By Paris365 on November 08, 2012

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Before I give you a track-by-track rundown of Ayumi Hamasaki's latest mini-album, I have to state the obvious: LOVE is a rather generic album title. And it's a little weird coming from Ayumi, considering that she's previously had albums called Love Songs and LOVEppears. My best guess is that she chose this album title to remind fans of those albums, considering that her last album, Party Queen, was almost universally hated (at least by critics).

TRACK 1: "Song 4 U"
"Song 4 U" begins as a ballad that opens with Ayumi simply singing along to some pretty piano with a fluttering, barely audible beat in the background that sounds like it could've been sampled from an old drum 'n' bass song. But when it hits the chorus, the song explodes, a loud, pounding beat kicking in along with soaring orchestration and blistering electric guitar. Now, that's the Ayumi we all know and love, right down to the metal-style, blistering guitar solos.

TRACK 2: "Missing"
"Missing" also begins with Ayumi singing accompanied by piano though there are little electro flourishes and warm strings in the background. But it isn't long until a punchy beat begins and the tempo picks up during the climactic chorus. The hooks are great and the melody is so sweet it could put the listener in a pop coma, but it's Ayumi's simpering vocals that really make the song a winner. Call it a doe-eyed ballad of abject devotion, although, technically, it's probably better classified as a pop song considering how loud and rocking the chorus gets.

TRACK 3: "Melody"
Another song that begins with downtempo, romantic piano? Yes it is, though it also finds Ayumi singing along to gently plucked acoustic guitar. But it does ultimately stick to the formula of the first two tracks, the tempo and volume of the song accelerating during the uplifting, cotton candy chorus that packs electric guitar and swirling strings. At this point, things feel a little too formulaic and it might seem gratingly pretentious if she wasn't so unobtrusively amiable. But, hey, at least LOVE is a focused work and one with empathy, wit and beauty.

TRACK 4: "Song 4 U" (Orchestral Version)
If you found yourself wishing that "Song 4 U" was a normal ballad from start to finish and not a loud power ballad then you're in for a treat with this one. Gorgeous, lush orchestration cradles Ayumi's swooning vocals here and it's enough to make a ballad junky's heart flutter. It might sound a little bit too much like a Disney movie theme song but most of Ayumi's fans adore her orchestral tracks for that very reason. And I would have to say that I prefer this version of the song over the quote unquote normal version.

TRACK 5: "You & Me" (SHINICHI OSAWA remix)
This remix starts off with some sparse beats then adds some glimmering synth before Ayumi starts singing. It's only when the song nears the chorus that the real beats begin and it's transformed into a throbbing dance mix. But at that point it's a case of too little, too late because you'll likely be bored to tears by then. Also, this remix sounds rather sterile, doing nothing to enhance the emotion of the song. On the contrary, it would seem to strip it of all of the emotion that was conveyed so beautifully in the original version.

TRACK 6: "You & Me" (Remo-con rmx - Extended)
Now here is a proper dance mix. Banging beats in the vein of Daft Punk with more synth than the latest Scissor Sisters' album make this an infectious winner that doesn't feel half as long as its seven minutes and some odd seconds. Some might say it's a little cheesy but I must declare it cheesy pop/dance triumphalism.

TRACK 7: "Missing" (Dubscribe remix)
This is easily my favorite remix on this mini-album. It starts off mid-tempo with a slow-ish beat but the beats intensify as the song goes on, leading up to a full-on dubstep tornado. Ayumi's vocals get a little lost in the mix during the dubstep parts but they get plenty of time to shine during the rest of the mix.

TRACK 8: "Melody" (BROKEN HAZE remix)
This one begins with a healthy dose of sunshiny synth, some pitter-patter beats, and a whole lot of electro-pop loops. Instead of kicking the listener's ass, or making one want to dance, this mix simply strives to be an interesting, alternate version of the original song and you have to give it props for that because it does it quite well. Ultimately, it's a sophisticated, often seductive concoction.

This mini-album concludes with instrumental versions of "Song 4 U," "Missing," "Melody," and "You & Me."
Unfortunately, these songs are nothing when stripped of Ayumi's priceless vocals, though they're obviously going to be gold to your garden variety karaoke junkie. -Michael McCarthy

NOTE: I tried and tried and could not find this one on Yes Asia. If you find it, please send me a link so I can add it here.

Labels and artists interested in being featured here may contact Michael McCarthy at cinema365@gmail.com. Follow Michael on Twitter https://twitter.com/paris365.

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