By Paris365 on December 14, 2012

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In honor of her 15th anniversary as a pop diva, Ayumi is in the process of releasing five works in five months. The first was the mini-album LOVE, which I recently reviewed and had mixed feelings about. (http://otaku.collectiondx.com/musicreview/ayumi-hamasaki-love) The second is this new mini-album, Again, which I liked much, much more. Now, onto my track-by-track rundown...

TRACK 1: "Wake Me Up"
"Wake Me Up" is a true return-to-form for Ayumi. It begins humbly with her singing over fluttering synth, but it's only a matter of seconds before drums enter the picture, followed by the sharp, metallic guitars that have often defined her sound. And when it hits the chorus, wow, it's a veritable explosion of sound with hooks aplenty. The guitars get downright ferocious, demanding your full attention, meanwhile hard dance beats, more synth and loops aplenty help concoct a monstrous and massive sound. "Get up, get up, get up," she sings intensely. "I cannot let you go," she continues, pouring out her inner dialogue. Finally she commands herself: "Wake up, wake up, yeah, wake up, wake up." Perhaps she's trying to talk herself out of seeing a lover who's breaking her heart? Regardless, this is one of her catchiest and boldest songs in years.

TRACK 2: "Sweet Scar"
"Sweet Scar" is a subtle, lullaby-ish ballad that finds Ayumi delivering dreamlike vocals. The music consists primarily of piano and acoustic guitars, though there are little electro-sounds during the chorus. As the song progresses, lovely strings help produce a truly touching song. It's so mellow that it sounds like one of those stripped-down acoustic versions of her songs, making one wonder if there isn't a powerful, epic version of it lying around somewhere, perhaps awaiting release on her next mini-album. I hope not though. This version is gorgeous and brilliant in its simplicity and it doesn't need anything else added to it.

TRACK 3: "Snowy Kiss"
She certainly picked the right month to release "Snowy Kiss," but that's just one of the many amazing things about it. The funny thing is that it sounds like vintage Ayumi, meanwhile sounding a bit like the first few songs on Party Queen with its magnificent, punchy dance beat. That's because its got suspense-building verses and a grandiose chorus that smacks you across the face to make sure you're paying attention. It's also extremely well-produced. The gutsy, bold bass guitar wizardry alone is enough to make the song a thrill-ride but those super-fast beats, which could give AKB48 a run for their money, certainly don't hurt either. Then there's the blazing metal guitar solo and the intense, colorful strings that sound like they're straight out of a Bond movie theme song. Best of all, Ayumi's voice sounds fantastic as she hits plenty of impressive high notes and injects more than enough emotion into the song, singing her precious heart out. You'd never guess that it's just over six minutes long because it totally feels like a three minute hit.

TRACK 4: "Ivy"
"Ivy" begins with Ayumi singing along to a mild electro beat and sparse piano, but warm strings soon join the mix, laying out the foundation for one potent ballad. As the song progresses, it grows in intensity and ultimately proves to be a triumphant mega-ballad. Oddly enough, it's hard to tell where the verses end and the chorus begins because everything meshes so well together and it gets more and more intoxicating with each of them.

TRACK 5: "Missing (Orchestra Version)"
This orchestral version of one of the new songs from the LOVE mini-album is right up there with the best orchestral tracks Ayumi has released over the years. I believe she even re-recorded the vocals for this tear-jerking take on the song. In addition to her touching voice, the mellow piano injects the song with melancholy while the strings make things rather haunting.

TRACK 6: "Melody (Acoustic Piano Version)"
The subtle piano here reminds me of a music box chiming. I wouldn't be surprised if she re-recorded the vocals for this version, too, as her voice meshes with the piano perfectly, as though the song was always intended to simply consist of piano and Ayu's voice, which is undeniably tender here. It's something of a minimalist take on the song but it's refreshing and almost hypnotic like that.

TRACK 7: "Wake Me Up (Rem-con Remix)"
This remix melts together deep bass, thick beats and massive synth that soon give way to full-scale dubstep bombast. It suits the song quite well though. The original version hinted at an inner struggle, but this version brings us to the darkest, bleakest territory of Ayumi's tormented mind. (Assuming, of course, that the song is about herself.)

TRACK 8: "Snowy Kiss (Shohei Matsumoto Remix)"
You'd never know that this song was originally a touching ballad, listening to this super-charged club mix of the song. Here, thumpin' EDM beats and shimmering synth promise to drag your ass out onto the dance floor. There are also twisted, in-your-face dubstep parts to this version. At first listen, it gives you a sense of haphazardness, but once you've heard it a few times it seems more like a focused attack.

Finally, the mini-album concludes with instrumental versions of all four of the new songs. They're actually fascinating to listen to because they make you realize just how rich and complex the songs are, especially "Wake Me Up" and "Snowy Kiss."

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