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Utada Hikaru – Laughter in the Dark review

20 years of superb music

As someone whose sound changes every couple of albums, Utada Hikaru’s live events often bookmark the end of a certain era of sound before moving onto something else. ‘Laughter in the Dark’ celebrates to the day, her 20 years in music as the recording of this show was the same day ‘Automatic’, her first single was released in 1999.

In many ways ‘Laughter in the Dark’ is a retrospective through the eyes of where Utada is now. The initial RnB vibe that transitioned into complex synth-pop and then melancholy electronica are all funnelled into the sound Utada Hikaru is creating today – adult analogue pop. Strings have replaced synths, acoustic guitars replacing electric ones and whilst I wouldn’t go as far to say its the ‘safety of establishment’ sound, it is one of confident cohesion.

Utada
Utada Hikaru

This means the opening collection of uptempo tracks which act as a non-stop medley blend into each other with their quirks of their era blending into the background. ‘Anata’ opens beautifully before the lightening up of ‘Michi’, Traveling’ and the particularly beautiful ‘COLORS’. Thick synth basses are now funky jazzy ones and it makes for a lighter affair. So long as you enjoy this free, lighter tone of Utada’s then you’ll be in for a treat but with those songs and ‘Prisoner of Love’ all being cojoined and feeling so similar, it did feel like it muted the scope of her work slightly. I am nitpicking though as Utada’s vocals are the best she’s sung on a live released performance to date.

As the backdrops are more of a complementary lighting rather than a sonic assault like UTADA UNITED 06, most of the intrigue comes from when the arrangements move away from the originals. The extended version of ‘Kiss and Cry’ was a real surprise. The string section really added depth and in the same way, the extended section of ‘Sakura Drops’ was superb with Utada herself playing with keyboards and the drums speeding up. It was the only time she touched an instrument and these little touches and experiments would be welcomed in greater varieties in future tours.

To break things up at half time a contemporary dancer joins for ‘Tomodachi’ and ‘Too Proud’. It was nice but could have benefited from more integration of Hikaru and then we have an interview skit between Utada and comedian Naoki Matayoshi. It offers some great insight into some of the themes of her work of late before turning into a bottle smashing affair. It is nice to have as a bonus.

The second half of the set is decidedly more ballad driven. Standouts are ‘Forevermore’, ‘Hatsukoi’ and from the encore – an excellent dense arrangement of ‘Ore no Kanojo’. With every Japanese album except ‘Distance’ represented with at least one song, it’d have been nice to have one from it here but at 2hrs 20mins already you are getting your moneys worth already.

Whilst I’ve critiqued a little bit throughout the review, the performance is excellent, the videography is great and the sound is well balanced (i.e. the drums are not overbearing). It’s a wonderful concert and whilst I must admit I do prefer the United 06 concert more, it’s because I lived for that edgy synth era and the visuals were magnificent. You know me – if it is sad and angry I’ll lap it up!

This is available with full English subtitles for all songs and skit on Netflix, but I’ll be grabbing a physical copy to add to my collection when its back in print.

Recommended track: Sakura Drops

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If you have this release, you can comment with your own score below.

Utada Hikaru - Laughter in the Dark

8.5

8.5/10

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