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Ayumi Hamasaki – “Party Queen” Review

Ayumi Hamasaki. A tireless release schedule. I’ve noticed her albums with me personally seem to flip-flop between stunningly rocking pop tracks to more uninspired. “Party Queen” should be on the stunning after I failed to really click with mini album Five nor massively with Rock N Roll Circus. Let’s see…

“Party Queen” goes straight for the jugular with a catchy dance rock number. A bending chord progression and some simple lyrics carry the song although it goes on a tad too long for its own good. It feels distinctly dirty though, as if it’s been Americanized. That follows through on “NaNaNa” with a man rapping who sounds like he’s the voice over from the Dance Dance Revolution games. Rapping “All those gorgeous boys, come and make some noise” is simply cringeworthy. The actual tune and riffs are very good however so I think it comes down to personal taste more than ever. The rapping however is not for me.

“Shake It <3” keeps the grungy 90’s guitar over crass bass keyboards for a strange discordant mid tempo track. The Engrish stands out particularly here. I think it’s the fact it tries to be so busy with so many clashing genres, it just doesn’t fit immediately. A few listens is needed to appreciate it. “Taskebab” is one of those typical rock fillers for two minutes that you know will be on a costume change in a live show.

“Call” is the first slower track on the album and in its stripped down from sounds much better than the harshness that came before it. Ayumi’s vocals sound better, the guitars are crisper, the melodies are warmer and the whole thing sounds completely different to the previous four tracks. “Letter” follows the same production values as if we’ve suddenly shifted tact and the albums all the better for it. “Reminds Me” is more of a brooding stadium rock ballad with sweeping strings backing up the big guitars and various layered vocal deliveries. It’s one of Ayumi’s strongest assets and she displays it at her finest here. “Return Road” is also a strong song too with a catchy and sad toned chorus overlaying a strong pounding beat. There’s some lovely regal organ and string moments in the track too.

“Tell Me Why” moves into pop territory with minor keys and more muted bass. The focus stays more on the melody and the vocals which is a good choice. Simple, catchy if not taking over my brain catchy, it serves nicely as down-tempo track before “A Cup of Tea” returns with one of those two-minute freak outs of computer wizardry again.

“The Next LOVE” suddenly veers off into completely new ground with a smoky jazz number. It’s a genre Ayumi’s never touched before and her vocals compliment the sound well. The tempo changes are fun too. “Eyes, Smoke, Magic” is even more playful with a clumsy childlike piano and brass choruses bursting into showgirl 1930’s number. It’s completely left field from what I was expecting and nothing like how the album started out at all! “Serenade in A Minor” is then a two-minute classical piece – talk about cram in the genres!  The album then closes with “How Beautiful You Are” which is a standard ballad starting off quiet and slow and building up into a huge climactic finale.

“Party Queen” is utterly strange. The album sounds like three separate EP’s smashed together. The first third is filthy dance music that does not showcase anything whatsoever, the middle section contains good power ballads and the closing section goes all jazz. Jazz apparently means you’ve made a credible album. Not in my book sadly. It’s so unbalanced, so confused,  yet there’s a few gems hidden in the rough. Great to try new things on album number 12, but cohesion is needed for a reason.

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