Single Review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Summer Again

Single Review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Summer Again | Random J Pop

When I first heard the clip of Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Summer Again” I thought ‘Wow. This doesn’t sound bad. It’s borderline hot. But I bet it will devolve into mess.’ And lo and behold. I listened to the whole song. And that is exactly what it did. If nothing else, Ayu’s music is gonna be predictable.

“Summer Again” is a dance song. And if you’ve not heard it, but you know what Ayu’s dance songs sound like, then you can probably guess what this song sounds like.

Whilst Ayu’s sound can widely be grouped into two categories; pop / rock and ballads, there is also a third, which is dance music. Dance music also a core sound for Ayu, and one which sometimes intersects with pop / rock (i.e “Lady Dynamite”). So whilst it’s easy to say that Ayu is just hopping on the house bandwagon with “Summer Again”, Ayu doing a dance song is very on brand for her. Ayu was also one of the first big J-pop stars to really embrace dance and club remixes of their songs, making a whole business out of regularly releasing remix albums full of them, and also working some of these remixes into her tours. The former being something that Kumi Koda would also do with her remix album series Driving Shits. But Ayu’s oontz cuts have always been a mixed bag, and they aren’t her strongest suite of songs. When she gets it right, she really gets it right. But as has become the case with Ayu for the past decade; knowing if what Ayu puts out is going to be good or bad is like spinning a wheel. It’s anybody’s guess. And it’s unfortunate, but unsurprising that the wheel landed on ‘Meh’ with “Summer Again”.

Ayu can do good dance music. One of her best oontz inspired songs is her cover of Hikaru Utada’s 1999 hit “Movin’ on Without You”, which was so damn good that I play it over the original. She sounded really good on that song. Maybe the best I’d heard Ayu sound on a song in quite some time. And the whole vibe of it suited her far better than many expected it to. As seems to be the case with Kumi Koda, Ayu’s best musical qualities seem to show themselves in covers. And yet despite Ayu absolutely delivering on “Movin’ on Without You”; she herself, nor anybody in her A&R team figured, ‘Maybe we should go in that direction again with dance songs’. Instead, she chose to throw shit back to “Feel the Love” and “You & Me” (aka Ayumi Hamafenty’s “We Found Love, Then You Pushed Me Out of a Truck”). Although “Summer Again” isn’t quite as bad as either of these songs.

A common theme with Ayu’s songs these days is that they often start well, but then completely tail off. “Dreamed a Dream”, “Nonfiction” and “Summer Again” have all fallen victim to this. “Summer Again” starts off really promising, utilising a sound popularised by the StoneBridge remix of Robin S’s “Show Me Love”, which has since become synonymous with 90s house music. EVERYBODY uses it now. But then the song goes full rave in the chorus in the worst way. And then you have these awful set of lyrics and a grating vocal performance which run through the entire thing.

Single Review: Ayumi Hamasaki - Summer Again | Random J Pop
Ayumi Hamasaki | Summer Again

When you take a step back from how bad Ayu sounds and how middling the entire song is, “Summer Again” is not a complete train wreck. As was similarly the case with “Nonfiction”, “Summer Again” has a framework for something decent. With some tweaks here and there, more finesse in the arrangements and production, “Summer Again” truly could have been great. But more effort was put into making the whole thing sound like a typical Ayu song, as opposed to really trying to sell the sound, lean into the potential of it, and just deliver a great song.

I don’t understand why Ayu and her A&R team didn’t just book time with producers who can help elevate and push the sounds she’s going for. Call up Yohanne Simon of RedOne again. Call Zedd. Call Madeon. Call Grey. Call Danny L. Harle. Damn. Shit. Call up Taku Inoue who composed some of the bangers on the Tekken 7 soundtrack. Call up StoneBridge himself. He even remixed one of Ayu’s songs back in 2008.

Ayu’s reluctance to branch out beyond her tried and true producers is not working for her. At this point it’s not even about Ayu failing to push her sound forward. It’s Ayu failure to just deliver wholly good and memorable songs; which is a result of her refusing to surround herself with people who can actually help her and show her in the best light. The mixing and the vocal production on “Summer Again” is terrible. The arrangement of “Summer Again” is terrible. There are so many questionable decisions made with “Summer Again” that leave me confused. I just cannot believe that a bunch of people sat in a studio, listened to this song, had not a single note, and thought ‘This is great’. Ayu has no taste. And nobody in her circle seems to have any either.

Ayu’s voice is a mixed bag. I’ve never been a fan of it. I find it grating. But there have been moments and instances where she has sounded good. But “Summer Again” is not one of those instances. Ayu’s vocals on the verses sound really bad. So I don’t get why somebody thought it would be a good idea to add a delay to her vocals, so we get to hear bad vocals echo three times at the end of each line. And then Ayu is just wailing on the chorus.

Whilst Ayu knows what her vocal sweet spot is with ballads and angsty pop / rock, she’s yet to find it on her summer dance jams. Ayu tends to sing dance songs the same way she sings any other song, and you can’t just do that when you have a voice and singing style like hers. You have to tap into something different. And it’s not like Ayu can’t tap into that something different. She Ayu tapped into it with “Movin’ On Without You”, so I know she can do it. But she just…chose not to here.

Ayu’s summer songs are probably an event for many of her fans. They know when they’re going to get them, and they know what to expect. So “Summer Again” will probably play better to those within Ayu’s fanbase than those outside of it, which is all that she or her fans really care about. And that's fair enough. But looking at the song objectively, it’s just not good, and it leaves no real lasting impression. And it’s unfortunate, because “Summer Again” was a chance for Ayu to deliver something great, and leave an impression beyond ‘This is boring. This is outdated. This sounds like shit she’s done numerous times before.’ And the timing could not have been better for Ayu to have delivered a great dance record. Pride still in swing. House music having a global revival. The arrival of Summer. The renewed interest there was in Ayu as a result of “Nonfiction”. But Ayu fumbled her designer bag. And as a result we have a song that I imagine many will listen to once or twice, and then pass on in favour of one of several far superior summer songs that Ayu has released in the past.

Verdict: Don’t be shy