Critic’s Corner: Utada – This is the One

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This definitely isn’t the first time JPOP singer Utada Hikaru has released an American album, but it strives to be her most relevant English release yet. As an Asian artist signed to a major label (Island Def Jam) she definitely has an uphill battle in winning over a western audience, despite her mega-star status back in Japan. Almost every asian-american I know born before 1990 knows her hit ‘First Love‘, whether they understood it or not. So the question remains, is ‘This is the One’ … the one to bring her the same level of recognition to a broader demographic? Read on to find out after the break.

Come Back to Me – This track is easily my favorite song on the album. It was a great decision to make this her first single as it gets nearly every aspect of what a pop record should be right. It’s catchy, it’s current, it’s relevant, and it doesn’t seem to make any compromises as it remains heartfelt.  When I first heard this record months back it gave me high hopes for her album. My only complaint was I thought a couple lines of the lyrics were a bit odd but overall R&B pop doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. Also, I’m just relieved it’s much better than her last lead single ‘Easy Breezy‘.

Me Muero – What stands out the most to me about this track is the production. This slightly upbeat number has a tinge of Latin flavor that works out pretty well. I thought the track was decent but not great. There is something about it that seems just a tad bit undercooked, as if it’s missing an extra sparkle. Sonically it’s a cool listen but as a complete song it falls a little short.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI – Making brilliant use of a piano sample by Ryūichi Sakamoto, this song is carried by fantastic production. It adds a great bounce that makes the song fun yet still hauntingly beautiful. This song isn’t quite as strong as ‘Come Back to Me’ but it comes pretty close. It’s just strange to hear Utada say she’s “chillin and flossin” although I have no idea if she talks like that in real life. Once again a great song with my only complaint being the occasional odd writing.

Apple and Cinnamon I gotta admit I have no clue what it means to have chemistry like apple and cinnamon although I can take a guess. This track is a pretty catchy upbeat r&b number but I wish they added more oomph to the drum programming as it sounds a tad flat. The instrumental makes good use of pianos and cellos and overall comes together really well. The lyrics on this one don’t really stand out in a good or bad way. I think it just goes on a little too long for what is ultimately a simple pop song.

Taking My Money Back – This is the most story driven track on the album. Utada comes close to pulling it off well but isn’t quite able to communicate the tongue in cheek attitude that she seems to want to convey. In other words she’s not quite sassy enough. Regardless it’s still a fun track even if it isn’t her best. The song narrates the story of a woman who is fed up with her deadbeat man that can only satiate her physical needs and nothing else. It’s a pretty cool concept but I just wish it was executed better.

This One (Crying Like a Child) – This is the closest thing the album has to a title track as the album title was conceived from this song. I think a lot of people may disagree with me here but I really like this track. At first listen it seems like your typical R&B, woe is me ballad, but there is something about it that drew me in. It’s kinda dark and beautiful and I think the sadness Utada is able to convey in her paradoxically soft but rough voice is compelling. It’s just plain believable, which is always a great element to have in music. I personally enjoyed this one although I imagine many of you may be bored.

Automatic Part II – OK, so this song is a successor to her Japanese mega-hit Automatic in pretty much title only. It’s an OK urban dance influenced song. First time I heard it I thought it was just plain silly but after hearing Utada explain that she was being satirical in nature and parodying different styles I came to appreciate it just a little bit more. Overall I think it’s kind of a filler track that is in no way better than the first ‘Automatic‘.

Dirty Desire – This track has a great dance beat and is pretty decent until you pay attention to the lyrics. The writing comes off as really awkward. First of all, I’m not really a fan of the phrase ‘I love U long time’. I think it’s dumb and a little condescending to Eastern culture. Secondly to hear Utada talk about fantasizing about 69’s doesn’t really come off as sexy… but rather more raunchy and contrived. The song’s got a good beat but the writing feels pretty sloppy to me. The production sort of falls apart in the end though with a really out of place break down. In the end it’s just an average, schizophrenic track.

Poppin’ – If ‘Come Back to Me’ was the example of what to do with a pop song, ‘Poppin’ is the exact opposite. It has a barely intriguing British influence in the production but everything else is executed poorly. Utada sings much of the song in her upper register and it doesn’t match the song well. She occasionally adds spoken narration but it sounds too out of place. I find very little to like about this song.

On and On – This track is definitely one for the clubs. All it needs is Fatman Scoop and you’re set for a dance hit. This song is catchy, the production is fun, and it has a great upbeat vibe. I would love to hear a remix with TI or Jay-Z on this one as it’s almost begging for a rapper to feature. This song is a pretty good way to close out the album.

The physical CD has 3 bonus tracks from Kingdom Hearts on there but I won’t comment on them in this review. They don’t add a whole lot anyways.

Conclusion:
Utada did a lot of things right with this album, but it definitely has it’s fair share of missteps. The production is very strong on this one, striking a pretty decent balance between catchy, relevant, and longevity. The writing on the other hand has it’s minor ups and major downs. It seems a lot of the stylistic choices and directions were done intentionally by Utada but unfortunately it didn’t translate and relay quite as well as it should have. There are a few stand out tracks on the album but it’s weighed down by a bunch of merely decent ones and one really bad song. Plus at a measly 10 tracks, every song counts. After watching the video of her explaining each track I was tempted to bump the overall score up half a point but I decided against it and went with my original score. I think that Utada tried to cater to Western tastes too much and lost some of her charm as a result. My sister, who isn’t much of a pop/r&b fan to begin with, didn’t like the album much at all. I guess it goes to show that with this release, Utada may not be able to convert new fans to this style of music. However if you already appreciate the genre I think you would find it to be an enjoyable, almost pretty good release that doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Must Listen: Come Back to Me, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI, This One (Crying Like a Child), On and On

aTunes Score: 7.5/10

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