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
Within the world of music, there exist a special group of artists where I will view a particular group of albums as being part of a particular “period” in their life. For me, what I call Utada Hikaru’s “blue” period is perhaps one of my favorite in the entirety of the Japanese musical universe, if not in music in general.
Utada’s best songs tend to be depression incarnate. Beautifully desolate.
I so title this particular time period – everything between Ultra Blue and Sakura Nagashi – as such because the songs are so intimately connected with death, loss, and depression. Ultra Blue, with its bleak songs, is pretty straightforward. Heart Station lyrically reflects a depressive preparing their suicide – in fact, even the songs Boku wa Kuma and Niji Iro Bus match this, as they mirror the fact that there is a heightened risk of suicide when such persons experience a sudden rush of energy.
So having both grown up with her songs and following Utada’s career as closely as a fangirl on the other side of the planet can, you would be able to imagine just how excited I was that she was coming out of her semi-retirement to create another album.
Then the album came out. Boy, was I underwhelmed.
There seemed to be not a single period of innovation for most of the album. Michi was a continuation of Goodbye Happiness. Hanataba wo Kimi ni and Manatsu no Tooriame were echoes of Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro. Ore no Kanojo sounds like something directly off of Deep River, which can also be said for Nijikan Dake no Vacance, Ningyo, and Tomodachi, all of which echo some combination of songs from that album, with even the audio engineering mirroring the methodology of that particular time. Kouya no Ookami sounded like it was an extension of Amai Wana ~Paint it, Black. Jinsei Saikou no Hi fits perfectly with the tracks off of Heart Station, right down to the lyrical content.
A much better Nijikan Dake no Vacance that doesn’t make you wonder “what if they didn’t just replace some of Utada’s lines with Sheena?”
In fact, the two songs I couldn’t really place into a particular time period were Sakura Nagashi and Boukyaku. Sakura Nagashi, having been released several years prior, still remains one of my favorite Utada songs – hauntingly beautiful, with lyrics written specifically towards her deceased mother. While I really enjoyed the references to some of my favorite Utada songs in Boukyaku, it simply felt too short.
In denial that this was all I was getting from the album, I tried to research what the motivating themes or musical ideas that Utada had going into this album, hoping that some deeper theme might save it. Particularly, I was intrigued by the idea that this album specifically was meant to be a reference to an earlier period of Japanese music termed “New Music”, a movement from the 1970s characterized less by a single musical genre and more by the idea of channeling “raw authenticity” into song. However the more I listened and researched, the more I realized that whatever tenuous connections Fantome had to New Music, it was a result of those influences always being present in Utada’s music as opposed to just in this one album. New ideas these were not.
When I realized that there wasn’t even a semblance of lyrical cohesion, I was forced to simply admit that this album was probably a contractual obligation made on a whim, as opposed to having actual ideas behind it like the rest of her discography (in Japanese, at least). The one song I loved on the album was something created several years ago. The rest were at best simply pleasant as opposed to being breathtakingly magnificent like her previous works. I honestly refuse to believe that this is Utada’s best effort, and I sincerely hope that whatever comes next will take me back to that innovating artist I grew up with.