In case you werenâ€™t aware, Utada is a single lady again. Yet ever since the dissolution of her marriage with acclaimed Japanese director Kazuaki Kiriya in 2007, the singer has not made even a single peep regarding the fact in any of her recent Japanese songs.
Maybe the words simply failed her in her native tongue. â€œIntoxicated, emancipated, unapologetic,â€ the singer proudly gushes in the chorus of â€œOn And On,â€ the lead track of her second major English album, This Is The One. â€œMake the night go on and on,â€ she continues along a squeaky dance groove, ushering in a wave of frequent substance references and sexual come-ons.
Unquestionably, the albumâ€™s overtly sexual â€˜tude and frequent references to marijuana may prove just a bit jarring to the ears of some fans of Utada, the same soft-spoken, teddy bear-toting artist that only three years ago released a childrenâ€™s song called â€œIâ€™m A Bear.â€ â€œDuring my 9 to 5â€™s, Iâ€™m thinking 6 and 9â€™s,â€ she coos along the bridge of â€œDirty Desire,â€ a throbbing session of moans and groans not to far from the realm of another nasty songstressâ€”Miss Jackson.
Lyrics aside, even the production may come as a surprise to some enthusiasts of her earlier English work. Far from the electronic pulsations of 2004â€™s Exodus, This Is The One is a career turnaround, placing the singer right back into the hip-hop vibe she first began with in 1997. With the assistance of producers Stargate and Christopher â€œTrickyâ€ Stewart behind the mixing panel, the album revolves around a nostalgic array of trippy hip-hop beats and slinky dance grooves. And while most of the songs benefit from a twist of modernity (such as the infectious blend of urban beats and bossa nova swagger in â€œMe Mueroâ€), some simply reek of kitsch ( â€œTaking My Money Back,â€ which might as well be a bonus track off of Destinyâ€™s Childâ€™s Writings On The Wall.)
The singer, who once managed to rhyme in the phrase â€œTomb of Tutankhamenâ€ on her 2004 album, only continues to indulge in her penchant for brow-raising phrasing: From â€œHoneys, if youâ€™re gay, burn it up like a gay parade,â€ to â€œUsed to be a Virgin, now I’m with Island Def Jam,â€ Utadaâ€™s made sure to supply each track with a few conversational conundrums worthy of at least one full head tilt.
Her need to poke fun at her own ethnicity has also made a resounding, if not entirely cringe-worthy comeback, raising the stakes with some truly awkward indulgences. â€œI love you long time,â€ she sighs into “Dirty Desire” at one point without even a lick of irony.
Utadaâ€™s follow-up effort (or as she insists, her â€œreal debutâ€) is commendable in many waysâ€”itâ€™s fresh, hip, and incredibly re-listenable from start to finish. Yet in order to create such an accessible record as This Is The One, Utada has also sacrificed that wonderfully experimental sound of her deeply underrated 2004 release. Sure, itâ€™s not the worst thing she could have done (a dabble into the territory of alt-country folk would probably do the trick), but itâ€™s most certainly the safest.
Key tracks: “On And On,” “Me Muero,” “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence – FYI”