1. Angel’s Song
2. Greatful days
3. Because of You
5. Hanabi ~episode II~ (Fireworks ~episode II~)
6. No Way to Say
8. Memorial address (take 2 version)
Ayumi Hamasaki’s first and only mini-album was released on December 17, 2003. It reached #1 on Oricon and has sold 1,062,297 copies to date.
Even from the first few seconds of the first track on this album, Angel’s Song, we can tell that we are about to embark on a J-Pop journey in the style of Ayumi Hamasaki. Boastng a majestic opening that leads into a song that is distinctly pop – the cascading synths are simply heavenly (pun definitely intended) – but whose melody carries a hint of melancholy just strong enough to remind the listener of who they’re listening to. At the risk of rambling further, I’ll simply say that this is pop music at its best.
Greatful days is, at least in my opinion, the weak link on this particular EP (referred to here as a mini-album), and though it’s not horrible or anything, it’s nothing special either. This is the very epitome of the “summer song” – we’re talking break out the beach balls and bikinis, we’re heading to the beach type summer. Mostly, it tries to prolong the high brought on by the previous track, but instead falls short. That said, the music is as one would expect, and Ayu’s cutesy vocals often waver between endearing and irritating. And although the chorus is catchy, the verses are… uncomfortably not so. More often than not, I end up skipping this one.
Whoever decided on placing Because of You at this juncture in the mini-album has made himself an ally. With a startling rock arrangement, Ayumi weaves a dark and obsessive love story, the lyrics reading like a one-sided fairy tale gone wrong. The harmonies in this song are top-notch – layered over crashing guitar riffs and twinkling piano, the result is equal parts haunting and gorgeous. It can’t be anyone but you, Ayumi cries. Oh, but Ayu, don’t you know we feel the same way about you?
Ourselves keeps with the same basic feeling, bringing us into a world where it’s okay if no one else in the world understands – only you and I have to know about “us”. A beating of a hollow drum and distant piano create an atmosphere of isolation, when Ayumi croons over a winding melody. The only thing that has meaning in the end, she insists, has got to be love. The chorus repeats hypnotically for several more times before the song comes to an end. A very satisfying listen.
Of all of Ayumi’s “paired” songs (Friend & Friend II, Powder Snow & P.S. II, HANABI & Hanabi ~episode II~), the Hanabi couple probably wins in overall quality. In HANABI, Ayumi is in a state of constant remembrance – now, in Hanabi ~episode II~, she wants only to forget. A rock song, Ayumi’s vocals are wistful and heartbreaking, soaring above guitars and accompanied by peculiar but brilliant male background vocals. Interestingly enough, this is also the only song of the two whose lyrics make actual mention of fireworks. Better than the original, you ask? Quite possibly.
On every album ever released by Miss Hamasaki, there is at least one wintry ballad. At this point in her career, this is practically a rule. That’s where No Way To Say comes into play. It’s an unassuming ballad by Ayu standards, with the requisite twinkling keyboards and a melody so predictable it borders on boring. Her vocals are pristine and simple, avoiding the gratuitous vibrato that would come to plague her later recordings (I’m looking at you, “Sunset ~LOVE is ALL~”). The good news is that, while No Way may not exactly be the cream of the crop amongst Ayu’s ballads, in no way is it bad. It’s also the closest any song on this mini-album comes to being filler. Score.
Forgiveness keeps with the ballad trend, offering what might be Ayumi’s most poetic foray into English lyrics since everywhere nowhere. Beginning with a diminutive piano line and some strings, Ayu’s voice is virtually a whisper, and a beautiful one at that, something her more recent ballads could only dream of. Beginning in the pre-chorus is a buildup that expands into a grandiose chorus and beautiful bridge that’s only in English. The lyrics, “War and destruction / Crime and desire / But I wanted only keep my love”, are pure poetry, showcasing Ayumi’s talent for lyrical expression no matter what the language. If you skip any songs on this mini-album, do not let it be this one.
The final song and title track, Memorial Address, is one of the most emotionally-driven songs Ayu has ever recorded, even to this day. The first half consists solely of Ayumi’s voice and a piano, putting the lyrics center stage. At approximately the 1:35 mark, a full rock band is introduced, causing Ayu to damn near scream to be heard over it. It is a perfectly flawed performance. The song ends poignantly just as it began, with just Ayu and her piano.
Summary: With some of her recent releases that sometimes border on over-indulgent and gratuitous in their complexity, Memorial Address serves as a reminder of the time when Ayumi was once able to release something short, sweet and above all, concise. The upbeat tracks are uplifting, the rock songs driving, and the ballads moving. For first-time listeners, this is a great example of Ayu’s capabilites as a lyricist and vocalist, offering up virtually every genre she’s ever tried. As the best-selling mini-album ever in J-Pop, one can rightfully doubt if Ayu, let alone anyone will ever be able to replicate the success of Memorial Address. But it will forever go on as one of the last shining moments of the apex of Ayu’s career.
Album Grade: A+