After struggling to get through the epic LOVEppears, it turned out to be a lot easier to deal with its follow-up “Duty”. Thankfully its slim 51-minute runtime really helped me rack up the repeated listens, and I’m pleased to report I LOVE IT. Happily, so did Japan, who made it Ayumi’s biggest seller, and as I write this the 22nd biggest seller of all time in Japan. Not too shabby!
07 Starting over – Another great warm-up intro, easing us gently into an immediately dance-oriented album. Not much to it as a song, but it serves its function very well.
08 Duty – Hmm, a bit of a weird change of tempo, why a dance intro to a dramatic string-laden track like this? Anyway very atmospheric and serious, I love that flamenco guitar’s very brief moments, into an amazing rhythm section. I wonder if this needed an intro track before it, it sets up the tone for the album wonderfully. That’s a complicated chorus to sing, but she navigates those highs and lows really well. OK so there isn’t a lot of meat to this song, particularly as one of the longest songs on the album, but I still enjoyed it.
09 Vogue – Into a very evocative Middle-Eastern vibe now, with that … I don’t know what that is, not a sitar is it? A strong melody, reminds me a little of old Sonic the Hedgehog games actually, which if you know me at all is NO BAD THING. It’s a little light on content, leaving a lot of the effort to the great production, but the vocal sections are really nice, especially the bridges to the chorus. This is one of the earlier songs I remember from my initial Ayumi craze about 8 years ago, and I still love it.
08 End of the world – A chilled-out intro for such a serious-sounding song title. Finally she gets a chance to take the front seat with her vocals, while the production keeps very much in the background. That chorus is pretty pained, but the emotion is believable, there’s a bit of sadness about this song – I suppose you would be sad if it’s the end of the world, wouldn’t you? It’s a bit disjoint really, those gentle verses and the rockier louder choruses. Not sure it all ties together but it’s a memorable track.
07 SCAR – Oh are we finally getting some dance music? After that brief intro, it seems we aren’t. So it’s on to another stark-sounding ballad. It’s almost like a folk song isn’t it? It’s very melodic, I like that, even if the chorus is a bit wet. It feels like something from one of her first two albums instead, not really a lot to it. I mean it’s OK, it keeps well with the tone of the album, but I can see why this never made it as a single.
08 Far away – The second single in a trilogy of videos that took in Vogue and Seasons. That distorted vocal sample is really memorable, and adds a really distinctive feel to the production. The chorus has more weight to it as well, she needs a happy song already though, this is all very downbeat. I like the echoing piano music in the middle-eight, and generally I like this song a lot. It just doesn’t have any real hook to mark it as a classic.
10 Surreal – Now this is what I’m talking about. A proper dance track, with a great dream-sequence video and a fast-paced vocal. I love how this builds up, feels like one of her better moments on LOVEppears. The guitars don’t always work for me in the dance songs but this really fits for me. I love that part halfway through when all the noise just stops for a second and she gives a really uplifting vocal part. I think the song needed to be broken up like this, there are too many tracks on this album that sound OK but are just too repetitive. Things really go up to a dizzying speed for the second half, really love it.
09 Audience – Oh what a uplifting start, really peppy and fun, even a little *clap clap* for the audience. I’ve only seen a little clip of this as a live video, I guess promoting her tour, and it’s a song that I could see working well there. That chorus is gorgeous, I love it! That rapid-fire jazzy synth bit between the choruses is great too. I overlooked this song back when I started listening to her, so it’s good that I can find little gems still!
08 Seasons – That intro is great, gentle piano with a barely audible military drumbeat in the background, and then with a pause, it’s onto the BIG ballad. Rounding off the Vogue/Far Away/Seasons trilogy, this became Ayumi’s 3rd million-seller, and her 2nd bestseller overall, after 4-track EP “A”. So as a single song it’s her biggest, and I can see the appeal. While the ballad might not be my favourite type of song, I can at least appreciate when it’s ben done well. It’s got a solid piano riff, a strong melody, and was really riding a wave of popularity for Ayumi at the time. I love that naff guitar solo before the last stage too!
06 Teddy Bear – Shame we couldn’t keep up that grand scale for the next ballad. In fact, instead of trying to compete, this is a much simpler ballad than anything we’ve heard so far, just her and a piano really. Starts off slowly, but the second verse is delivered quickly and sounds pretty good. I can’t say I’m crazy about the chorus though, and she’s got that strained tone of voice again that I don’t really like. It does go on for a while too … it’s quite sweet but a bit of a comedown from Seasons.
08 Key (Eternal tie version) – A gentle guitar strums the intro, and instantly there’s a better melody than in Teddy Bear. OK it’s still a little pedestrian, but it’s a step in the right direction. The bridge is good too, and it really starts to get going when we reach the chorus. Actually this is better than I remember it! I love the harmonising choir in the background to a lot of her songs, it really adds a great tone to them. I really LOVE that middle-eight with the strings and choir, really has a ‘big’ feel to it. This is a ballad that more than holds its own with Seasons in my opinion, a real grower that gets to a satisfying ending.
10 Girlish – Now this is one of the random tracks I fell in love with about 6 years ago when I first heard it. That random sneeze too, suddenly it feels a bit more organic. I know it was a pretty cheap track to get me to think that, but it’s a really lovable track guaranteed to bring out a smile. It’s kept pretty simple, a little Brit-poppy almost. The chorus is sweet, reminds me of the end credits to an anime or something. I love the vocals just after that guitar solo for some reason, and then afterwards it’s a really feelgood “na-na-na” song until the end. The song feels really out of touch with the rather morose feel to the rest of the album, but it’s a very welcome bit of sunshine!!
Looking at those scores, it’s a consistently good album, I can’t deny that. Individually though, the songs rarely hit gold in the same way as some moments of LOVEppears did. There are a few fond favourites on there though, so I should be happy with that. With a much less bloated run-time than the first two albums, it’s a lot easier to listen to though, I don’t need to psyche myself up to hear it again! I’m excited at the next album, so this was a good stepping stone in that direction.
Keepers for the iPod: Duty, Vogue, Far away, Surreal, Audience, Seasons, Key, Girlish