenue could actually work for her, and it did. Because let's face it. "Put 'Em Up" quite simply slaps. And if you ain't slut dropping to "Shine More" are you even alive?

Album Review: Namie Amuro - Style | Random J Pop

R&B in Japan was a funny old thing back in the 2000s. Quite simply put, a lot of it was bad. And a lot of it sounded the same. There was also a bit of a disconnect with it between the producer and the artists singing on the songs. R&B in any form, however pop leaning it is or not, requires a specific type of skill to sing. You have to be really be in the pocket of the song and be skilled enough to fall behind it in places or fuck around within it. You also have to be willing to ad-lib. This was something that J-Pop singers often struggled with in the beginning, and Namie Amuro was one of them. So often times we'd get a song with a really decent beat and good production, but not the best vocals. And this is pretty much Style. Namie be struggling.

But Namie's struggle doesn't ruin any of the songs here to the point it did some of her earlier R&B attempts. A large part of what makes Style work is Namie's commitment to make the shit work. There is none of that one foot in, one foot out shit she was on with Genius 2000 and Break the Rules. A bitch said 'We in the hood now' and she put on her Kangol hat and her velour tracksuit and said 'Let's fucking go'. The lyrics to "Put 'Em Up" are ridiculous coming from Namie Amuro, but she makes it work, because her deadpan delivery and her face not moving in the music video really does make you believe that she would walk up to her man's house in broad daylight with an ice-pick and tell him to line them bitches up. Namie does not hit a single note on key during "So Crazy", but she's so in the vibe of the song and just living her best US R&B star life that you just end up rocking with it. And whilst "Don't Lie To Me" is supposed to be sweet and heartfelt, the way Namie sings it makes it sounds like a threat that she has the piece under the pillow. Namie's energy on the songs doesn't always match the intended energy the writers and producers had in mind, but I wouldn't want it any other way. It adds a charm to the songs which would go on to become a Namie Amuro signature of giving us absolutely nothing.

Album Review: Namie Amuro - Style | Random J Pop

Style most certainly benefits from Namie's stint as part of the Suite Chic project. Whilst there isn't that same sense of fun in this album, the confidence to commit to a more R&B leaning sound for a whole album is most definitely a by-product of When Pop Hits the Fan. As was the case with When Pop Hits the Fan and every J-release which feature J-R&B, there are instances of the US R&B sound being mimicked and sounding a little gimmicky. Songs like "Gimme More" throw in every damn US R&B cliché from the early 2000s and is of a sound that every single Japanese R&B producer was doing and handed out to every artist like tissues, but it works. Especially within the concept of Style as a whole. Also this doesn't carry across the whole album, with instances such as "Lovebite", where producer Akira notes the US R&B tropes, but jumps back two decades into the 80s for something which feels a little different from what every other Japanese producer was doing with R&B, which would mark the start of a throughline we would get with every Namie album which would follow. But for all of the R&B stylings, the one song that stands out and is a highlight is "As Good As", which is very Britney-esque, whilst also being ahead of the curve of what mainstream radio would sound like in a couple of years time off the back of the success of songs like Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone". It's an interesting inclusion for the album given that it sounds a little out of place, and that it's of a sound that Namie wouldn't really go back to until eight years later with "Wonder Woman" for Checkmate!.

Whilst many were left shocked and in disbelief when Namie had released singles in 2012 with copious amounts of English, Namie was already giving us a fair mount of English on Style. Several songs on the album feature lines, or in the case of "Fish" and "As Good As It Gets", whole choruses sung in it. It does make for some awkward lyrical moments however such as 'Cos you only fish' on the song "Fish", which is not about what you think it's about with the lexicon of drag being a part of mainstream culture. But this is pretty common in songs from Japanese artists or songwriters who aren't fluent English speakers.

Album Review: Namie Amuro - Style | Random J Pop

Style is a little rough around the edges here and there, but it's an enjoyable album which was one of Namie's most consistent following Genius 2000 and Break the Rules. It was the start of Namie really starting to put a focus into creating solid bodies of work as opposed to just singles that make up an album; something that Namie would go on to make good on with Queen of Hip-Pop, Play and Past<Future. She fell off with Uncontrolled, but we gon' act like that album doesn't exist for a moment.

Style does feature instances of a couple of songs which were singles not really fitting in with the rest of the album. "So Crazy" B-Side "Come" is a nice song, but it does feel really out of place because of its sound which is more Dance and Euro focused. As does "Wishing on the Same Star", which sounds like a song which would have fit an older Namie album better. But with one song being the theme to an anime, and the other being a cover song written by prolific US songwriter Diane Warren, I get why they were included. Namie or her team didn't even bother trying to make either song fit into the album sequencing, because they knew there was now way they could. So they're just chucked at the end, which is probably the best place for them. Even if it does cause the album to end sound like it's a completely different album to what it was when it started.

Where-as Namie had one foot in and one foot out with Break the Rules and Genius 3000, Namie is all in on Style, which makes for a far more consistent album. Even if it does take a few steps back from When Pop Hits the Fan, which felt like a truer bridge to Queen of Hip-Pop, which would go on to define the future of Namie's sound and career. But whilst Style for the most part is an album that people know either because of its singles "Put 'Em Up" and "Shine More", or because "Come" was used as the theme for Inuyasha, it's actually a really good album worth listening to if you've never actually taken the time to actually do so. Style tends to be overlooked, but is a notable album in Namie's discography and one which deserves more attention than it got when it first released, and more attention that Namie herself gave it following its release. 


■ Put 'Em Up 🏆 J's fave
■ So Crazy
■ Shine More
■ Lovebite 🏆 J's fave
■ Fish
■ Wishing on the Same Star