Album Review: Nami Tamaki – “STEP”

Tracklist:
1. GIVE ME UP
2. Friends!
3. さよならしてあげる (Sayonara Shite Ageru; I’ll Say Goodbye For You)
4. (Uso; Lie)
5. キミノナミダ (Kimi no Namida; Your Tears)
6. 願い星 (Negai Hoshi; Wishing Star)
7. ゼロの空 (Zero no Sora; Sky of Zero)
8. もしも願いが...(Moshimo Negai ga…; If My Wish…)
9. 思い出になるの? (Omoide ni Naru no?; Will It Become a Memory?)
10. Happy Forever
11. in my life
12. 東京 (Tokyo)

This is Nami Tamaki’s fifth album overall and first under the Universal Japan label. It was released on February 24, 2010 and peaked at #55 on the Oricon weekly chart.

I like these covers; they’re not as great as the 思い出になるの? covers, but they’re nice. I like the CD only version more, though.

~

I was TOTALLY skeptical about having GIVE ME UP as the starting song for this album, but now I dig it. Although perhaps not the strongest of Nami’s single since switching to Universal Japan, GIVE ME UP is a very charming song and definitely reflects Nami’s previous style. Although I didn’t really think this would be an effective starter for the album, I now see that it’s a bright, optimistic track that’s easy to get into.

Friends! was the other one of Nami’s more “cutesy” A-sides, but since it’s placed right after GIVE ME UP, the girliness of this track works in its favor. Similar to the previous song, it’s a simple song with electronic pop elements that mostly serves as something catchy to sing along to. It’s not an entirely shallow song but it’s not poetry either. If you liked MY WAY or 大胆に行きましょう!-Heart & Soul-, you’ll probably like this song too.

With さよならしてあげる, we move onto the type of song that makes up the bulk of this album: R&B tinged quasi-ballads, which for the most part are new to Nami from a style standpoint. It’s a well-produced song, with a strong beat, strings, piano and some really nice synths accenting it all. Unfortunately, Nami’s vocals don’t really measure up – it seems she was having trouble getting her footing in this new genre, and as a result, her vocal performance is lacking greatly in vibrato and just general control. It’s a bit of a shame; if Nami’s vocals had been better, this may have been a standout track.

is a more easygoing song than its predecessor, with a general breezy feeling that makes listening to it easy and enjoyable. The main problem with this track is, again, Nami’s vocals. On numerous occasions throughout the song, she sounds like she’s trying a bit too hard. If she can find a way to reconcile her higher ranger and her lower, huskier range, she’ll be on the right track.

In キミノナミダ, Nami does just that. A fast-paced R&B track with a syncopated beat and looping piano line, Nami keeps her voice comfortable and lightly controlled the whole time. When the synths come in during the chorus, the song becomes nostalgic and truly lovely. This is definitely a notable track on the album so far.

I’m just going to put it out there – I don’t care for 願い星 very much. I think it sounds very generic J-Dance, and I was hoping it wouldn’t make it to the album. However, as I listen to it in the middle of the album, it’s more tolerable. Although it’s not a spectacular song in any respect, it’s sometimes necessary to break up the more serious track with something like this. So I guess you could say that, although this isn’t my favorite song on the album at all, I can see why it’s there.

ゼロの空 is the perfect song for this album, and let me tell you why. Nami’s vocals, sweet and controlled, are supported by a dance-pop arrangement with a strong beat and light piano, and then take flight with the uplifting chorus. As one of the few songs on this album whose lyrics are not about love, it also has a nice, fresh message to offer. I think if Nami can keep doing what she does in this song – combining a neat vocal performance with music that balances her old dance style and newfound R&B – she can go really far.

In case you haven’t already read my review on もしも願いが..., I’ll clue you in – I absolutely love it. It’s one of the best songs Nami has ever made, musically, vocally, lyrically, what have you. It is just that good. Please, even if you only listen to one song off this whole album, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.

Around the time when 思い出になるの?was released as a single, fans were starting to become skeptical about the quality of Nami’s upcoming album. Granted this isn’t the strongest of her singles, but it’s worth listening to nonetheless. Nami’s vocals here are impressive, and the music, though not as well-produced as もしも願いが..., fits the emotional tone of the lyrics. Not a flawless song, but it’s got a lot to offer.

Like 願い星, Happy Forever was a song I wasn’t expecting to make it onto the album, and so when it did, I was really surprised. I suppose, though, that this is exactly the kind of song the tracklist needed – joyful and cheery, with an upbeat pop instrumental and Christmassy bells. There are a number of other things that make this a really nice song, like the cute way Nami sings happy forever and the really well-executed key change. I think it’s safe to say I like this song more on the album than I did on the Friends! single.

Generally considered one of the worst of Nami’s B-sides from this era, next is in my life. I can see how this song got its reputation now. For one it’s super long at 4:56 minutes, and for another thing, Nami’s vocals are totally lacking energy and inspiration. Back when I reviewed this song as part of the GIVE ME UP single, I praised Nami’s pronunciation during the small English sections, and that still holds up. However, it’s not enough to save this song from being mostly boring.

When I think of Tokyo, my mind calls upon images of a bustling neon capital of constant sights, sounds and motion. 東京 certainly does not have that effect. However, I think this song does succeed in offering up a different Tokyo than the one most of us know – the everyday Tokyo where people live their normal lives, evoked by piano, a gritty urban beat, and nostalgic strings. Probably the best album-ending songs of all of Nami’s albums.

Summary: First reactions from Nami fans regarding this album were brutal across the board – it sucked, it was the end of her career, she should have never switched to Universal J, etc. I definitely shared in these opinions and held off from listening to it for a while because of this. However, now that I’ve given the album several full listens, I can tell that it definitely has the effect of “growing” on you the more you hear it. The album is rarely bad, and it certainly has its shining moments. In the end, it still ranks as Nami’s weakest album so far, but I think it was good for getting her foot in the door to a new genre. Hopefully, from now on, Universal J will put more time and effort into promoting Nami, because after all, she was at the top of the scene for a while. There’s no reason why she can’t get there again.

Album Grade: B+
Recommended Tracks:
キミノナミダ
| ゼロの空 | もしも願いが...| 東京

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