UTADA HIKARU: Manatsu No Tooriame, Hanataba Wo Kimini

By Paris365 on April 16, 2016

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Release Date

4/14/16

Genre

J-pop
Japanese adult contemporary

Label

Virgin Music

Utada Hikaru has been absent from the Japanese music scene for years now, only very rarely releasing one song for a soundtrack or TV show. To that end, her two comeback singles are for shows or movies if memory serves me correctly. Alas, I have memory problems and I couldn't find the article that mentioned that, so I could be mistaken. In any case, this was a way for Utada to come back without immediately releasing a new pop single or album. Maybe she's testing the waters to see if she still has a fanbase. Then again, she was the most popular Japanese music artist for years, out-selling even Ayumi Hamasaki and Namie Amuro at times.

So, let's talk about these two songs. "Manatsu No Tooriame" starts off like a simple piano ballad, showing the softer side of Utada's voice. Eventually, it adds some beats but they're very minimalist and the song continues to be a piano ballad. It builds and builds as it goes on, but it never rises to what I'd call a peak, which would be a point where Utada would finally hit some high notes and show her incredible range. I really wanted that to happen because it's Utada's range that first impressed me when I happened across her music randomly when I bought one of her albums out of a used CD bin at a Boston record store. But as I listened to the album over and over again, I was simply impressed by her voice and songwriting overall. She has a texture to her voice that I can't properly explain. I wouldn't say her voice is smokey, but it's very original and that immediately made her album stand out to me, as compared to the Ayumi Hamasaki and Namie Amuro CDs I'd been paying $35 dollars for at the Japanese book store at Porter Square in Cambridge. Shortly after I bought that Utada CD, which was her First Love album, bitorrent came along and I found an audio rip of a DVD she'd put out, MTV Unplugged. Those acoustic versions of her songs were totally mind-blowing. Awesome in the sense that they truly put me in a state of awe. Her cover of U2's "With Or Without You," which she sang in English, was incredible. She poured so much emotion into that performance that I dare say it is better than the original U2 version. She sings it as though her life is depending on it. And she sang it like she was in pain. You could feel the heartache.

Having so loved her MTV Unplugged release, I wasn't disappointed when "Manatsu No Tooriame" turned out to be a mellow affair. Again, it would have been nice if she hit some high notes as it approached the end, but I definitely would not say that I was disappointed with it. Definitely not. I'm listening to it on repeat right now, although I'm about to stop and put on her other new single, "Hanataba Wo Kimini."

"Hanataba Wo Kimini" also starts off sounding like it's going to be a piano ballad, albeit a livelier one than than "Manatsu No Tooriame." And that's precisely what it is: lively. Soon beats and strings enter the picture and it becomes a fully fleshed out instant Utada classic. It almost sounds like it could have been on that First Love album, which is my favorite thing she's done after the MTV Unplugged release. The strings sound fantastic, too. This is an organic song, like "Manatsu," done with real, live instruments. Not a bunch of programmed crap. She had a whole string section play on this one. Since I stopped listening to "Manatsu" I've been listening to "Hanataba" non-stop. I'm listening to it for the fifth time as I write it.

Once again, I wish Utada would have hit some high notes on "Hanataba Wo Kimini," but she does open her voice up much more than on "Manatsu." Genre wise, I'm not sure how I'd classify these songs. Adult contemporary, maybe? They're definitely not songs that young teens are going to get into. Not unless they're already fans of Utada. If they are, then I'm sure they'll love these songs because, well, if you're a real Utada fan than nothing she does is ever going to disappoint you. Personally, she could sing parts of the Bible and I would listen to it. Her voice, which I find so soothing, is so wonderful that I would happily listen to her sing anything. I would, however, prefer to hear her singing her own songs. Here's hoping that more music follows shortly and that there are some classic Utada pop songs. In the meantime, I'll continue listening to these two gems on repeat. -Michael McCarthy

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