1. 君がいる限り (Kimi ga Iru Kagiri; As Long as You’re Here)
2. フレンズ (Friends)
4. ANGEL GIRL
6. Shiny Days!
7. Smile and Turn Away
8. Beyond Myself
11. Winter Gold
12. because of you
Stephanie’s debut self-titled album was released on March 5, 2008. It peaked at #16 on Oricon and has sold 12,516 copies in total.
Whoa. Okay. So, 君がいる限り starts off by Stephanie hitting one of those super-high notes – you know, the kind that can normally only be heard by dogs? Clearly, she is wasting no time in making her talent known to everyone. Move aside, Mariah. All jokes aside, 君がいる限り is one of the best ballads I’ve heard by a J-Pop artists. I found myself swept up in the grandiose chorus, at the end of which she hits another one of those dog-whistle notes. And to top it all off, at the end of the song there’s a gospel chorus! Cliché and kind of schlocky, yes, but somehow it just works.
フレンズ is a rock song. Sweet. It also is the second ending to the anime series Mobile Suit Gundam 00, which is where I first heard it. It’s got a very upbeat, uplifting arrangement, and the lyrics even include the lyrics We’re friends forever at one point. I’m very fond of Stephanie’s voice in this one, as it compliments the rock genre while never straying far from pop. Her range is also brilliant – the ending verse was awesome. In layman’s terms, this is a great song.
In Life, we get essentially the same rock-type arrangement as the previous track, only faster and more ubpeat. So far, we’ve heard Stephanie sing a ballad and some rock, and she does both really well, so I’m not complaining yet. The piano in the introduction and instrumental break is pretty neat, giving a bit more of a pop feel to the heavy guitars and drums. Miraculously, the end result can be described in one word – “cute”. Go figure.
Oh wait, I was wrong. ANGEL GIRL is definitely the cutest song so far. This is the first track on which we hear Stephanie give full-on pop a try, and while the song itself is nothing to rave about, her voice compensates for whatever mediocrity may be offered by the instrumental or lyrics. It’s got endearing, sassy, and of course, it’s got the whistle range. Also, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a TON of English in this song, which is fine because Stephanie speaks it fluently and without an accent.
And we’re back to rock again with Fallin’, which contains no Japanese at all. Contrary to what the title depicts, this song is about moving on from a relationship that’s going nowhere. This song, to me, indicates that Stephanie could be very successful in the American market if she so desired a crossover. It’s got that Kelly Clarkson-esque rock chick feel, which to my knowledge still works. As always, her voice sounds great.
Shiny Days! is pure sugary pop, no doubt about it. It’s a cute song, and sure, it’s fun, but if you’ve heard it once you’ve heard them all. I’ll give you a hint as to the song’s atmosphere by saying it bears a huge resemblance to Yuna Ito’s “Brand New World”, only less electronic and more retro-sounding. Probably the most boring track so far.
I really dig Smile and Turn Away because it’s primarily acoustic, something we haven’t heard yet on this album. The arrangement is very relaxing and almost reminiscent of American country music (in a good way, I promise). There’s a certain wistfulness in Stephanie’s voice that breathes a kind of life into this song; it’s very beautiful and different from what we’ve heard so far.
Beyond Myself is probably my favorite song on this album. It’s a mid-tempo pop number with a smooth R&B beat. Stephanie’s voice sounds great against this kind of backdrop, and I especially enjoyed the disembodied voices who sang English phrases like, I keep on going, keep on going, going on my long long journey. This is by far the most unique song I’ve heard so far and I was impressed immensely by it.
Ooh, a somber ballad? Get outta town! Truth can be seen as a huge bucket of angst, or a gorgeous attempt at the melancholy, both views are technically correct. Personally, I prefer the latter description, as the gentle and ethereal piano provide a mesmerizing backdrop for the beauty of Stephanie’s voice. Sometimes on the verge of being creepy, this song gave me the chills. That’s saying something.
To.Be.Me. reminds us once more that this is a pop-rock album. It’s a bit too similar to Life for me to give a serious opinion, but I will tell you that it sounds a bit like a rehash of every rock song we’ve already heard on his album. I’m not much a fan of this one.
Okay Stephanie, WTF. Are you just rehashing every song you’ve already done? Winter Gold sounds exactly like Shiny Days! and quite frankly, even though I liked that song, I’m not sure if I want to hear it twice in the span of one album. Major downgrade.
The final song, because of you, brings us full circle to the beginning of the album, as it is another uplifting piano ballad. However, rather than sounding like exactly the same song we once heard, it is a beautiful track in its own right. From what I understand, it is a sort of tribute to her parents, which I think is very sweet. I can’t really complain about this one because, simply put, it’s gorgeous.
Summary: I find it interesting how this album started off really strong, and then sort of tapered off toward the end. On the whole, however, I can’t bring myself to criticize Stephanie’s debut effort any more than I already have. It covers virtually every genre and she manages to pull them all off nicely and without any noticeable effort. In the end, I can’t recommend Stephanie enough, and I do believe that it is a true travesty that she’s not more popular.
I really must include something on the album cover, though. I simply can’t stand what she’s wearing – what is she wearing? Some kind of baggy leotard jumper-type thing. And what’s with the confetti? She looks like a party clown gone wrong. Ugh. Not good at all.
Album Grade: A-