Album Review: Utada – This is the One

For Hikaru Utada’s second attempt at breaking into the US market, I must say, I’m impressed.

As a Recording Industry major at MTSU, I’ve spent the last 4 years exploring all the many ways that the music industry has imploded on itself, while at the same time, exploded beyond all imagination. Back in 2004, when Utada released Exodus, the RIAA (the representative body of the recording industry – read: the 4 major labels) was actively sueing people.  Customers.  As in little girls who downloaded Avril Lavigne on their grandma’s computer because they had no money to buy the over-priced CD with only, maybe, 3  tracks they even liked and they happened to know that bandwidth was (and still is) way cheaper than gas and the aforementioned plastic circle.  Also, the only way to get good music at reasonable prices seemed to be on the interent.  And, oddly enough, that music was free.

Exodus went unnoticed by everyone, with the exception of her loyal fans (who only became fans because of Kingdom Hearts), that poor little girl’s family had to pay out way more money than even Avril Lavigne is worth, and music is still abundant – and free – on the internet.

Having said all that, This is the One brings up several good questions:

1. Utada, one of the most popular musicians in ASIA, has another English album – so what?

2. Even if I did care, why do I?

3. If by chance I did want to own this, why pay for it? Torrents are free, nigga!

Well, so are many direct downloads, and truthfully, I nearly pirated this album myself.  For the record, I didn’t (thank you iTunes).  As for why you should care, it’s Utada we’re talking about.  If you are reading this at all, you probably have “Simple and Clean,” “Sanctuary,”  and/or the Japanese originals on your iPod right now.  And if you missed out on Exodus, shame on you.  She happens to be a very unique artist compared to whats mainstream in the states right now, what with her cryptic, poetic writing and her luscious voice.  Despite being a little strained in the high registers, she has a decent range and she works it out on just about every track she does – English, Japaneses, doesn’t matter.

Now, Exodus is a weak album in terms of contemporary American R&B.  The lyrics are little too Japanese for typical American audiences and the album seems juvenile because of that.  It’s still one of my favorite albums.  This is the One, however, does what Exodus probably should have done for an American release.  This album is full of potential radio banggers – “Come Back to Me,” “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI,” “On and On” just to name a few – and the beats on this album are much more accessible to us gaijin.  Her writing is more straight forward this time around, and she’s just as horny and sex-crazy now as she was on Exodus, cracking lines like “during my nine-to-five/I’m thinking six and nines” on “Dirty Desire.”  There’s also some heartache and growth to be had, like the opening track (“Come Back to Me”) and the catchy “Apple and Cinnamon.”  She even busts out an old-school, club-jazz inspired club dance track (“Poppin'”).

There is no reason not to listen to this album. The most unfortunate thing about this album is that it panders to western mainstream sensibilities.  Thankfully, it doesn’t suck.  Should you buy it, of course, is different.  If you are a fan of Utada – buy this album and support her as you should.  Otherwise, while I can’t officially condone pirating (stealing), I will say that imeem.com and others like it are free.  Stream the album there and she still gets paid – in fact, she probably gets paid more via online streams/downloads than she does via physical record sales.  Not that that mattes much, you won’t be seeing this in any Walmart anytime soon.


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