With “A One” Ayumi Hamasaki crammed in her 16th album in 17 years. The last few for me have been slightly below par as I the last album I truly loved of her’s was “Next Level” but with “A One” it feels like some old sparks are coming back again.
The obligatory “a Bell” opens with a short classical interlude before the pop rock “WARNING” gets the guitars, DJ Mixers and shouty chants out. It’s a hark back to the days of My Story and it’s a welcome return to proper rocking it out again. It’s the kind of track born for a stadium crowd. “NO FUTURE” is more dance orientated pop and is catchy and fun to sing along with. It has the euphoric choruses and the signature Ayu moments of build ups and long notes at the end of choruses. In many ways it feels like the early 2000’s again. Along with the last track, “Anything for You” is long. This one is a seven minute symphonic ballad. It’s like the song compositions have an intro and outro attached like you’d get in her concert shows. It’s an interesting concept but sometimes it makes the tracks feel a little too long. “Last Minute” is a tighter track of two halves, the ballad opening half that explodes into a heavy rock second half. Not quite as grungy as anything from Guilty, it’s power chords definitely rock.
“Zutto…” moves things back to ballad again with a lush production with rolling marimba’s warming up the strings and piano. It feel’s more adult and sombre than a lot of the other ballad’s she sings and as a result fairs a lot better than most. “Out of Control” has a pretty motif and catchy chorus but suffers from ballad-pacing in the middle of the album – as does “Story” which keeps that mid-tempo guitar, piano, drums, bass and strings issue where similar sounding songs end up cancelling each other out. It’s a familiar issue lately with Hamasaki. “Story” is the more dramatic of the trio but “Out of Control” has the more memorable melody. Neither shine properly though because your ears are familiar with it all already. Interesting “The GIFT” has a collaboration with singer songwriter JJ Lin – whom I’m not familiar with. It’s sadly though another ballad but you can hear that it’s been produced slightly different because all the instruments sit differently in the mix compared to the other slower tracks.
After an entire EP of ballads we finally get an uptempo number with “The Show Must Go On” and it’s an absolute classic crowd pleaser. From the full on party that is the chorus to the constantly changing and evolving verses it’s an assault on the dance floor and is an instant favourite of mine in her catalogue. She just seems to be more dynamic on the rock and dance stuff than the ballads of late. “WALK” then gives us one final ballad in typical Ayumi Hamasaki fashion before we get her cover Utada Hikaru’s “Movin’ On Without You”. She gives it a club vibe but also removes the Utada signature whistle synth and so it sounds like nothing else on the album (which is a good thing) and also feels suitably different from the original to be worth your time.
So 16 albums in and I feel like she needs a two year break if not longer. Hamasaki can still pop a club hit and a searing pop rock number but when two thirds of the album are ballads that so easily bleed into each other, I feel like she needs to cleanse her palette and try her hand at some new tricks.