Utada Hikaru – HEART STATION [6th Studio Album]

March 28, 2008 at 4:01 pm (Utada Hikaru) (, )

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Utada Hikaru’s 6th studio album, entitled HEART STATION, was released on 03.19.08. Hikki’s ethereal experimentation played a central role in the album to create a cohesive and beautiful album. In interviews, Hikki has mentioned that her role as a woman played a key role in the creation of the album and the album is considered her most “heartwarming” album to date. Marking her 10th anniversary in the music industry, the album was heavily promoted from the very beginning. The singles released before the album were Flavor Of Life, Beautiful World / Kiss & Cry and HEART STATION / Kiss & Cry. In order to further promote the album, Fight The Blues was released to radio stations on 03.08.08.

Opening up the album is Fight The Blues, a synth-powered ethereal track with a positive message. The song begins with a soft synthetic beat and then transitions smoothly into the chorus. The opening line of the chorus [the title] is pronounced in English and thus draws attention to each introduction. The verses consist of two sections: the first maintains the ethereal sound and the other focuses on an edgier beat with Hikki’s breath to create a nice “breakdown.” As always, Hikki’s vocals are strong and compliment the music very well. The ending instrumentation supported by Hikki’s ad-libbbing is a great touch for its catchy and upbeat feeling. Overall the song is a highly enjoyable track and a perfect way to open up HEART STATION.

Following Fight The Blues is a slew of single tracks and the first to appear is HEART STATION. The title track begins with a beautiful instrumentation similar to that of Keep Tryin’ with an ethereal flavor alongside some opening ad-libs. The verses feature smooth vocals and a relaxed instrumentation. The bridge begins to introduce new instruments and the vocal power is strengthened, making a perfect transition into the chorus. The chorus features notes ranging more in the upper register and the ending lines such as “I miss you” and “I love you” are accentuated as she hits the note strongly and draws it out. The lyrics center around the metaphor of a radio station that connects people through the frequencies of the heart. The song then ends with Hikki repeating “heart station” for a wonderful finish. With beautiful lyrics, a beautiful ethereal sound and great vocals, HEART STATION was a perfect choice as the central song of the album.

The ethereal masterpiece, Beautiful World, is the third song of the album. Opening up with a magical and ethereal sound, Hikki then sings “it’s only love” before coming into the chorus. The English lines “beautiful boy” and “beautiful world” and those similar to those stand out since Hikki uses her upper register to hit them flawlessly. The instrumentation of the verses highlight certain lines, which Hikki’s voice perfectly accentuates. The pure instrumental section alongside some ad-libbing sounds beautiful and gives spotlight to the wonderful sounds of the song. Beautiful World ends with Hikki repeating “beautiful world” to give a strong finish. Although the song is uptempo, the lyrics are tinged with a feeling of sadness and the arrangement of the song suits that. The song was strong when it was released as a single but is even stronger on HEART STATION.

Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version, – the smash single of 2007, comes as the fourth track on HEART STATION. Beginning with the soft chorus, this version captures the sorrowful element of the lyrics from the very opening. The vocals of the chorus show her range and ability to draw out notes to create the most memorable section of the song. The verses features vocals in the lower register and because of the instrumentation, they seem even lower than those of the original version. This version of the song suits the lyrics perfectly by spotlighting the powerful emotion after losing a loved one. The ending of the song is one of the song’s strongest moments due to Hikki’s strong ad-libbing. By putting the emotions to the forefront, Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version – is one of Hikki’s most memorable songs and comes more to life in the context of the album.

The fifth track, Stay Gold, is a piano-driven ballad. After a sweet piano interlude, the beautiful chorus comes in. The vocals within the chorus stay primarily in the upper register and make a good contrast to the verses, which generally stay in the lower range. The bridge is a perfect bridge into the chorus because of the introduction of new instrumentation as well as a shift in vocal style to more of a beautiful breathiness. The phrase “My Darling, Stay Gold” particularly stands out as it is in English and gives the chorus even more flavor. Drawing on inspiration from a Stevie Wonder song of the same name as well as a Robert Frost poem entitled “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Stay Gold sounds even stronger in the context of the album than it did on the single. The truly magical and ethereal element of the song is brought to the forefront for an enjoyable experience.

The final song in the slew of singles is one of my personal favorite single songs from the HEART STATION era. The song begins very strangely with the blaring of horns and then the true sound of the song comes in. The verses feature some good vocals from Hikki that support the instrumentation well. The hook is a good bridge into the chorus by introducing new sounds and even the horns blaring finishes off the hook. The chorus shows more of Hikki’s range and seperates it as being so very strong. The lyrics are bit strange at some points such as “cup of noodles” but they provide for a certain light-heartedness atmosphere of the song. The third verse is somewhat similar to Flavor Of Life by lowering the instruments to focus on the beat and lyrics, which are in English as it begins. The song ends with Hikki’s strongest ad-libbing on the album as she sings “you’ve got me on a natural high.” She hits the notes perfectly and brings the song to an extremely strong finish. The overall theme of the song, freedom, is personnified through the lyrics and the uptempo instrumentation makes the message even stronger. Kiss & Cry is one of Hikki’s best songs and its immense strength as a single is even greater in the album.

Gentle Beast Interlude serves as the 7th track on the album and the traditional album interlude. It opens up with some nice adlibbing from Hikki before coming into the real uptempo beat. Bits of “HEART STATION” are heard such as the opening ad-libs as well as a whispering of the title. There is also the sound of laughing intertwined that sounds great in the context of the interlude. The entire track consists of Hikki adlibbing but those vocals come even stronger near the end to finish it off amazingly. Gentle Beast Interlude is the perfect interlude of the album since it intertwines the overall sounds of the album and makes an effortless transition into Celebrate. Hikki’s best interlude to date certainly makes a strong impression on the album and makes it very memorable.

The transition from Gentle Beast Interlude into the next track, Celebrate, is effortless for a reason. The two tracks were put on the same demo disc and were seperated for the creation of these two respective songs. Following an instrumental section if the first verse which features smooth vocals that compliment the dance beat. The English lines featured in the hook makes it strongly step out. The phrases “Mr. DJ” and “sexy lady” are accentuated and really show the fun atmosphere of the song. The chorus features relatively simple lyrics but work so well with the music that it’s still really enjoyable. The instrumental section sounds perfect here as it transitions from maintaing that same dance beat to a breakdown where the instrumentation is pushed to the background to focus on the beat. The song ends with Hikki singing “I love the way you make me feel” among other lines to create an excellent finish to a great song. Celebrate is definitely a perfect addition to the album and while maintaing the same sound as the rest of the album, the song takes it in a different direction.

In contrast to the dance-track Celebrate comes a track centralized around strings: Prisoner Of Love. The song opens up Hikki singing “I’m a prisoner of love” and transitions smoothly into the first verse. Notable from the very beginning, Hikki’s vocals sounds great. The hook serves as a bridge from the verses to the chorus by introducing some new instruments that come fuller in the chorus. The arrangement of the chorus alongside the instrumentation creates an amazing sound that stands out clear and strong. The short phrasing of the lyrics gives them emphasis and the tone that she uses perfectly suits the song. The song ends with Hikki singing “stay with me” various times and provides a strong finish for a strong track. Prisoner Of Love is one of the strongest songs on the entire album and Hikki’s mentioning of being proud of the track comes across vividly.

テイク 5, the most creative song on the album, serves as track number 10. Following a powerful opening instrumental comes the soothing verse. Hikki’s softer vocals alongside a very slick instrumentation combine to create such a unique and unforgettable combination. The hook features primary vocals staying within the lower range alongside some other vocals that show her true range. The chorus is pretty simplistic but the booming instrumentation compliments her voice so well that it steps out so strong, especially following the lower pitched hook. The song finishes off with instrumentation supported by Hikki’s ad-libbing. The complete finish of the song is very strange as it sounds like it was cut off in the middle but with the overall atmosphere of the song, it belongs right at home.

ぼくはくま, a cute children’s song and the first single released before the album, finds its home on HEART STATION. Although I was initially nervous about the song being placed on the album, it sounds perfect. The song is very simple and mainly consists of the chorus. Although the song doesn’t feature that true ethereal beauty that the others possess, there is a certain childlike magical feeling that goes with the overall feeling of the album. Hikki even speaks in French in the middle of the song to add to the cute factor. Besides that line and the chorus, there are few other actual lines but the cuteness of the song speaks for itself. The song truly belongs on the album and makes a smooth connection to the next track.

Creating a fluid transition from the previous track, 虹色バス serves as the twelfth (and official final) track on the album. It begins with a light-hearted instrumental before going into the chorus. The tone of her voice in conjunction with the instrumental definitely gives a cheerful feeling and while the lyrics are arguably tinged with sorrow, the sound of the song fits perfectly after the previous track. The hook once again serves as a bridge as it introduces new instrumental additions and flows perfectly into the chorus. The instrumental section following the chorus is very interesting as Hikki’s ad-libbing experiences both a lowering and highering in pitch as it looms. The song ends with the repeating of “everybody feels the same” and provides a nice finish to the song. 虹色バス is a perfect way to finish the album with heartwarming lyrics, a wonderful sound and Hikki’s magical touch.

While the ballad version made the official tracklisting, Flavor Of Life was added as a bonus track. This version is the upbeat (and my personal favorite) version of the song. The song opens strongly with the chorus and then makes a smooth transition into the first verse. The note that she holds on “life” sounds great alongside the instrumentation and brings the chorus to a nice finish. The hook serves as a bridge between the verses and chorus by introducing new instrumentation, putting an emphasis on the strength of the chorus. The instrumentation change in the third verse is a nice touch as it gives it more of a dramatic effect before returning to the usual sound. The song ends with the repeating of “Flavor Of Life” to bring the album (including bonus track) to a perfect close. Adding this version of the song as a bonus track was wise so that the album could appeal to people who prefer this version over the other.

Album Ranking: A +

Hikki’s 6th studio album, HEART STATION, uses an ethereal sound to communicate different emotions and consists of various sounds to make the album a cohesive and enjoyable album. All the songs released beforehand as singles were strong: from the uptempo Flavor Of Life and Kiss & Cry to the emotional Stay Gold and Flavor Of Life – Ballad Version – to the true personnification of ethereal sound Beautiful World and even the cute and childish ぼくはくま. The album tracks keep up with the single tracks and even the interlude sounds amazing. From the true creativity of テイク 5 to the beautiful string-ballad Prisoner Of Love to the perfect opening ethereal and synth masterpiece Fight The Blues to the magical 虹色バス, the album features various jewels that especially shine when listening to the album as a whole. The lyrics do prove that this is Hikki’s most heartwarming album to date and her production on the album really shows what she can do. There is not one single mis-step on this album and she really delivered a quality album which showed who she really is.

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5 Comments

  1. taelin said,

    I loved this album too, but I must disagree with you on one thing: IMO, the ballad version of FoL was much better.

  2. Simon said,

    Jesus Christ Superstar, I can’t stand how since Passion everyone is like “Oh you know, Sanctuary is so ETHEREAL! Utada is so ~~ethereal~~ and so are her songs and stuff!! omg loves kh2 and sanctuary!111one”… it’s sooo… LAME. And it’s such an incredibly tacky adjective. Ugh.

  3. Krisko said,

    Ugh, I hated this album. It was pure crap to me. Sorry Utada, you = not genius music producer. Please. Get off your high horse and stop being pretentious. Thank you.

  4. haatosuteishon said,

    If you hated this album, why did you even read this post anyway.

  5. Kyree said,

    I really liked this album. After the somewhat more fast-paced ULTRABLUE, I really liked how these songs were a bit more mellow and relaxed.
    I heard Heart Station and Flavor Of Life (Ballad Version) as the album was released, all over Tokyo, and it was great when I got my hands on the cd.

    My favourite songs would be ‘Beautiful World’, Take5 and Stay Gold.

    PS: If you didn’t like the music – sure. Post your impressions. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But how about learning some respect and not attacking the poster. They’re entitled to their opinion too. You seem to be on a pretty high horse yourself…
    You needn’t post if you’re not going to say anything constructive.

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