Release Date: September 28, 2016
- Ore no Kanojo
- Hanataba wo Kimi ni
- Nijikan Dake no Vacance featuring Sheena Ringo
- Tomodachi with Nariaki Obukuro
- Manatsu no Tooriame
- Kouya no Ookami
- Boukyaku featuring KOHH
- Jinsei Saikou no Hi
- Sakura Nagashi
Fantôme is the sixth studio album (9th overall) by Utada Hikaru. It is her first full-length album release after her 5-year hiatus from music and is the follow up to her 2012 digital single Sakura Nagashi, and the spring 2016 singles Hanataba wo KImi ni and Manatsu no Toriame.
This album is described as a collection of stripped down/acoustic tracks influenced by Pop, R&B and electronic music. Written during her hiatus, Fantôme deals with the death of her mother, her second marriage and the birth of her first child. It is also one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016.
The amount of time that Utada has been out of the spotlight can be considered an eternity in the “What have you done for me lately?”, fast paced world of Japanese pop music. For some artists it is impossible to recover from. Her contemporaries Namie Amuro (who is very active) and Ayumi Hamasaki (who is semi-active) have managed to keep themselves in the game with a stream of releases.
The latter (who is much maligned in the twilight years of her career) recently released an album that didn’t suck & reminded many of her glory years. That is not to say Utada is in a similar situation but there is a lot riding on this album. Will this be the beginning of a career resurgence or have her best days passed?
Well the jury’s out on this one. On one hand you have the free spirited chanteuse who is expressing all the emotion from her experiences during her hiatus. The low key approach to every song allows for her vulnerability to take center stage. And on the few happier songs you have abundant joy, elation and gratitude.
On the other hand you get her least commercially acceptable album since Exodus. All the heart wrenching emotion does not necessarily equate to a smooth listening experience. It does start off on the right foot with the up tempo (and somewhat dated sounding) Michi, and the sultry mid tempo Ore no Kanojo.
After that Fantôme gets caught up in a pleasant but rather forgettable string of songs. Yes, even the previously released singles. The best tend to be the collaboration tracks Nijikan Dake no Vacance (with Shina Ringo) and Tomodachi (with Nariaki Obukuro). I would include Boukyaku (with KOHH) but that is way too left field for my tastes.
So the question is was this worth the wait? Of course a plethora of Utada hardcores are going to raise their hands in the air and say “Hallelujah! The Queen is back!” so let’s take them out of the equation.
Instead let us assume you are one who is a Japanese music listener and you are aware of who Utada and her legacy. You are a casual listener who has no loyalty to her either way. If you ask me I will say that this album under delivers despite all the hype surrounding it. I’m not going to stop you from buying or streaming it. It’s just my opinion after all.
I suggest you feed your curiosity and give Fantôme a few complete listens back and forth and decide if it’s worth adding to your Utada discography and or music collection.