By Paris365 on July 12, 2013

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Avex Trax / Dimension Point

Last year Namie released her 10th studio album, Uncontrolled, and I wasn't impressed. Although I liked the ballad "Tempest," I thought the rest of the album was horrible. I'm still shocked by how bad it was, thinking about it today. I love all of her other albums, but I can never listen to more than a couple of tracks on Uncontrolled before I find myself so disgusted that I have to shut it off. Production-wise, the beats were entirely lackluster and sounded terribly out-dated, whereas Namie's previous music had always been timely if not futuristic or cutting-edge. And the lyrics, about half of which were in English, were a failure on many levels, alternating between being just plain generic and being so sexual that they were unintentionally hilarious. Fortunately, Namie's new album FEEL -- her 11th studio release -- is nothing like Uncontrolled at all. The only thing the two albums have in common is that there are a lot of English language songs on both. Otherwise, they couldn't be any more different. Where Uncontrolled was easily Namie's worst album -- her only bad album, really -- FEEL is clearly one of her best, if not her very best album, ever. And so it merits a track-by-track review...

1: "ALIVE"
FEEL opens with one of the English language tracks, "Alive," and it's a MONSTER. Seriously, to say it's massive would be an understatement. But before any beats strike, Namie sings the first verse acapella, her voice sounding gorgeous as ever and downright stunning: "shadows on the run / mirror on my heart / shatter broken glass / cut my world apart." (Some sites are quoting the first line as "shadows on the moon," but it definitely does not sound like "moon" to my ears. So, maybe I'm getting it wrong, but they are, too. If I had to take another guess, it would be "shadows on my mind.") A flurry of rapid-fire beats begin as she continues: "rescue me my lover / kiss me back to life." The beats accelerate and intensify as she sings the seductive bridge, but they're still relatively minor compared to how gargantuan they get during the first chorus: "I need your love in me / to make me feel alive," she sings, her voice practically purring, and then buzzing, glittery synthesizers ignite and explode like colorful fireworks lighting up the night sky, soaring high above DEEP, throbbing and hypnotic beats that would make David Guetta feel small. (Honestly, these beats make his stuff seem primitive by comparison.) This song alone is so priceless that it immediately made me forgive her for Uncontrolled.

This track is roughly half in English and half in Japanese and finds Namie doing a bit of rapping, which fans of her hip pop should appreciate, though this song doesn't have any actual hip hop beats. Instead, it's a mix of a few different things, like simple 8 bit electronic music, modern house and even shades of dubstep. Lyrically, it's clearly written from the perspective of a girl who's broken up with her significant other only to find that there are brighter days ahead. "Pictures in boxes / your t-shirts / I threw them out," she sings. Good riddance! "I'll be waiting for the rainbow!"

"With a good day / start this week / in a big way," it begins, so it should come as no surprise that this song is currently being used as the theme song for the Mezamashi TV morning news program on Fuji TV. But that's really the only part of the deliciously uppity song that sounds like a TV theme song, so I don't think it was actually written for that purpose. "Can you feel this love? / Can you feel my heart? / Let me show you how to love me, baby, now," goes part of the rapid-fire chorus. This track is less EDM and more electro-pop, its beats often being so fast that you'd probably hurt yourself if you tried to dance to them.

This is the only track on the album that was physically released as a CD single. (Sadly, its lovely B-side, "Beautiful," does not appear on the album.) It's easily one of Namie's most unique songs ever. In fact, it's one of the most original pop songs I've ever heard by any artist ever, period. The flute part alone is charming and addictive, reminding me slightly of the synth part to Gwen Stefani's most peculiar song "Wind It Up." But "Big Boys Cry" is also captivating for many other reasons, among them the energetic marching band percussion, the bubbling N.E.R.D.-ish beats, the synchronized clapping and the cute finger snaps. Also, Namie sounds especially radiant here, her vocals sunshiny and soulful.

"Beat it like a drum!" Namie exclaims something like a dozen times during this song, which is the perfect track to follow "Big Boys Cry" because they both feature marching band drums, those here a bit louder and especially militant sounding. This is a very fun song though! "Boy put your hands on me," Namie sings repeatedly, but she doesn't sound like an unintentionally ridiculous dominatrix like she did on so many songs on Uncontrolled. On the contrary, she sounds like she's trying to be a little silly, so if you're laughing you'll be laughing along with her, not at her. And this is one of her most infectious songs to date.

This track was produced by ZEDD, who recently had a massive hit worldwide with his track "Clarity." He's become a highly sought after producer almost overnight, so I was happy to hear that Namie was collaborating with him on a song for FEEL. That said, this is probably the weakest song on the album. Which isn't to say that it's a bad song. I actually like it quite a bit, but the lyrics are cheesy and ZEDD's production here feels a bit thin compared to his usual work. Also, it almost sounds like Namie is singing in a different key than the music during parts of this song. Part of the problem could also be that her vocals are spliced and diced to make them sound even faster than she actually sings them and there are a lot of lyrics that overlap, making it hard to understand her. You almost get the feeling that this was just a track that ZEDD had lying around that he gave her and then she had to struggle to come up with lyrics for it.

"My love is poison," Namie sings over and over again while synth loops buzz all around her and punchy beats snap left and right. This isn't one of her best songs ever, admittedly, but it's growing on me. I think the vocoding keeps it from being as good as it could have been though. It just wasn't necessary and it makes it sound slightly out-dated, whereas most of the album sounds so futuristic and forward-thinking. Still, it must be said that it's far superior to anything on Uncontrolled.

8: "LA LA LA"
"I like you, I reckon I like you / I just want to shout about it," Namie sings like a schoolgirl with a crush. "It's the way you walk / it's the way you talk / it's the way you carry yourself." Yeah, this one is schoolgirl crush central. Bubblegum pop lyrics, sure, but it's a super catchy song that combines several styles quite well, meshing militant drum beats with thumping dance beats, R&B grooves and even a healthy dose of sweet Namie rap. Her hip pop fans should be delighted by this one.

"Rush, rush, rush," Namie commands over boisterous beats and blazing synths. This song is full of infectious energy and it's sure to grip you accordingly. They auto-tune her voice to death during the chorus, but I suppose it's to make it sound ghostly, given the title, so it's tolerable. Also, Namie does more rapping on this one, oozing confidence without sounding cocky.

"I'm ready to wish you the best in life, let me let you go," Namie sings during this tender piano ballad, apparently letting some guy down easy. Her English pronunciation isn't perfect at times here, but I could still understand most of it and you get the emotional sentiment even if you don't. To be entirely honest, I thought the "Big Boys Cry" B-side "Beautiful" was a much, much better ballad, but this is still a lovely little song.

"Contrail" is the theme song for the TBS series "Soratobu Kouhou Shitsu." I wasn't quite sure what to make of it the first time I heard it. It's not quite a dance song and it doesn't fit your traditional pop mold either. I'd probably have to categorize it as progressive pop. It's definitely a very forward-thinking song where she's breaking new ground, not doing anything she's ever done before. It starts off with a bit of keyboards that lead to a series of rapid but somewhat quiet beats over which she sings softly, almost whispering, until she reaches the chorus and fulminating beats drop. "What is life?" she asks during the bilingual chorus, which simply ends with the word "contrail." After the chorus the beats quiet down again and she once again whisper-sings. It's really quite intoxicating, the way her airy vocals gently glide over the hypnotic but subtle beats. "I didn't know then, what I know now," a loud, robotic voice sings -- well, it's more like it just says the words -- about two thirds into the song. And that somehow makes it more intense when Namie sings the chorus again and asks "What is life?" It's clearly quite deep, perhaps even Namie's most thought-provoking song yet. I found an English translation of the lyrics here: They seem rather poetic. I especially like the part about "what is life?" that translates as "you run through like a baby kicking in its mother's womb" And it gets deeper later, parts translating as, "the answer is to look within myself, at home there is no meaning." I'm hoping that Namie wrote this one herself and that she continues to explore deep themes like this.

"And as we collide / it's like colors shoot across the sky / bring me to life / feels like stardust in my eyes," goes the uplifting chorus to this gem of a song, which ends the album on a perfect note with its mix of emotive strings, dazzling synths, layers of vocal loops and beats that split the difference between old school drum 'n' bass and trendy dubstep. Some listeners have said that the best songs are at the beginning of the album, but I would have to disagree, having found "Contrail" and "Stardust In My Eyes" to be as amazing as "Alive" and "Rainbow."

Suffice to say that FEEL is the perfect title for this album because if it doesn't make you feel something then there's clearly something wrong with you because it's just beaming with gorgeous sounds, inspiring lyrics and loads and loads of sweet emotion. -Michael McCarthy

There are various limited edition, first pressing versions of this album available. You can get the album with a DVD and/or poster or both. Or you can get the album with a Blu Ray and poster. The DVD and Blu Ray feature six music videos.

Labels and artists interested in being featured here may contact Michael McCarthy at Michael reviews other (non-Asian) music at Love is Pop: Follow Michael on Twitter:

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