Utada Hikaru – Flavor Of Life [18th Single]

December 31, 2007 at 11:23 pm (Utada Hikaru)

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 Utada Hikaru’s 18th single, Flavor Of Life, was released on 02.28.07. The ballad version of the song received a major tie-in: an insert song for the ever popular dorama Hana Yori Dango 2. The single features two different versions, each using a different tempo to establish a different atmosphere.

The single opens with Flavor Of Life – Original Version, – an uptempo version of Flavor Of Life. This is my personal favorite version of the song since I feel an atmosphere of hope. The lyrics of both versions speak of the magic of love remaining after the relationship ends but the tempo and vocals of the song suggest a hope for the future. While this is Hikki’s first single after her divorce from Kiriya Kazuaki, the lyrics and atmosphere tie in very nicely. The song uses an slight electronic sound to deliver an uptempo song with beautiful lyrics. Hikki’s vocals are very nice in this one and blend well with the music, creating an A+ song.

The second track, entitled Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version, – emerged as the more popular version among the general Japanese public. This version was used as an image song for the extremely popular Japanese dorama, Hana Yori Dango 2. Although I prefer the original version, this song has various strengths. The biggest strength of the song is Hikki’s strong vocals, which are highlighted at the end of the song during her ad-libbing. Throughout the song, her vocals are very impressive and match the song’s atmosphere. While the original version has a tone of hope within it, this version seems to spotlight the tearful goodbye element of the end of a relationship. This ballad definitely brings the emotional side of the song to the forefront, which gives a greater appeal and even greater relability to many but I personally prefer the original version.

The first press bonus for the single is Flavor Of Life – Antidote Mix, – which bears a closer resemblance to the ballad version with slightly distorted vocals for Hikki in order to create a slightly upbeat tone. This song sounds like a mesh between both the original and ballad versions to create this one. There isn’t much to say about this version but it’s a nice song to listen to if you’re in the mood.

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The original version of the song has no PV but because of its tie-in with Hana Yori Dango 2 and its popularity, the ballad version received an official PV. However, the PV is merely Hikki performing it in a studio with other musicians playing the instruments. The purpose of a PV is to promote the song is technically, that’s what the video does but it would have been nice to see other scenes or something with a little originality. But this video was viewed very many times, despite the simplistic nature of it.

Single Ranking: A +

Both versions of Flavor Of Life are present on this single and although they use the same lyrics, they both present very different atmospheres. My personal favorite, Flavor Of Life – Original Version, – suggests a feeling of hope present in the instrumental and there is a more focus on the uptempo instrumentation. In Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version, – the spotlight is on Hikki’s amazing vocal talents and the emotional presence in the tempo. This is a wonderful single that brought Hikki great sales (number 2 single on the Oricon Year 2007 Charts) and it’s no surprise why.

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Koda Kumi – LAST ANGEL featuring Tohoshinki [38th Single]

December 30, 2007 at 7:17 am (Koda Kumi) ()

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promo.jpgKoda Kumi’s 38th single, entitled LAST ANGEL, was released on 11.07.07. A collaboration with boy-band Tohoshinki, LAST ANGEL is an upbeat track that served as the image song for the Japanese release of the movie Resident Evil: Extinction. It was also used in a music.jp CM. The B-side, entitled Dear Family, is a soft mid-tempo track that works wonders.

The title track, LAST ANGEL, opens with the phrase “Welcome to Nightmare World tonight” with a somewhat haunting atmosphere and then breaks into the pop explosion with “shout a warning, come on tonight.” This track is a wonderful collaboration that introduced me to Tohoshinki. Kumi sings the first verse while the Tohoshinki boys take the second verse, both singing the chorus. Their voices blend quite well and the vocals on all of their parts is well split and strong. At times, some of the vocalists of Tohoshinki take a lead on vocal strength but overall, the mix is even. A great upbeat track worth remembering.

Dear Family is a mid-tempo B-side that is actually A-side material. Kumi’s vocals are smooth throughout the song but a relaxing vibe is achieved during the verses. The hook is memorable as Kumi repeats phrases in English in a more hushed tone [“close my heart” and “dear family, baby”], creating a catchy soft sound. The chorus is one of the best parts as it maintains a small kawaii element that reminds me a sunshine imagery. This is one of Kumi’s best B-sides and puts many others to shame.

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The PV for LAST ANGEL features mostly choreography with both Kumi and Tohoshinki although there are some individual scenes, such as Kumi in a room wearing a very long weave. This video is a nice video although I feel there’s some element missing. A story PV would’ve worked better for the song instead of various scenes where the choreography is interrupted by an individual’s scene. However, with the treatment that the PV was given, it is a job very well done.

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Koda Kumi – 愛のうた [37th Single]

December 29, 2007 at 9:48 am (Koda Kumi)

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Koda Kumi’s 37th single, entitled 愛のうた, was released on 09.12.07. The single features the title track, a beautiful ballad about the “fragility of love” and the B-side, the cute pop track “Come Over.” Both songs received tie-ins: 愛のうた was used in a music.jp CM while Come Over was used as the Sekai Judo 2007 theme song.

The title track, 愛のうた, is one of Kumi’s wonderful ballads. The sorrowful atmosphere is clearly defined within the instrumental and lyrics of the song. Lyric-wise, they are relatively simple but in the context of the song, they are very powerful and communicate the emotions that she is feeling. Her vocals on this song are particularly impressive and reflect the loneliness that is propelled by the dreams of love. The instrumental to the song is arranged so well using a climax effect right before the chorus in order to draw attention to it. The true climax of the song is reached right after the instrumental section and before the final chorus. This is when Kumi’s vocals are at her strongest and the emotion touches the heart strings.

Come Over is a pop track about love which holds its own on the single. Upbeat and cheerful, featuring the repeating “I just wanna see you, let’s try.” Relying more on her “kawaii voice,” the song even features cheering during the hook and segways wonderfully into the infectious pop chorus. The verses themselves sound more relaxed in comparison to the rest of the song while maintaining that cuteness. At the final chorus, Kumi gives a little more power to her vocals and the song ends just as it begins, with the hook. The instrumental of the song is sweet, complimenting Kumi well without straying too far into an overdose of kawaii.

The first press bonus of the single is a remix of 愛のうた entitled 愛のうた [URBAN KISS Version]. It doesn’t differ that much from the original except for the piano, which is brought to the forefront of the instrumentation. I prefer the original version much more than this one but the piano truly is beautiful.

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The accompanying PV for 愛のうた is relatively simple but fits the mood of the song perfectly. It begins with Kumi standing outside of a store watching happy couple pass along. In a dream sequence, she imagines herself with her boyfriend. Noticing a necklace in the window, she points it out to her boyfriend who shakes his head. The PV really shows a story between dreams and reality and the fragility of love, as mentioned. Her emotions are clearly displayed in the PV, especially the scenes where her boyfriend shakes his head in reaction to Kumi’s pointing of a necklace and her tears seem truly real. The rain is a nice touch and the ending is sweet.

 Single Ranking: A

The coupling of the beautifully arranged 愛のうた and pop tune, Come Over, create this great single. The emotions showed on the A-side and the sweetness of the B-side both are very different songs, showing two sides of Kumi, both sung very well.

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Koda Kumi – FREAKY [36th Single]

December 28, 2007 at 11:13 am (Koda Kumi) ()

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Koda Kumi’s 36th single, entitled FREAKY, was released on 02.27.07. The single features four different songs, showcasing the “kawaii Kuu” and the “kakkoi Kuu.” The tie-in for the title track, FREAKY, was a CM for Honda ZEST SPORTS.

The opening track on the single is the most powerful: FREAKY. With elements of rock captured in the song, FREAKY showcases an “in-your-face” beat with powerful vocals. During the promotion for the single, Kumi was participating in an anti-bullying campaign, which speaks to the song’s message about being able to reach dreams in the future. Kumi’s vocals are brought to forefront on this song in the beginning of the song and at the end, displaying Kuu’s ability to deliver great vocals on point. Her “kakkoi” side is brought out on this one and FREAKY remains the strongest song on the single.

The second song is the ever-popular, 空. While this song is widely enjoyed by the Japanese public, this song is my least favorite on the single. However that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song. This song is sung more from the perspective of “super kawaii Kumi” but instead of a hyper and energetic track, the verses are quite mellow while the chorus uses energy. The effect of this arrangement is that the chorus emerges as more memorable.

The third song is the pop cuteness of Run For Your Life. Of the three “kawaii songs,” this one is the strongest since it strays away from a typical cute song formula. One notable point about the song is that Kumi doesn’t use as much of her “cute voice.” During the verses, Kumi’s vocals are lowered but approach the “cute line” during the hook and come out on the chorus, creating a catchy pop song. The subject of the song is attempting to talk to a crush in spite of nervousness. So, in order to accomplish this goal, Kumi “runs for her life” and takes the chance. A very cute song that doesn’t stick to a formulaic beat, making it sweet and catchy.

The fourth and final song is another kawaii offering, which also became very popular with the Japanese: girls. Between 空 and this song, the “super kawaii Kumi” is brought out on this single. girls, however, emerges as my personal favorite between the two. Using a wonderful instrumental and Kumi’s ultra-cute vocals, the song really does bring out the feeling of summer that is associated with the cute songs. When I listen to this song, I can’t help but smile and neither can Kumi when she performs it. Throughout the song, there are some pure instrumental sections, which add to the summery love atmosphere the song presents. Definitely an unforgettable song for anyone who’s ever been in love.

The first pressing of the single replaces the instrumentals of each song with individual remixes. However, none of these remixes particularly stand apart from the original versions. The first remix, entitled FREAKY [Surtek Collective’s Action Remix] features Peter Rap takes on a reggae approach but it ends up much worse than the original. One of the strongest aspects of FREAKY, the vocals, are hushed on this remix and Peter Rap’s section near the end is absolutely un-necessary. The second remix is 空 [Yukihiro Fukutomi Remix] and this one doesn’t do very much but speed up the tempo of the song and use a slightly different instrumental. Truly, this remix isn’t necessary as it barely changes a thing but at least, it maintains elements of the original that keep it a nice listen, especially during the small instrumental sections. The third remix, Run For Your Life [Kasade Remix] also doesn’t do very much but like the remix of FREAKY, the vocals are lowered. This technique definitely does not create a better mix of the song so I really don’t know why the approach is continuously used. Once again, the remix really isn’t necessary. The final remix is girls [CUBISMO GRAFICO Beach Girls MIX] and this is the only remix I see being worthwhile on the single. The rhythm of the song is kept the same but other instruments are brought in and are louder, creating a memorable remix. While the remix of 空 is nice, this remix is actually likeable. It’s during the short instrumental sections that the change and love really is brought out. So out of 4 given remixes, two are un-necessary, one is “nice” while the remaining is good.

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Two accompanying PVs for this single were released. The PV for FREAKY (left) began with Kumi initially in captivity of men. However, she escapes and with her girls, she fights back against them. The PV definitely suggests the strength of a woman in conjunction with the anti-bullying campaign to create a wonderful yet powerful PV. The PV for Run For Your Life (right) definitely follows cuteness. The style of the PV is based off of that of a comic book to tell the story of two sides of Kumi. One Kumi is very confident and is able to talk to her crush very easily. The other is more nervous and represents more of a “cute” side. Truly cute indeed, the PV features somewhat non-sensical English such as the premise of “monopolizing a boyfriend.” However both PVs compliment their respective songs well.

Single Ranking: A

This quadruple A-side features four different songs, both featuring “kakkoi” and “kawaii.” FREAKY is a power song that is definitely memorable. girls and Run For Your Life are both energetically cute and pop tracks that present the sounds of summer while 空 is both cute and relaxing. The PVs that were created for this single represent the style of the respective songs very well and with four songs, this single is another score for Kumi.

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Koda Kumi – BUT / 愛証 [35th Single]

December 28, 2007 at 5:48 am (Koda Kumi) ()

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Koda Kumi’s 35th single, entitled BUT / 愛証, was released on 03.14.07. The only tie-in for the single was “BUT,” which was used as the theme song for the Japanese release of the movie, Step Up.

The single opens up with “BUT.” This song is by far one of favorite Koda Kumi songs. Since the song was used as the image song for the Japanese release of Step Up, a hot dance song was only appropriate. “BUT” showcases a “destructive beat” that compliments Kumi’s vocals well to create an unforgettable dance anthem. The most addictive part is the chorus, when she repeats “you know you love yourself” but truly the infectious rhythm continues throughout the entire song. My personal favorite sections are the chorus and following hook. This song was the perfect theme song for a movie on the subject on dancing because the song makes you want to dance yourself. In my personal opinion, this song deserves “Song Of The Year” of the Oricon Year 2007.

The other A-side, entitled 愛証, is a beautiful rock ballad. The true strength of this song is the raw emotion that is presented within her vocals. Kumi uses low vocals during the verses and are more powerful during the chorus. Another strength of the song is the lyrics, that tell a story that matches with the emotional atmosphere of the song. The story of the song is Kumi’s regret on letting someone precious to her go. A beautiful tale that is personnified strongly within this gem of a song.

The third track on this single is entitled BUT ~The Ghettobots Remix.~ The remix does nothing to change the song drastically as not to alter the amazing original. The beat is brought down during both the verses and the hook and is raised to stand out during the chorus. It’s not much of a change from the original but it does provide a nice change of pace.

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The accompanying PVs for both song are definitely unforgettable. In the PV for BUT, Kumi is chained by the wrist in a very colorful room. After attempts to break the chain, she is successful and enters the elevator. For the remainder of the video, she flirts and parties with the stewardesses. For a split second, she kisses one of the stewardesses, reflecting the theme of acceptance of homosexuality, that she states is covered within the song. In my personal opinion, this is the PV of the Oricon Year of 2007. The other PV for “Aishou” is amazing as well. It is simple yet very elegant, showcasing that true emotion that is presented in the song. It features Kumi in a dazzling kimono, reflecting a traditional Japanese element. Against the moonlight, Kumi looks amazing and the PV sparkles.

Single Ranking: A +

Both songs of this double A-side present such growth and strength in Kumi’s music, it’s hard not to love them. “BUT” definitely achieves it’s strength through it’s infectious chorus and hot dance beat while 愛証 is a beautiful love story with heart touching lyrics and a wonderful rock sound. The PVs for both songs compliment each respective song and this double A-side is certainly one of Kumi’s best efforts.

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