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Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY

Finally, I got to listen to Ayumi’s ninth studio album. I also got a glittery, rhinestone encrusted Ayumi logo sticker with my CD!!!! I don’t know where I’ll stick it, but it will undoubtedly serve as a symbol of my manhood. The photobook is also quite sassy.

001. “Mirror” – The marching music box stomper…a great opening to the album. Similar to “I Am…” the song starts minimally enough. However, the chorus launches into an angry assault, perhaps featuring the most direct, in-your-face styling yet. Then, before you know it, the song ends abruptly. [9/10]

002. “(Don’t) Leave me alone” – Let’s remove any doubt: This is “1 LOVE” reincarnated, Ayumi. The opening is so frustratingly similar that it’s impossible to deny any influence from her prior releases. It’s good…but I’ve heard this many times before. Many times. [7/10]

003. “Talkin’ 2 Myself” – The second single from the album, the song relies upon classic Ayumi overdriven guitar and paced anger. The lyrics are actually incredibly passionate, which is why I can’t discredit this as yet another Ayu-rock song. Yes, I know, it sounds just like the last track to most people. That’s the problem with most of her heavier songs. [8/10]

004. “Decision” – I never really played this track, though it was the B-Side to “Talkin’ 2 myself.” Again, more of the same. This song sounds SO similar to something from Secret, I just can’t figure out what yet. Again, it’s not bad per se, but the album loses it’s luster when plagued with the same songs repackaged. [7/10]

005. “GUILTY” – Hmm…Well, it’s still rock, but the introduction guitar is more something from the pages of a Junkie XL track than an Ayu one. Good! So much better. Darker, lonelier vibes without the overpowering metal riffs that often drown her emotion. Instead, this is a bit of a departure from the anger. The mood matches the song name. [10/10]

006. “Fated” – The B-Side to “GLITTER,” I always preferred this softer track. Very soft and longing. It’s quite formulaic, but it’s still classic Ayumi. [8/10]

007. “Together When…” – FINALLY. A ballad with feeling! The song sounds like it came off I Am…, which is a VERY. GOOD. THING. Call me sadistic, but the best moments in an Ayumi song are the parts where it sounds like she’s about to break (“Memorial Address”). This song is full of those moments. [10/10]

008. Marionette (prelude) – Playing along with the music box concept of the album, the song is another instrumental that grows increasingly manic and frightening as it chugs along. Picture demented jack-in-the-boxes. [9/10]

009. Marionette – Err…I’m having issue with this. It’s a beautiful song, but I keep thinking I’ve heard it before. It’s a bit epic in tone though, which is why I’m not discrediting the production. [8/10]

010. The Judgment Day – It’s Catcher In The Light…just with an organ behind it instead of pulsating dance beats. I love Catcher, but for God’s sake, is she trying? [8/10]

011. GLITTER – Ugh, fucking GLITTER. Or is it BLUE BIRD? Or Fairyland? I forget which, they all start to blend after the chanting, summery tribal music. [6/10]

012. MY ALL – I guess this would be the pop section of the album, because this marks the second song that is distinctly non-rock. And yet, it’s still cliche to me. I don’t know what’s happening…is it just me? I’m starting to feel strange. Am I crazy, or were her previous albums like this as well? I’m going to have to consult my discography. [7/10]

013. reBIRTH – A looming little instrumental. Nice and moody with that classic, icy piano that she features in so many of her tracks. Pretty and ethereal. [8/10]

014. untitled ~for her~ – I won’t lie, I was looking forward to this more than any other track. Ayumi has made it clear that this album was in dedication to a friend she lost last year, and this track was most clearly written about her. The lyrics are especially beautiful. The song is lovely and passionate. I won’t begin to talk about the ways in which it reminds me of past songs because it’s unneeded at this point. [8/10]

I love Ayumi, but I feel that she’s allowing herself to be pigeonholed into a very specific genre, rather than the eclectic selections she has offered in the past. Part of this may stem from the fact that she is no longer producing any of her music, only the lyrics. Or there may not be enough diversity amongst the producers. Either way, she is falling into a trap, and I’m finding it very difficult to listen to her new music without going “Hey, this sounds like…” I can say for sure that it never happened until “(miss} understood. Ever since then, I keep hearing the past. It may be that I haven’t been listening to her enough lately to distinguish the differences..I know that language barriers make a huge impact. Still, I’m left wanting more.

DL: Ayumi Hamasaki – GUILTY
DL: Ayumi Hamasaki – Together When…
DL: Ayumi Hamasaki – Marionette

Final Grade: B-

Be sure to buy Ayumi’s Guilty at Amazon or YesAsia.