Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Secret”


Ayumi Hamasaki / Secret / November 29, 2006
♫ 02. until that Day… / 08. momentum / 13. kiss o’ kill

It’s that time of the year again. The wind begins to sting, the snow begins to fall, everybody lumbers around in puffy, marshmallow coats and Ayumi Hamasaki will be releasing another album. I remember, year after year, gleefully awaiting the arrival of her CDs from the postman, bounding home after school, hands frostbitten and frown apparent when it still had not arrived. I loved the concept of Hamasaki releasing a new album; I was in love with everything she put out. Her lyrics, the songs; without fail, a new album meant at least ten new favorite songs. Everything she touched turned to gold. And then she began to sour.

Before long, the number of bad songs began to outnumber the amount of gems. Though she stuck to writing her own lyrics, she stopped composing her own music and started wearing less clothes. By the time I heard of the release of Secret, I was already mixed with anticipation, although it was apparent I was no longer waiting as expectantly as I once did.

The disc seems rather superfluous at first glance and it was apparent that right away the strength of the album would depend on the album tracks, as of the fourteen tracks, four were previously released singles, one was used in promotion for the album, and three were short instrumental interludes, leaving us with basically six tracks to dissect after Ayumi commented, “I’ve encrusted the entire album with secrets…secrets of people…secrets which have various meanings of various assortments,” which is totally not vague. That being said, the first album track was pretty glorious. Though it took some time to grow on me, “until that Day…” is a pretty fun(ky) pop rock track with lots of speed and soul. “1LOVE” is the opposite, being an edgier rock number, though the pop influences are plenty. However, this song falls rather flat and even wears thin after only two listens. It’s also worth noting that although the power and ability of Hamasaki’s voice has oscillated over the years, her pipes have once again taken a noticeable dip in this album. It’s probably most distracting in “JEWEL,” an absolutely stunning piano solo where Hamasaki’s voice cracks and splits worse than a winter in Chicago without mittens.

“It was” is a mellow pop track, and rather dull. Luckily, the disc picks up somewhat with “momentum,” a “RAINBOW”-inspired ballad with plenty of Final Fantasy (the video game, not the band) influences. Although it’s a pretty track, with plenty of subtle pianos, violins, and synths, it still falls rather flat and it takes the most terrible track placing ever to pick up the album (three upbeat summer singles in a row which is just bad arrangement). “kiss o’ kill” is an interesting number, as it was originally to be on (miss)understood. The song is actually very nice, though its resemblance to the opening pop rock numbers is uncanny. Uncanny and unprofessional. The album closes with “Secret,” the big closing mega-ballad. Yeah. This ballad has the yawn-inducing qualities of “Close to you” and the nauseating hackneyed vibe of any ballad Koyote has ever written. I cannot express how disappointed I was with this final song.

This album has taken many elements from RAINBOW, most notably the interludes, which should have been developed into full-length songs as they are probably the best pieces on the entire album. Sure, “Not yet” has lyrics, but at 2:01, it still leaves one wanting more. “LABYRINTH” is almost as delicious as “Kaleidoscope” but it’s still smushed in the oddest place. These comparisons to her previous songs are inevitable after eight albums, but they still don’t merit a dismissing wave. The fact is that Hamasaki is not coming up with anything original anymore; a lot of her work is rehashed. What used to be an erratic suspense has turned into, “OK, yes, three distinct genres…what else ya’ got?”

If I had to sum up this album in one phrase, I would say I felt like I had just crossed the Sierras with one cup of water and five jars of peanut butter.

P.S. The bonus DVD with PVs was just…OK, some were interesting, but on some, she really outdid herself this time. Especially the “1LOVE” PV. Sure, bitch looks fantastic as usual, but…she certainly never would have pulled this crap four years ago, lemme tell you. I will leave you with a quote by Hamasaki herself: “The pole dancing hurt. The next day I was covered in bruises! Even at the time, I had never really done so much tossing of my head and bending of my body. I reconsidered how amazing pole dancers are!”

1LOVE PV ░ [ YouTube ]

So true, Ayumi. So true.


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