By Paris365 on June 16, 2015

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It's been almost two years since we last heard from Namie Amuro, during which time fans have wondered why she hasn't even released a single here and there. Well, the answer has arrived in the form of her 11th album, the just released _genic. You see, Namie was tired of releasing several singles and then putting out an album that compiled them with a handful of new tracks. This time around, she decided that she wanted to wait and put out an album where every song was brand new, not a single track being released prior to the album. And, you know what? It was a very wise move. At least to my ears. I love the fact that we have a whole new Namie Amuro album to digest. I was getting particularly tired of albums where half the tracks were released already, which is why I've mostly covered singles instead of albums during recent months.

_genic opens with the song that might as well be the title track, "Photogenic." It's an interesting song because it features a lot of guitars on top of the thick beats and I don't recall Namie ever releasing anything that sounded quite like this before. "You know I'm always photogenic," she sings and maybe that sounds a little conceited but it's a fun song and who really cares if she wants to brag about being photogenic. Besides, she could actually be making fun of people who say they are, or act like they are. I don't know because I couldn't find a translation. But, really, who cares what it's about exactly? I'd be interested to know, sure, but I'm going to be enjoying the song just fine until I find out. It's fun!

According to Yes Asia's product description, the influences for this album were 80's dance music and 90's "R&B groove." Track two, "The Time Has Come," would probably fall under the '90's header but it sounds perfectly modern to me. Only the occasional, light keyboards remind me of '90's pop music, honestly. And forget R&B; there isn't a hint of that here. This is a hyper, punchy, classic J-Pop song that is so intense that you could probably even call it J-Rock.

Track three, however, "Golden Touch," does have a bit of a '90's R&B vibe. But the beats are punchier than you usually get with R&B. Although I suppose you could call this Aaliyah on high potency steroids. What I appreciate about this is the fact that Namie didn't just try to copy old music. She was influenced by it but still wrote/co-wrote songs that sound like Namie Amuro songs first and foremost. It doesn't try too hard to be disco like Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor. It's purely original music that just has a dash of this and a dash of that there. "We've got the touch / It's golden," Namie sings joyfully and it would be quite hard for a true J-Pop fan to disagree.

There's also a song called "Birthday," but it has nothing to do with the lovable "Birthday" by Katy Perry or the even better "Birthday" by Selena Gomez. Nope. It's another Namie original. "I'll celebrate my wedding night," she sings, the song being about anniversaries as much as it is about birthdays. Which just makes it suitable for even more celebrations. Speaking of which, it's a classic good time song like "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang. When Namie sings "make a wish" you just might find yourself making one. Like most of the album, this song is pure fun. Maybe it's slightly bubble gum but it's delicious and instead of losing its flavor it's making me fall more and more in love with it with each listening.

"Scream" starts off sounding like a drum 'n' bass song then switches into a throbbing, bassy number with flourishes of dazzling synth. Ultimately, it has a very electro-feel and reminds me of Kylie Minogue's amazing electro-pop album that is X. In short, it's downright irresistible.

The irresistible "Fashionista" starts off reminding me of the days when everyone was calling Namie the queen of hip-pop, back when her beats were very much in the hip-hop vein even though she was writing pop songs. That was a magical time during her career and her staying power during the past 10 years is largely because of the respect and volume of fans she earned back then. That said, "Fashionista" soon fast-forwards fifteen years, bringing us up to the present with its jumpy beats and extremely fast tempo. Even Namie's vocals come at you like a strong summer storm here, albeit the sort of summer storm that comes when it's perfectly sunny out and the breeze is just enough to feel wonderful in without tearing the roof off of your house.

"Now I'm moving forward / That's the only way I know," Namie sings acapella as "Fly" begins. The drum 'n' bass influences can be heard here as well. Come to think of it, this album has more to do with '90's drum 'n' bass than it does with '90's R&B. At least that's my perception and I've listened to this album ten times now.

Late in the album the '80's synth pop influences shine during "B Who I Want 2 B" featuring HATSUNE MIKU. It's a very minimalist song without half as many things going on as there are during most of the songs on _genic. However, that does not mean that it's a weak song. It also doesn't mean that it's not as fun. It just means that she wanted to include some lower key tunes on the album along with all the gusto. Since nobody raps on the track, I'm assuming that HATSUNE MIKU is the producer, who must carry a lot of weight like Calvin Harris to get a featuring credit. I'm definitely curious to hear more things he has worked on after this.

"I get you up and down," Namie beams during "Stranger," a busy song with a rapid pace that could activate someone's anxiety disorder. It's not a scary song per say, but the beats and vocals are so extremely fast that they could get your heart rate going and give you one of those panic attacks where you think you're having a heart attack. Hell, maybe it could trigger seizures, too. I suppose this whole album ought to have a seizure warning with how rapid and intense so many of its songs are. (I don't have a seizure disorder, but I have an anxiety problem and "Stranger" definitely gets me feeling jittery when I listen to it loudly and allow it to fully consume me. To that end, this isn't an album that you consume. It's the opposite, an album that consumes you. It's a mad beast like that.

Things slow down during the second to last track, a sweet ballad called "Anything." "Say you will / And best believe you're gonna make it," Namie sings here. "You can do anything." It's a song to listen to when you're feeling down. It was clearly written to perk up the spirits of any Namie fans who might be feeling down. And I think it's fair to say that it was written for the international market since the whole song is in English, which Namie sings just fine, unlike some J-Poppers who pronounce the words so poorly you feel embarrassed for them and wish they hadn't tried. You'll be happy Namie tried though, that much is a given. Unless you're some sort of jerk who doesn't like inspirational songs.

The final track is David Guetta's "What I Did For Love" with Namie on vocals -- in English. And it fits right in with the rest of the album and is the perfect song to follow up "Anything" and end the album on a powerful note, considering that its lyrics are also meant to be inspiring, though they're first and foremost a confession. "I can't believe what I did for love," Namie laments during the chorus. The song has moments where you could call it EDM, but it doesn't sound like your typical David Guetta track. It's much more subtle, mostly Namie singing over pretty keyboards. When the big beats kick in during the chorus they sound very '90's club, having a distinct retro vibe. In a sense, it's the sort of song Yes Asia's product description stated that they were going for. So, at least they were right about one track! (And 10 percent for many of the others.)

If you haven't figured it out by now, this is one of my all-time favorite Namie albums. It's just so full of contagious energy and good time vibes. I loved it from the first time I listened to it, during which time I was so impressed that I was afraid it was just my good mood and that I'd be disappointed the second time I heard it. Fortunately, that second listen only further solidified my opinion about it being the best J-Pop album so far this year. And, honestly, it's going to be damn near impossible for another album to impress me as much as this one. If you lay down your cash to buy one J-Pop album on CD this month, it should definitely be this crown jewel. -Michael McCarthy

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