Utada Hikaru – DEEP RIVER

October 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Posted in Utada Hikaru | 4 Comments
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  1. SAKURA Drops
  2. traveling
  3. Shiawase ni Narou
  4. Deep River
  5. Letters
  6. Play Ball
  7. Tokyo NIGHTS
  8. A.S.A.P.
  9. Uso Mitai na I Love You
  11. Bridge (Interlude)
  12. Hikari

DEEP RIVER is Utada Hikaru’s third Japanese album and is her most acclaimed album. It is also the 8th highest selling album in Japan. This is the point in her career where she took on a larger role in the production of her music and when her music transitioned from an R&B/pop sound to an ethereal and experimental sound.

SAKURA Drops opens with a drum-roll that leads into the chorus which is literally an explosion of magical sounds. The arrangement of this song is magnificent in every sense of the word. It’s a huge departure over her previous work and it’s just awe-inspiring. The verses are sung in such luscious vocals, Utada sounds so good. During the pre-chorus, the song gets even better as breathing is incorporated into the background. This song is incredibly atmospheric and Utada’s high notes are powerful and the slight strain in her voice at the end of the chorus exudes emotion. Her background vocals halfway through the second chorus are so haunting and add a whole other element to the song. The outro is gorgeous and her ad-libbing and singing at the end is epic. This is how you start an album. traveling is an infectious and insane up-tempo, “what you doing tonight?/let’s go for a ride.” This is a ridiculously fun song and it’s definitely a mood lifter. The pre-chorus is divine, it’s my favourite part of the song and her vocals flow deliciously with the arrangement. The chorus is so much fun and the repetition of “traveling” in her playful vocals is addicting. Utada’s vocals in the bridge fluctuate from high to low which sound incredible. The energy never stops and the ad-libbing at the end is orgasmic. The final part of the song is in English and when she sings “can you take me up?/you look quite good/ can you keep it up?/I would like to” I melt inside. The album moves away from ethereal pop and goes back to R&B with Shiawase ni Narou. A sweet piano opens the song along with Utada’s beautiful voice and at first it seems like it’s going to be a ballad but then the R&B beats come in and it changes to a mid-tempo track. It’s very reminiscent of her first two albums and it’s very simple compared to the previous two songs. There’s a bittersweet feel to the song and even though it has a bubbly arrangement it has depressing undertones that come through the music and Utada’s vocals. The English lyrics at the end really drive that happy and sad feeling, “do you really really want to see a brighter day/then come this way at me/or would you rather stay unhappy another day/then go ahead not me.” I wasn’t too fond of this track before but it’s grown on me and I appreciate it a whole lot more.

Deep River is very organic, raw and it’s one of the best songs on the album. Utada’s vocals are great and the organic arrangement allows her voice to be the highlight of this song. The acoustic guitar is divine and the serene atmosphere is so soothing and captivating. Her “oohs” and “ahs” are heavenly and they give off a surreal feel that compliments the arrangement wonderfully. This is without a doubt, one of her most moving songs. It really does give off the feel of a river especially in the chorus when all the instruments come together. I love it when she sings “that’s why/that’s why I chose you,” it’s such an emotionally charged line. Letters is one of my favourite songs, it has a breezy and summery vibe that’s impossible to resist. With an acoustic guitar, piano and exotic synths this song is deliciously vibrant. Her vocals are deep and the slight vulnerability in them is amazing and during the pre-chorus her vocals become even more luscious when she sings “doko ni tsuduku ka wa wakaranai.” The backing vocals are incorporated in all the right places and make the song even more difficult to resist. The chorus is alluring with its upbeat summery sound and her “ahs” are perfect. Despite the chorus being repeated a lot during the end it doesn’t hinder the song in any way because the chorus is magical and I don’t get tired of hearing it at all. It gets even better with the “badadas’ and the English lyrics at the end, “tell me that you’ll never ever leave me/then you go ahead and leave me/what the hell is going on?”

Play Ball is another light song and the arrangement, especially the synths, is mesmerizing with its R&B influences. The verses are calm while the chorus is upbeat and fast-paced and Utada’s vocals are nice and smooth. I love how Utada compares love to a game of ball and the English lyrics in the song are so addicting, “sounds like play ball,” “first impression,” “mission,” “question,” and “passion.” They work off each other and the rhyming in chorus makes it stand out more. An electric guitar is featured in the arrangement during the bridge before the song enters the final chorus which gives it some edge. Utada’s tone when she sings the final line, “I’m throwing my heart at you,” is airy and lovely and her ad-libbing at the end is the icing on the cake. Tokyo NIGHTS is another up-tempo and it has a very dramatic sound. The arrangement is somewhat oriental, the oboe sounds fantastic, and Utada’s deep vocals bounce along with the drum beats in the verses. The chorus is ecstatic and she sings in a much higher tone and the English lyrics “love is hard to find” and “baby what’s my price?” are catchy. Utada’s high vocals in the bridge are orgasmic and the arrangement is hectic but I absolutely love the way it sounds. That riff in the bridge is ridiculously infectious and stunning. After the bridge the rest of the song is in English which sounds nice along with her ad-libbing. This is my favourite song on the album hands down. Utada plays with some more R&B sounds with the slickly produced A.S.A.P. There’s an urgent vibe to the song and its fast-paced  chorus, energetic vocals and arrangement makes for a whole lot of fun. It has a slightly dark atmosphere which mostly comes from the verses due to the menacing bells used in the arrangement. The chorus is sung with a lot of power and Utada’s repetition of “a.s.a.p.” is really catchy. For the second verse the music picks up speed and she sings in fast-paced vocals which shakes the song up a bit making it more interesting. Her repetitive ad-libbing at the end, “come a little early/you wait for me/soon we’ll be so happy,” is delivered in whispery and breathy vocals.

Uso Mitai na I Love You is the only other rock inspired song she has in her Japanese discography besides Drama. The song immediately starts with an aggressive guitar and drums which are toned down slightly for the verses. Utada samples the melody from Simple and Clean and the transformation of that sound into a rock influenced one is executed flawlessly. Utada performs mostly in deep vocals but in the chorus she uses a higher tone for the “I love you” parts. It’s not as hardcore or dark as Drama but the aggressiveness of this track captures your attention easily. FINAL DISTANCE is the most depressing and heart-wrenching ballad I have ever heard. It blows my mind how Utada was able to re-work the bubbly and innocent Distance into a tragic and painful ballad with a haunting atmosphere. She re-arranged the song to commemorate a student that was killed during a school shooting which just makes the song even more heartbreaking. Utada vocals are flawless and she performs in a deep, sorrowful and expressive voice. The English lyrics that were sweet and cute in the original, “I wanna be with you now,” and “we can start over,” are now devastating and emotionally charged lines. I get chills when she sings “I need to be with you,” it’s such a powerful line and the emotion in her voice is intense. The piano and strings are so touching and evoke a strong feeling of pain and longing as do her phenomenal ad-libs at the end of the song.

Bridge (Interlude) starts off with beating that leads into a symphony of gorgeous sounds. It has a very natural feel and the violin is marvelous, it’s so calm and soothing. It becomes more upbeat near the end and the instruments come together perfectly to create a delicious sound.  This is so much better than the interlude from First Love and works as an excellent transition to the final song on the album. Hikari is one of the most well-known and popular songs Utada has ever created and it’s the lightest song on the album. It is the theme song for the Japanese version of Kingdom Hearts, and most people are familiar with its English counter part Simple and Clean. The song begins with its addictive chorus and Utada’s strong vocals. For the verses the synths fade away for her beautiful vocals which are backed up by an acoustic guitar. When the verses crescendo the synths return and Utada begins to sing at a quicker pace before entering the chorus. The second verse contains backing vocals that I never paid attention to before, “when you turn my way/take it all away,” and they’re sung in a raw and vulnerable voice. Utada performs the verses in a low voice while she uses her high tone for the chorus and when she sings the title of the song it’s so high and lovely, I just fall in love with the song all over again. The bridge is repeated a few times and it prevents the song from becoming repetitive at the end. The last minute of the song is dedicated to its instrumentation and Utada’s amazing vocalization. This is a sweet way to end an extraordinary album.

Conclusion: DEEP RIVER showcases Utada’s growth as a singer, songwriter and artist. The level of maturity contained in this work is remarkable. This isn’t just a typical pop album. The production and lyrics are incredibly intricate and the level of detail that these tracks have is mind-blowing. To this day I’m still finding new things about these songs that I’ve never noticed before. This is regarded as Utada’s best work and even though I don’t agree with this statement I can understand why people love it so much. It’s a brilliant album that demonstrates Utada’s experimental side which she embraces for her next albums. This is a must-have for any fan of Japanese pop music.

Recommended Tracks: Tokyo NIGHTS, Letters, Deep River, FINAL DISTANCE, Hikari, SAKURA Drops and traveling




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  1. This album definitely tops in my favorites! The production, lyrics, and the sound is breathtaking. I believe this first album I listened to when I first heard of Utada. I can’t recall since it was so long ago! Haha! Another good review! :]

    • Thanks :). DEEP RIVER is near the top of my favourite Utada albums but I feel it’s a bit overrated (not that that’s a bad thing). Tons of people say it’s her best album and that she needs to make an album like it again. I love it but her newer albums, for me, are so much better than DEEP RIVER.

      • I always find myself listening to Heart Station or Ultra Blue when I get in a Utada mood. Mostly, Heart Station though. Maybe it’s because that was my first album of hers I ever purchased! Hahaha!

  2. I’m the exact same way! HEART STATION and Ultra Blue are amazing <3. I can't wait to review them.

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