Hamasaki Ayumi – GUILTY [9th Studio Album]

January 14, 2008 at 6:08 am (Hamasaki Ayumi) (, )

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Hamasaki Ayumi’s 9th studio album, entitled GUITLY, was released on 01.01.08. A strong point of the album is that all of the emotions of the different songs are clearly displayed and Ayumi went through a lot recording this album. She separated from her boyfriend of 7 years; a very close friend of hers passed away; and she even announced that she had lost hearing in her left ear but will continue making music until it takes away her right ear. Three singles were released before the album. The physical singles: glitter / fated as well as talkin’ 2 myself and digital single: Together When… The album features four interludes so that only leaves 10 full songs and 5 new songs but the album offers a lot emotionally and personally and Ayumi has clearly put her all into this album. The most distinctive sound on the album is its rock flavor.

The album opens up with the introductory track entitled Mirror. The interesting thing about the song is that it’s as if different styles were put together and arranged so that there would be a smooth flow between them. The song begins with a soft pop beat and holds an imagery that runs throughout the album, the image of dolls. There is an image of toy soldiers that comes to mind when listening to the beginning.  Mirror then dives into an edgier upbeat pop sound with rock tints in the beat. After this sound, the song finishes in a slower tempo that could belong to a midtempo / ballad. Overall Mirror is enjoyable and the arrangement of the different sounds prevents the song from sounding choppy.

(don’t) Leave me alone is the second song on the album and definitely a memorable one. It is my both my favorite rock song and my one of my three favorite album songs. The song opens up similar to 1 LOVE (from her 8th studio album, Secret) with pure rock instrumentation and dives into the hot song. The most addictive part of the song is when only the instrumentation is heard since the guitar playing is very well done and sets the perfect atmosphere. It also serves a bridge between the verses and from the chorus. The song ends in an interesting way as she sings “leave me alone now…but don’t leave me alone.” Her vocals are soft and the music stops for a moment to bring the focus on her words. After, the same guitar line repeats and brings the song to a strong close.

The third track, talkin’ 2 myself, is a powerful rock anthem centering on the notion of “creation after destruction.” Ayu uses a lower vocal register than usual in order to fit with the darker instrumentation. I love the pure instrumental section as it reaches a climax effect, melting into the powerful final chorus. This is a very memorable song and the lyrics match the instrumentation perfectly. After reviewing the song on the talkin’ 2 myself single, I think it sounds even stronger in the album, especially coming right after (don’t) Leave me alone.

decision is the fourth track on the album and fits perfectly after talkin’ 2 myself. Using the theme of self-acceptance in this rock ballad, Ayumi creates a powerful and unforgettable song. The verses take more of a ballad approach and the booming rock sound comes in during the hook and jumps to the forefront during the chorus. Ayu’s vocals are particularly strong during the chorus while being hushed during the verses as to draw attention to the words that she sings. After reviewing the song on the talkin’ 2 myself single, I can say it sounds even stronger in the context of the album.

The album’s title track, GUILTY, is the 5th track on the album and unfortunately, it isn’t as memorable as hoped. In my opinion, Ayumi’s title tracks from her previous two albums [(miss)understood and Secret] were both very strong songs but my problem with GUILTY is that it’s a nice song but doesn’t have any part that jumps out. It has a nice instrumentation with bells playing a small role and even an eerie voice in the background saying “guilty or not guilty.” The opening of the song holds the imagery of a desolate industrial wasteland so the opening really sets the track up for a great continuing. The verses and nice and soft and even the hook and chorus have a nice dark feel to them. So the song maintains a very similar sound without vocals being strengthened in order to put emphasis on certain points. It’s a nice listen but I think the arrangement of the song was too simplistic.

fated is the 6th track on the album and although the song is an emotional rock ballad, the song doesn’t me as well with the other rock songs on the album. fated is the personal story of love, drawing on the obvious theme of fate / destiny. The lyrics really are powerful and tell a story so while the emotion is clearly there, the instrumentation is very basic and doesn’t really jump out while listening to it. It’s a nice song but perhaps it should have been shorter as it’s the longest song on the album. I’ve had my ups and downs with this song and although it sounded okay on the glitter / fated single, it sounds a bit more awkward in the contet of the album. However it is a nice transition from rock to ballads.

Together When… is a beautiful heart-touching ballad and the 7th track on the album. Ayumi emotionally sings about wanting to say “thank you” and “I love you” but being unable to so in the future, when she is “reborn,” she will go on a journey to find that person. The instrumental to the song combined with Ayumi’s emotional vocals create the perfect atmosphere fitting with the lyrics. The chorus and the following lines are the most unforgettable parts of the song while the verses serve as bridges between the emotional choruses. The emotion on this song jumps right at you at first listen and is definitely one of Ayumi’s most beautiful and tearful ballads.

Marionette – prelude – is the 8th track on my album and an interlude into the next track, Marionette. This prelude is very pretty and has the imagery of dolls wrapped inside the instrumentation. To me, the element of loneliness is present and it’s as if a doll was wandering in a dark mansion and the sound of clocks only adds to the eeriness. It’s a wonderful interlude that ends perfectly and blends right into the next track.

Marionette is the 9th track and is another one of my three favorite album tracks. The opening to the track bares a similarity to the theme song of Sailor Moon. The striking thing about the song is that the verses belong to a beautiful ballad but the chorus really stands out with slight rock influences. Her vocals during the verses are soft, providing to a sorrowful atmosphere keeping in connection to the theme of being controlled like a puppet (a marionette) and when the chorus strikes, it’s almost as if that control is broken and Ayumi is free. I personally love the instrumentation section as it gives the song a climax effect because right after, both the vocals and instrumentation are soft. Following, is the striking chorus, drawing attention to the words. Due to the song’s rock influences, the ballad is enhanced, creating a memorable song.

The Judgement Day is the 10th track and the third interlude on the album. Ayumi only sings “la la la la” throughout the song, which sets the tone for the song. The interlude begins slower and softer with the organ sounding loud and proud, creating an eerie feeling with the slight hint of the element of loneliness.  However it then crosses over into a more uptempo version with more of a dance feel to it. The interlude ends in a similar way to the beginning with the organ taking more of a dominant role in expressing emotion even without words.

glitter is the 11th track on the album and is an upbeat pop song about the love and happiness. For me, this is Ayumi’s best summer song and still sounds great in the context of the album. The song uses cute English phrases such “yes believe in love” to add to the summer breeziness of the song. I love the pure instrumental section of the song as it also creates a climax effect alongside Ayu’s slightly distorted vocals. After reviewing the song on the glitter / fated single, I can say it hasn’t lost any of its summer flavor.

MY ALL is the 12th track on the album and is another one of my three favorite album tracks. It bears a similarity to Replace from her 6th studio, MY STORY. An upbeat pop song, MY ALL is one of the two happy songs on the album (alongside glitter). The lyrics to the song speak on the joy of love and come from Ayumi’s heart, as expressed through the atmosphere of the song. The verses are quite relaxed in comparison to the rest of the song and the instrumental begins elevating in volume during the hook, serving as a bridge into the catchier and even happier chorus. The guitar used in the instrumental has a sparkling effect which is used especially during the chorus, creating a fun and breezy atmosphere for the song. With the rest of the album speaking of other themes that don’t center on happiness, MY ALL provides a nice change of pace and is an amazing song to complement the album.

reBiRTH is the 13th track and the final interlude on the album. When the track begins, there is an other-worldly element to this interlude that evokes feelings of loneliness and mystery. Then the interlude changes directions slightly and melts into a soft-sounding song with a winter element in it. This section of the song is very reminiscent of LABYRINTH from her 8th studio album, Secret. The interlude ends somewhat similar to how it began with that same other-worldly feeling. It’s very interesting how Ayumi’s interludes are able to effortlessly change direction and bring out different emotions while still maintaining a cohesiveness that connects those feelings.

untitled ~for her~ is the final track on the album and was written for a close friend of Ayu’s who recently passed away. With all of the emotions that Ayu encountered while writing this song, the display of all of them certainly came out on the song. Through the instrumentation, there is an element of hope present. Ayu’s vocals are softer and at some points, it feels as if the instrumental is a bit too loud for her vocals during the verses but during the chorus, her vocals are strengthened and show so much emotion, that there is a definite reliability to the song. This song bears a slight resemblance of criminal [from her 6th studio album, MY STORY]. This was an emotional and personal song to end the album on, really signifying the trying process for Ayumi to create this album.

In order to promote the album, two more PVs were made and they were made to promote two of the best songs on the album, in my opinion. One of the PVs was made for Marionette and the imagery in the PV really connects with the lyrics of the song. It features Ayu and her male dancers as marionettes on a music box. There is an eerie element to the PV, which is especially seen in the eyes of all of them. The darkness of the PV really brings home the message of the song. The other PV was made for (don’t) Leave me alone and this one is more simplistic and involves many colors. Ayumi walks through the hallways of what appears to be a crystal palace, running into various female dancers. Each time Ayu passes a dancer, her tie changes color to match the color of the outfit of the dancer. There is some choreography in the video which is a nice revisit from the talkin’ 2 myself PV.  Although it was simple, I really enjoyed the PV and believe the tie that changes color represents changing one’s self for someone. However in the end, the tie returns to its original color and Ayu is herself again. Both PVs were very well done and did a good job of representing their respective songs.

GUILTY is Ayumi’s 9th album and uses different themes and sounds in order to create a very personal album. Using three primary genres / song approaches, the album maintains a good flow between tracks. The beginning of the album or the “rock section” consists of mostly single tracks. Talkin’ 2 myself and decision were great releases and sound even better in the context of the album. fated sounds nice but doesn’t sound as great as I hoped it would in the context of the album, surrounded by other rock tracks. The two new rock songs were on opposite ends of the spectrum for me. While GUILTY was a bit disappointing (especially for the title track), (don’t) Leave me alone was incredible and one of the best (if not the best) album track and song on the album. The album also offers two pop songs, which are placed together as tracks 11 and 12. glitter still sounds like a great summer song with a great instrumental and MY ALL is an amazing pop song that caught my ears at first listen and remains one of the best songs on the album. The ballads on the album really provide a personal look into Ayumi’s mind. Together When… is a beautiful ballad with touching lyrics and fits perfectly in the context of this album. Marionette emerged as one of my favorite songs on the album and with the theme of control, the lyrics are amazing. untitled ~for her~ definitely is a beautiful song that has a beautiful story to go along with it. The lyrics are personal and the instrumentation suggests a feeling of hope. There are four interludes on the album, which takes away from the number of full songs on the album but luckily they are all well done. Marionette – prelude – is a wonderful introduction to Marionette; The Judgement Day plays with an organ based instrumentation and sounds great; reBiRTH has an out-of-this-world charm that enhances the interlude and the opening track, Mirror, could have stood alone as a full song. Overall, the album has its high points and low points (GUILTY and fated; 4 interludes – number not quality) but because the high points heavily outweigh the low, the album emerges as a cohesive and strong assembly of tracks from the heart.

Album Ranking: A

 

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5 Comments

  1. International Wota » Blog Archive » [Blogs] Amai Wana on New Ayu Album said,

    […] Hamasaki Ayumi – GUILTY [9th Studio Album] […]

  2. LHW said,

    Very detailed review of the album. Although I have different opinions with you on certain songs, overall, a nice album to listen to.

  3. grace said,

    ‘ The song ends in an interesting way as she sings “don’t leave me alone now…but don’t leave me alone.” ‘

    i think you mean she sings “leave me alone now…but don’t leave me alone.”

    just a note.

  4. Nick said,

    I’m glad someone finally agrees that GUILTY was not amazing. I just don’t see how people thought it was so powerful. She sounded really bored. I loved the music and atmosphere though… If only she’d put a bit more energy into it, without making it too quick.

  5. Nick said,

    Whoops, I forgot to specify. I meant the SONG GUILTY, not the ALBUM. Haha, yeah, I loved the album as a whole, I just meant that the song was lackluster xD. Sorry!

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