Album Review: Namie Amuro – “PAST < FUTURE"

Tracklist:
1. FAST CAR
2. COPY THAT
3. LOVE GAME
4. Bad Habit
5. Steal my Night
6. FIRST TIMER feat. DOBERMAN INC.
7. WILD
8. Dr.
9. Shut Up
10. MY LOVE
11. The Meaning of Us
12. Defend Love

This is Namie Amuro’s ninth studio album, and it was released on December 16, 2009. The album reached #1 on the Oricon Daily Album Chart and has sold 112,213 copies so far. The songs MY LOVE and COPY THAT, though not singles, are being used in commercials for Vidal Sassoon hair products.

Ehhh, still not a big fan of these covers – I like the concept, but feel that they were poorly executed. However, Namie looks gorgeous so I’m willing to forgive any other grievances I have about them.

~

FAST CAR was a totally great way to start the album. There’s a clear retro influence in the music, resulting in a really nice old jazz feel with a contemporary twist. A lot of artists would probably let the music do the work for them, but Namie takes it a step further by adding a scatting sections. She really commits to the style of the song, which makes it a really exciting opening track.

We’re only two tracks into the album and we can already tell that the influences for each track are going to be really diverse. COPY THAT draws its stylistic flair from 60’s-era slick rock tracks like those from spy films. But again, the music is brought into the 21st century by the addition of synths and an R&B beat. It’s a nice song mostly for these reasons, although two things – the flatness of Namie’s vocals and the repetitiveness of the chorus and hook – bring it down from a perfect score.

Just for those of you who were wondering, LOVE GAME is not a Lady Gaga cover. But even so it’s a really good song in its own right, and it definitely follows in the same style. Here we have a heavily-produced electronic song that introduces the “futuristic” aspect hinted at by the album’s title. Namie gives a clean, controlled vocal performance that really enhances the mechanical electronic atmosphere. Long story short, great song right here.

Bad Habit brings some of the hard-hitting dance music we’ve come to expect from Namie, and it doesn’t disappoint. The strengths of this song lie in its catchy beat and Namie’s strong vocals. These are good things. On the other hand, I still can’t decide whether I find Namie’s Engrish to be charming or distracting. Of course I know it could be and has been worse, but it’s still there. If you’re a seasoned Namie fan and you’re used to it, though, you’ll probably only find things to like in this song.

In Steal my Night, we get to hear even more of those diverse influences – this time, it’s Arabian combined with electronic. It’s a fascinating concept on paper, but sadly it doesn’t translate quite as well into song format. The most interesting section in my opinion would definitely be the bridge, but things just seem to go downhill at the chorus. It’s where the vocals and the music stop meshing – there are so many things going on, it just sounds more chaotic than harmonious. It’s worth a try, but I didn’t enjoy this song very much.

At this stage in the album we’re really starting to hear the futuristic/electronic style pick up. FIRST TIMER feat. DOBERMAN INC takes the theme a bit further with a more robotic sound. There’s a ton of stuff going on in this song as far as the actual music goes, as well as a great amount of finesse over the vocals. As one of the longest songs on the album, it gradually loses its initial excitement in sections that don’t belong to DOBERMAN INC., who actually brought something really cool into the song. Not my favorite track, but not really bad either.

I loved WILD back when I first reviewed it in March, and I still love it just as much now. It’s fast, edgy, and irresistible as far as dance songs of this caliber go. The thing that I really like about this song is the dramatic moves from the upbeat sections and the dropoff to the slower ones – they almost seem to border on trance music at times. There are some peculiar English sections, but nothing too distracting. Still one of my favorite songs off this album.

Apparently someone in a high place really believes that WILD and Dr. are meant to be heard together. Well, I can’t really complain. Dr. is truly the most epic song on this album, and for good reason. The lyrics are about the creative and destructive power of time (hence “Dr. Chronos; Chronos = time) and its ability to determine the fate of love. In short, it’s a gorgeous song. The PV is also really worth watching if you’re interested.

What do I have to say about Shut Up? Well, I really like it. It fuses the electronica we’ve been hearing along with rock and some kind of industrial-sounding elements. In spite of this, Namie’s lovely voice manages to soften the music a bit, making it sound even pretty. I especially liked how the music moved into straight R&B during the bridge before going back to what the rest of the song sounds like. Definitely a nice track.

Whoa, did BENI suddenly decide to hijack this album? That’s really what I thought when I heard MY LOVE, a fairly mainstream-sounding R&B track that’s pretty much what every singer out there is trying to break into. I mean, don’t get my wrong – MY LOVE is a really nice song by any standards. However, in the context of this particular album, which sounds anything but your average mainstream, it just seems out of place. Hence why I said it sounds like a song BENI would sing with gusto.

As the only true ballad on PAST < FUTURE, The Meaning of Us is truly lovely. It’s soft, delicate, and really only borders on generic during the chorus. Namie’s voice is especially nice in this song. She’s a seasoned ballad singer and it shows. Perfect winter ballad for 2009? Quite possibly.

And finally, we have Defend Love, an atmospheric electronic song that basically sums up the overlying sounds and themes of the album: love, and electronica. The intense futuristic atmosphere and dramatic, well, everything make it a close runner-up for most epic song on the album (which I earlier identified as being Dr.). This is just one of those songs that instantly sticks upon first listen, and I don’t feel like it’s a stretch to call it one of the best on the album.

Summary: Namie Amuro has come to reclaim her throne as the Queen of J-Pop, and if PAST < FUTURE is any kind of indication I’d say she’s succeeded and then some. Electronica has been a popular theme in J-Pop in the past year, and many have tried (Perfume’s ⊿) and occasionally failed (Ayumi Hamasaki’s NEXT LEVEL) to do it correctly. Where most have blundered, Namie has triumphed. Not all tracks were winners – Steal my Night and FIRST TIMER in particular – and some of the retro-inspired influences seem to contradict the album’s statement-heavy title, but the experimentation with aspects of different music eras is precisely what makes PAST < FUTURE so progressive. I am confident in saying that this album is one of, if not the best J-Pop album of 2009.

Album Grade: A+

13 thoughts on “Album Review: Namie Amuro – “PAST < FUTURE"

  1. Lol, I was kind of hoping LOVE GAME would be a Japanese remake of the Lady Gaga song (cos Namie could definitely pull it off) but now I personally find it one of the most addictive songs on the album. Great review!

  2. I really like this album. really I do…but i don’t agree with you saying ayu failed on Next Level. I actually think it was a really great album…and definitely different than anything ayu had done before. I think it was great for her to expirement…she’s at the stage in her career where she’s allowed to do that. I’m not trying to say that I hate Namie amuro…Quite the contrary actually but I just feel like Ayu is way better and there is no way that Namie Amuro is even close to reclaiming the queen of j-pop title. It belongs solely to Miss Ayumi Hamasaki….just my opinion…please don’t take this the wrong way….

    • For one, thank you for your two cents! I really appreciate it. Second, if you read around a little more on this blog, you’ll probably see that I’m a big Ayu fan myself. I may have given the wrong message by comparing Ayu and Namie, when the two are really like apples and oranges. (For example, Namie may be Queen, but Ayu will always be the Empress!) And as for my saying that NEXT LEVEL failed – I didn’t hate it, quite the contrary actually. However I do feel that, although different, it was a bit contrived and too artificial for my tastes. I am… and RAINBOW are her best albums in my opinion, because they were really genuine. Which is why NEXT LEVEL will never compare to them in my eyes.

  3. Your very welcome! I actually really love your blog! (though it probably didn’t seem that way…) Sorry if I sounded like a total B*tch in that comment…i totally didn’t mean for it to sound that way at all! I tend to get a little (more like extremely)defensive when it comes to Ayu. It, for some unknown reason, irritates me when people compare her to Namie Amuro and especially Koda Kumi…lol. She’s my favorite artist…next to Gackt of course…God I love that man…ANYWAY (got a little sidetracked) I agree with you that I am… is one of her best albums. But I personally liked My Story more than RAINBOW (Even though I absolutely love that album!!)

  4. Can we please stay on topic and stop trying to appease crazy ayumi fan girls and boys?

    If you think “NEXT LEVEL” sucked then you think it sucked. I do too. That’s not what this review is about though so ayumi fans, stay on topic or bounce your bruised ego elsewhere.

    Concerning this review and album. I love the album.

    I’m with you on “Steal My Night” thoughh there’s somethijg off with that song. There’s nothing catchy about it that pulls you in. That guitar in it is alluring but that’s pretty much it.

    I love “FIRST TIMER” though.

    • One, I wasn’t trying to “appease” anyone. I was merely clarifying that while I love Ayu and I did -like- NEXT LEVEL, I didn’t love it, and on some level I do think it sucked. That’s all.

      Two, thanks for taking the time to comment. As far as I’m concerned, “Steal my Night” and “MY LOVE” are the two weakest songs on the album. “FIRST TIMER” wasn’t really a weak song, I simply didn’t care for it very much. ^_^;;

    • WOW. For your info I don’t have a bruised ego. I was stating my opinion. While ‘Next Level’ wasn’t one of her best it was still a good album. I’m not a crazy ayu fan. and I actually love Namie Amuro. But this album wasn’t that amazing to me. PLAY was much better. and abput me staying on topic…she mentioned Ayu’s album in this review. And I was disagreeing with what she said.

      • Okay okay, let’s stop right there. I’d really REALLY like to keep this a retarded-Internet-argument-free zone if you don’t mind.

        He has his opinion, you have yours, and that’s the end of it. Now let’s leave it at that.

  5. It’s very nice to see a major blogger give a thoughtful review of Namie’s work, and to take into consideration of what she has done to grow experimentally. P<F grew on me a surprising amount, and I adored Play to death, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Namie will perform this album (when I can't think of how she'll improve on an album, she just ends up singing and dancing live and blows me away!).

    Thanks a lot for not bringing in the wank for this post.

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