Album Review: Crystal Kay - Crystal Style

Album Review: Crystal Kay - Crystal Style | Random J Pop

Crystal Style sure is an interesting album title, which can be cut so many different ways. Crystal Kay’s 5th studio album is not a reflection of what I or hardcore fans feel Crystal’s style genuinely is, if the albums leading up to this were any indication. But this album did mark the start of Crystal fully transitioning into the sound that she’d be known for at scale commercially. Even though it really started with 4Real and “Ex Boyfriend Part II”, Crystal Style is the album that’s credited as the hard point at which Crystal’s sound and image would shift.

Crystal Style sounds like the type of album I would have expected Crystal to release earlier in her career when she and her label Sony were trying to figure things out, because Almost Seventeen and even 637 -Always & Forever- feel like they are steps ahead of Crystal Style, in that they had a clearer vision of what they wanted to be. Even 4Real, as cobbled together as it was, had a dominant vibe which signalled the type of album that it had intended to be. Crystal Style on the other hand feels like Sony trying to cover a range of bases whilst showing no real allegiance to anything, which feels strange coming off the back of a trio of albums that did this so clearly.

An artist moving in a new direction with their sound is not an immediately bad thing. Sometimes it’s necessary and for the better. There are numerous examples of artists and albums which shifted into a new direction musically and hit a homerun. But where Crystal Style falls short, is that whilst in the context of Crystal’s career what this album did makes sense, the execution doesn’t. Sony and Crystal could not seem to settle on making (what were at this point in Crystal's career) the tentpoles of her known sounds intersect. So you just end up with an album that has 3 different styles of songs, which are so clearly distinct from one another that you can divide this album up. The R&B sector. The Japanese ballad sector. And the pop sector. But there’s no real commitment to any of these sounds, or fusions, which makes Crystal Style feel a little devoid of a style altogether.

The unfortunate thing with Crystal Style, is that whilst Crystal herself does a good job with each of the sounds the album touches on, there are very few instances of this album presenting the best showcases of any of them. Crystal had given a better hit rate of R&B songs on previous albums. She had given better pop songs on previous albums. And even with a song like “Kiss”, which was Crystal’s first foray proper into a wholly Japanese-ass pop ballad, Crystal had delivered better pop ballad’s prior on one album alone.

This isn’t to say that Crystal Style doesn’t have any standout or noteworthy songs. There are some great moments on this album. Whether Sony and Crystal knew it or not, they were raising the bar with each album in some way. But Crystal Style doesn’t really set any form of bar. It’s a nice collection of songs, and...that’s kind of it. Everybody involved with this album including Crystal herself was on autopilot.

Crystal continues to show that she is that bitch when it comes to R&B. It’s just unfortunate that her strongest efforts here are slung at the end of the album and will be easily overlooked - which is crazy, because 2 of these songs are the best songs on this album, and quite possibly two of the best songs amongst Crystal’s R&B offerings. “Magic” has Crystal reaching for Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies” press and curl lacefront. The production style shares a similar bounce to the Marsha Ambrosius penned Invincible highlight; a smooth fusion of R&B, Neo Soul and pop. Then there’s “My Everything”, which has Crystal Kay on her grown woman shit, giving me Gladys Knight and Teedra Moses before Teedra even had a damn album out. “My Everything” had absolutely no business being slapped on an album like Crystal Style and as the second to last track (third to last depending which edition of the album you’re listening to) at that. It’s one of the most soulful songs Crystal has done and she sounds amazing on it. It's a shame she was yanked away from songs of this style, because it puts her in a light I feel she should have been seen in far more. Not many Japanese singers can do soul music, and Crystal is one of the few who could do it effortlessly. Both “Magic” and “My Everything” feel new and unlike anything Crystal had done before. “My Everything” in particular really showcases that Crystal doesn’t just have the ability to sound good from a technical perspective, but that she’s able to sit in the music and feel it as she sings it. Despite Crystal being known for having a high and light voice, Crystal’s sweet spot vocally is actually her mid-range, and it changes Crystal’s entire demeanor when she sings. It’s one of several reasons why “Magic” and “My Everything” stand out, with the latter being one of the best performances Crystal gives on this album. But ya know, J-Pop loves everything high, so that became a thing from this album onwards, right up until her last album with Sony.

The freshness of “Magic” and “My Everything” don’t just highlight how much everybody was on autopilot for the majority of this album, but how so little was put into trying anything new. For every other song on this album, you can probably think of a prior instance where it was done a little better, or just plain done already. Even Michico and T. Kura barely bother. “We Gonna Boogie” is a good song, but Michico and T. Kura didn’t even try and they fucking know it. “We Gonna Boogie” would have worked far better on 4Real. It wouldn’t change the song in any way, but it would’ve sat nicely with “What Time Is It?” which shares a similar vibe. Having it on 4Real would have been a case of ‘Oh, okay they’re on this tip for this album’. Where-as hearing it on Crystal Style left me thinking ‘Okay. I’mma need all 3 of these hoes to give me something a little different and something more’, which is probably why Michico and T.Kura are nowhere to be found on the follow up album Call Me Miss… and wouldn’t come back into the CK fold until an album later with All Yours, where they stepped their shit up to delivery the J-R&B classic “I Wanna Be”. Then there’s “Bet You Don’t Know”, the precursor to “Shining”, of a vibe that Crystal done did on Almost Seventeen’s “Attitude”. And “Love It, Take It”, which has the Nickelodeon white girl TV show theme song vibe of something from 637 -Always & Forever-. Retread city y’all.

Album Review: Crystal Kay - Crystal Style | Random J Pop

The growth between 4Real and Crystal Style doesn’t feel as pronounced or as obvious as it was when we went from 637 -Always & Forever- to Almost Seventeen to 4Real, but it’s there. And the growth isn’t in the music, or even Crystal’s voice, but in her delivery. Crystal’s vocals are stronger here than they were on 4Real, but Crystal’s delivery makes her feel far more present on this album and it sells the songs in a whole new way, which makes it a shame that the material wasn’t better as a whole.

Crystal Style just doesn’t feel like a whole album to me, or an album at all. I don’t know what was happening with Crystal and Sony between 2003 and 2005, but during this time Crystal Kay delivered 2 albums which just didn’t feel like whole bodies of work. It’s really noticeable to me because of the 2 albums which came either side of them; 637 -Always & Forever- and Almost Seventeen, and Call Me Miss… and All Yours - all of which felt like whole, considered, top to bottom bodies of work. 4Real and Crystal Style, both felt like they were trying to do different things, with one thing cancelling or diluting the other. Because of this, 4Real and Crystal Style feel like the sum of each others’ parts. Whenever I think of these 2 albums, I don’t see 2 bodies of work. I see 2 partial pieces of work which could have been one really good album. But we got what we got and that’s that. Even the simple act of booting a couple of songs off and including the "Bye My Darling!" and "Kiss" B-sides "Mirai no Chizu" and "Sweet Friends" would have gone some way towards making this album feel like somebody cared about trying to make this thing sound and feel well rounded. Not including "Sweet Friends" is wild. That shit should been an A-side single.


Crystal Style is a little all over the place. It sounds like an album which was made to several different briefs. Crystal Style wanted to show that Crystal is still the R&B girl. But Crystal Style also wanted to show that Crystal could do pop. But the thing is, that Crystal Style still wanted to show she's got that M-Flo swag. But Crystal Style also wanted to act as a summary of all the different styles Crystal has touched on over the years. Except, Crystal Style also wanted to show that Crystal could conform to current trends. So what you end up with is a collection of songs as opposed to an album, with nothing being committed to. 4Real sounded cobbled together as fuck. But at the very least it showed enough of a commitment to a sound, that I got a sense of the album it had at one point intended to be. With Crystal Style I can’t figure out what type of album it wanted to be, or what the overall goal of it was. There are a whole bunch of really good songs on this album. But had they been better held together in a package that felt a little more thought out, then Crystal Style could have been a great body of work, and certain songs wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle and be overshadowed by a song like “Kiss”. “Kiss” is a nice song, but it’s vanilla as hell and has no musical bearing across this album, despite having enough gravitas to create a shift in Crystal’s sound and a music video concept that she’d revisit 3 years later.

Verdict: *Two-steps with robots in a spaceship*

■ Bye My Darling!
■ Kiss
■ Tears 🔥
■ &Brand New
■ Flowers 🔥
■ Magic 🔥
■ We Gonna Boogie
■ My Everything 🏆
■ Home Girls