Namie Amuro’s “PLAY”

 

Namie Amuro / PLAY / June 27, 2007
♫ 01. Hide & Seek / 02. Full Moon / 07. Hello / 09. Top Secret

Namie Amuro is somewhat of a chameleon when it comes to the Japanese pop industry, that is, a star who goes where the trends go. After dating standard pop/dance tracks in the middle to late 90s and just as suddenly breaking off the relationship, her flirtation with the burgeoning genre of hip hop emerged in the early 00s, where she began a steady courtship with the heavily black-influenced sounds and styles of a little thing she liked to call hip pop. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the steady incline of Internet downloading, Amuro’s albums have been on a decline, with her 2003 album, STYLE, only selling 221,874 copies: a mere fraction of the three million selling Sweet 19 Blues. However, low sales don’t always mean bad music; poor marketing, an artist past their prime, and unpopular genres can all lead to undistinguishing sales. So which is it for Amuro?

Enter Queen of Hip-Pop Part II. From the blaring trumpets announcing the album’s entrance on “Hide & Seek” to the mellow piano love grooves on “Should I Love Him?,” Amuro doles out the Engrish rhymes without restraint. The actual production on the album is flawless; the album’s heavy use of bass and synth bleeps are clear and accompanied by smooth transitions, each instrument almost blatantly discernible from its brother. And while heavy on Amuro’s indefatigable hip pop, the album also dares to crawl out of its protective crumping bubble by introducing non-traditional instruments such as an electric guitar on “It’s all about you” and staying clear of generic ballads, of which it keeps to a minimum of two.

What it boils down to is that this album has potential to be a huge seller for Amuro, but for the Japanese chanteuse who takes to wielding a whip, it’s almost painfully obvious that Amuro couldn’t care less about taking her so-called street style to a level beyond paint-by-numbers hip hop; it just doesn’t work if the passion is not there. And the passion is not there. The album practically swims in fun, sometimes cheesy, but incredible driven numbers that would put Amuro right next to the highest-selling Western artists if she dared to venture off the island. The songs are catchy with nuances like the eerie drops lacing “Full Moon,” one of the best tracks on the album aside from singles “Violet Sauce,” and new track, “Top Secret.” However, while Amuro is given some of the greatest hip hop material in the past five years to represent, hip hop good enough to make someone like myself who finds most hip hop a generic, sex-obsessed, and vapid genre, enjoy this album enough to come back for seconds, she fails to do the melodies justice.

Take a look at Amuro’s performance of “Hide & Seek” on Music Station [ video removed ]; no where in this performance does Amuro look like she’s having fun. Infact, she looks like someone who is dancing in front of a loaded Glock. Granted, she’s singing live and executing dance moves simultaneously, but even following the performance, Amuro stares blankly at the screen, perhaps relieved that the performance is finally over and she can stop forcing the monosyllabic ennui of the lyrics out of her mouth. Additionally, the content of the lyrics almost seemed to be stolen directly off of Hip Hop 101 compilation albums that composers pored over nights before the tracks were laid, grounds for the feud between the accomplishment of the actual music and the awful stop and go quality of the English lyrics that urge the listener to “bounce, bounce” with “the real thrill” because Amuro really wants to “taste you tonight.” Of course, this is not a problem for the intended audience who won’t understand a word of it, not when native English speakers can barely descramble what exactly “Dip it in the violet sauce” means. Instead, they see a representative of hip hop who looks and speaks like them and an entertainer who can dance, sing, make small talk and look cute doing it; the only criteria Japan really expects from their pop stars.

It’s hard to give a rating to an album where the songs relied on extremes; extremely good, extremely bad, and extremely forgettable. While I feel this album could have done with a bit of tweaking lyrically, emotionally (I know this is hip hop and there’s no smiling in hip hop, but throw me an emotion here, be tough, be sassy, be something), and track order (“PINK KEY” is a terrible song to place last), the actual production and arrangement of the album tracks is one of the best I’ve listened to since Hilary Duff’s Dignity, almost to the point I wish it had been more choppy and less studio. But in terms of its audience and whether or not it serves its purpose, it gets the job done, whether at gun point or not. I just wish Amuro would convince me that she really feels what she’s saying; if I’m going to blast this album in the car, I don’t want to feel like I’m going 20 in a 55. Or worse: riding the brake.

 

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