Ayumi Hamasaki’s forty-fifth single, Rule / Sparkle, was released on Wednesday, February 25th. The first A-side, Rule, is being used as the ending theme for the live-action film Dragon Ball Evolution. Sparkle was used in commercials for the Honda Zest Spark. The single peaked at #1 on the Oricon Weekly Chart.
Of the two A-sides on this single, Rule is the big one. It’s got a positively gigantic sound and fits the high energy level of the Dragon Ball universe very well. Ayumi’s voice is heavily distorted in the verses, so it’s difficult to assess her vocal performance in that section of the song, but she sounds great in the bridge and chorus. I have only one bone to pick about this song, and that is it’s not quite as energetic as I was hoping for. Something heavier and faster, I think, would have fit better, like her past single talkin’ 2 myself. Other than that, though, this is a solidly enjoyable song.
Even from the first few seconds, Sparkle sounds different from Rule in a number of ways. Instead of guitars, electronic synths are the main focus in the instrumental. In addition, the lyrics have a fairly sexual tone to them, quite a departure from the powerful lyrics in Rule. It’s sort of unfair to compare these two songs due to said differences, but Ayu’s vocal performance on this A-side is better by leaps and bounds than the other. It’s more upbeat, more unique and more exciting. The single should have been Sparkle/Rule!
Ayu really seems to have developed a fondness for rearranging her songs. Green (Acoustic Orchestra Version) is a new take on her last single, giving it a lavish sound with a full string arrangement. Although the vocals haven’t changed, the new instrumental brings a whole new dimension of beauty to what I consider to be an already great single. I love this version.
Same thing with Days (Acoustic Orchestra Version). I feel pretty neutral about the original version of this song after having listened to it a couple times, but this new recut sounds much more dramatic and emotional, making it worth a listen for a whole new reason. Not bad at all.
Sumary: Some people think Ayumi Hamasaki’s music has decreased in quality over the past year or so. I beg to differ. With Rule / Sparkle, Ayu continues to deliver fresh and contemporary ideas while still maintaining that inimitable quality for which she is so widely known. Now, I do admit I would have preferred Sparkle being the lead A-side rather than Rule, but for commercial reasons this can be excused.
Single Grade: B