Ayumi Hamasaki / Rule / February 25, 2009
It’s hard to write reviews about an artist who has become a brand unto herself; rarely do I think “music” when I first think “Ayumi Hamasaki” any longer. It’s even harder when you’ve been a fan for so long that each subsequent record has been like taking a bullet compared to the early work that had you so enthralled. Regardless, it’s worth saying in a Twitter-length phrase: best Ayumi single in three years. Srsly.
Words like “aggressive” and “massive” are being thrown around to describe the scope of “Rule,” a loud, soaring rock epic that Hamasaki first played around with in 2008’s “Mirrorcle World.” The music video may be a whole other story (same, tired attempts at bombast in camera preening, overstated dance routines, questionable wardrobe), but the song is just as intense as the movie it’s promoting needs it to be. “Sparkle,” however, is the darling of the single; a haunting, electrock melody the likes of which Hamasaki has never experimented with before is kind of a mindfuck the first time it plays, but its novelty only gains momentum, neutralizing the awful lyrics (“Don’t be on the defensive / Try to make yourself look aggressive and attractive“). It’s eerie, but strangely joyful; the only thing missing from its liner notes is a HAL credit (who coincidently, is credited on “Rule”).
In a throwback to earlier singles, a few remixes are thrown among the three versions available. The only contention I have is with “Days (8-bits of tears YMCK remix),” which is exactly what it sounds like: an 8-bit version of the ballad “Days” that is tolerable for about :50 seconds before irritation sets in. The other remixes are enjoyable, club versions of her previous single, and the acoustic versions are pleasant, welcoming shout outs to the popularity of the full-length acoustic orchestra version compilations Hamasaki released at the height of her fame. While her popularity may not be so high any longer and she hasn’t exactly gone anywhere (actually, each mediocre release has been just as in your face as ever before), this single features an artist itching for a comeback, or, wait for it, taking things to the next level.