Ayumi Hamasaki – Party Queen

August 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Posted in Ayumi Hamasaki | 3 Comments
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  1. Party queen
  2. NaNaNa
  3. Shake It♥
  4. taskebab
  5. call
  6. Letter
  7. reminds me
  8. Return Road
  9. Tell me why
  10. a cup of tea
  11. the next LOVE
  12. Eyes, Smoke, Magic
  13. Serenade in A minor
  14. how beautiful you are

Party Queen caused quite a commotion earlier this year as details for it began to emerge. Firstly, Ayumi announced her separation from Manuel, her husband, which wasn’t surprising at all but it did lead to a lot of drama. In addition, many were shocked by the record’s provocative covers which had her wearing only her lingerie while others were refreshed by the bold move, especially after the divorce. It appeared that the album was headed into a very dance-centered direction which it does touch upon but only briefly because it eventually delves into deeper and darker material. She does try to shake the album up by working with a new producer, Timothy Wellard, who also made an appearance in FIVE for the production of BRILLANTE and even joined a fan forum to spill details on Ayumi. He eventually fell out of favour with some fans due to his overexposure in her work. With everything surrounding the album, it seemed like she was branching out and trying something new and I was on board for it.

The album begins with its title track, Party queen, and the European electro aspects are immediately apparent as a bunch of crazy synths come to life. It starts off with a computer-like synth riff until it becomes overpowered by an intense drum and synth beat. She sounds a little weird on the verses because she talks her way through them with the sound of clinking glasses and the pouring of drinks in the background. They’re not that interesting but once the music picks up it gets much better and she begins singing to the beat. The chorus is kind of catchy with its raving dance beat and her repetition of “I am the party queen.” However, her tone keeps this from being a top track. She performs with her cute voice and it doesn’t go with the gritty underground sound. The track concludes with creepy laughter and leads to the police sirens that introduce the next party song, NaNaNa. The arrangement is vastly superior due to the sinister and aggressive growl of the electro beats. The gritty and dark melody instantly captured me and her creepy whispering of “tick tick tick tick tock tick” is a great way to start things. Her voice is much better and her lower range goes so well with the disturbing composition. Unfortunately, Tim is included and his sections are so bad. He offers nothing but cheesy and spoken rap-like sections before the chorus that bring the song down, “all the gorgeous boiz/come and make some noise.” After his tragic performances, she manages to salvage with the chorus which has a nice vocoder effect on her voice and the music lightens up but still keeps the infectious synths. This would have been a flawless track if it wasn’t for Tim but, regardless of his inclusion, the raving melody is more than enough to make this a favourite.

The fun continues with Shake It♥ and her vocalizing introduction is very catchy. This is another aggressive track but, unlike the previous songs, this one relies on guitars to bring out a gritty sound. A steady drum beat leads the verses with the occasional spazz of guitar while her voice cynically dances to the beat. Eventually, her backing vocals kick in to make it catchier. The chorus is unexpectedly dramatic with its array of beats and her heightened, rapid delivery. The rock influence comes out as she repeats “shake it” and Tim makes another appearance but only for the backing vocals. Not only is there a whole lot of rock but the bridge throws in a dubstep breakdown that oddly enough shifts to a brass section before the last chorus. It’s very weird but it’s pretty cool. I really enjoy the aggressive sound that she plays with and the heavy electronic elements are glorious. Even the interlude, taskebab, brings the heat despite its silly name. It’s all about rock here and its massive guitar assault is wicked cool. Too bad this isn’t an actual song because the melody is tremendous. It kicks into overdrive as a synth line appears, speeding up and exploding into a duo of rock and electro. This is such a waste as an interlude because it would have made such an energetic rock anthem. Her interludes don’t always make sense with the song that they lead into and that’s exactly what happens here. Not only that, but the album does a complete 180 because from this point on the dance anthems end and it returns to her general style of music. call is a soothing pop rock tune, unlike the hardcore interlude. The acoustic guitar is quite lovely and has a fresh summer air. In the chorus, her voice gets much louder compared to the instrumental which does crescendo quite a bit with it’s arrangement of rock and there’s some sweet male backing vocals thrown in too. While it has a carefree attitude, there’s a lingering sadness that comes through her voice. It’s a gorgeous contrast and the combination of emotions that runs in this song makes this much more than just a typical pop rock hit.

The pop rock continues for Letter but the melody here is mellow and transcends into a very elegant state for the chorus. With a larger focus on heavy rock, she begins the verses with luscious and deep vocals. Even though I enjoyed her voice in the previous song, it is much more to my liking here. She sings powerfully and puts a lot more emotion into her intonation which is complimented by the dynamic instrumentation. All of this is enhanced in the chorus, where the strings burst to life and her voice soars beautifully. This isn’t an immensely catchy track but her voice and the dark, passionate production works wonders together. I like this a lot more than I expected I would. reminds me comes on to the scene with its ear-catching introduction of melancholic strings that flourish as they progress. Just as the magnificent procession of strings reaches its climax, it suddenly dies and in its place comes a soft acoustic guitar joined by her sweet voice. The sudden change in tempo and atmosphere is startling at first but the warmth of the acoustics is soothing as are her vocals. However, the song doesn’t stop there because it changes into an explosive rock ballad. Just before entering the massive hook, the electric guitars roar to life and the strings come back with a fury. Her voice is filled with a passion that has yet to be seen on this record and it’s marvelous, filled to the brim with emotion. Her ad-libbing as the strings work their magic is stunning and then the descent into a heavy rock breakdown takes it to the next level. I was expecting a return to another acoustic verse but the song just continues with the chorus. I love the intensity that she displays and it makes this a standout. Her vocalizing at the end creeps into desperate cries that are filled with tremendous pain. She does offer one final taste of warmth as the song calms back into the acoustics for its finale.

Lamenting strings introduce the power ballad Return Road and they lead into an epic organ with the twinkling of chimes in the background. This overly dramatic segment settles down for the verse which is composed of a piano and strings. Her delivery is as soft as the instruments are but this is short-lived because the chorus brings the song to its highest point where the strings and percussion lead her into emotional disarray. The bridge contains a bizarre mix of dramatic strings and the random clash of piano keys that are accompanied by operatic male vocals that reflect her inner turmoil. The final chorus is given an extra punch of drama as the operatic vocals back her up. It’s a little touch that makes a big difference. This is another excellent track and one of the album’s best offerings. Tell me why somewhat follows in the footsteps of the last few songs but in a much lighter way. Her “oohs” at the very start are stunning. With the piano, they create such a haunting introduction that pulls you into its state of sadness. The subtle gloominess that looms around the verses is overwhelming and the percussion adds a sense of emptiness. When it moves into the chorus, strings are added to the mix and her voice takes on a depressing tone that gives the song a stronger emotional pull. This ballad doesn’t contain the surprises or dramatics of the previous ones but that’s what I like about it. It’s a raw ballad that allows her to really express herself and bring about a sense of sadness. It’s very chill and soothing despite its depressing tone. a cup of tea, the second interlude, leads the album away from the dark and tragic tone that the middle section sets up. After the misleading procession of strings at the start, the interlude delves into dubstep territory with a sinister twist. It’s kind of quirky but there’s nothing too amazing about it.

the next LOVE takes Ayumi to a new style with a velvety smooth classic and jazz composition. The classic elements act as the introduction with Ayumi ad-libbing sweetly before a dramatic clash of strings leads to the inclusion of the silky jazz beat. Her voice gently glides along the piano, setting up a delicious lounge feel. Her voice gains strength as the instrumental spirals into a powerful blend of strings in the chorus. I love how the bridge gains momentum and she sings quickly to the ecstatic tempo change. It’s a really nice change of style for her. It’s a great combination of sultry vocals and instruments while still maintaining a powerful hook. The sound of a ringing phone followed by deranged laughter introduces the next jazz themed number, Eyes, Smoke, Magic. Unlike the last, this one takes a page from Broadway and has her whispering “eyes, smoke, magic” to a snapping beat. It just screams Broadway with its eccentric jazz-influenced melody. Throughout the verses, there’s the occasional spazz of beats that emphasize the theatrical aspect of the track. Midway in, after the first chorus, everything picks up into a sugary breakdown with Ayumi speeding up to the beat. The surprise of instruments never stops because the song continues to throw different elements into the mix. The end captures the finale of musicals because of the brass instruments and her strong ad-libs. The composition is certainly the highpoint and it’s such a drastic sound for her. The one thing I don’t really like is how cute her voice gets in some parts but it goes with the melody pretty well so it’s not too bad. Serenade in A minor is the last interlude and it’s the complete opposite of the others. This one is all about serenity and beauty. The strings carry a haunting atmosphere that is melancholic yet breathtaking. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but you can’t go wrong with a lovely serenade of strings. The good thing about this is that it leads into how beautiful you are perfectly. The final track is a classic Ayumi ballad and it stands out because it’s the only one that boasts a simple instrumentation. The album has been a mixed bag of electropop, rock ballads and jazz and this is absolutely refreshing. Supported by a lonely piano, she graces with her soft voice and despite a very basic set up, I really like how it comes together. Everything is kept to a bare minimum for most of the song and when the strings creep in for the chorus, it suddenly is filled with an uplifting and self-empowering mood. The way she sings the title is sweet and encouraging. The song gets even better when the male backing vocals are added during the bridge and continue into the last chorus where she performs with much more passion. It definitely closes the album on a high note.

Conclusion: Party Queen turned out to be something I was not expecting at all. I was actually looking forward to a complete dance-oriented album where she would let herself go wild. That seemed to be the direction she was heading with the first three songs but once they’re over she reverts back to her usual sound which is disappointing. I would have loved to see her fully embrace the sound that she explored at the start because it would have been so refreshing for her. In addition, there’s a lack of focus because the first part of the album doesn’t have much to do with the latter half. Despite my nitpicking, the songs themselves are not bad at all and most of my favourites come later on. It’s just that I would have really liked her to take a risk rather than stick to the same tired formula. The dramatic nature of the majority of the tracks is fantastic and the main reason they are so enjoyable. They are powerful and extremely emotional, bordering on very dark themes. Party Queen sees her trying to slowly reach out of her comfort zone and hopefully she does an even bigger leap in the future.

Recommended Tracks: how beautiful you are, Return Road, reminds me, Shake It♥, NaNaNa, Tell me why and Letter

Rating

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3 Comments »

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  1. […] Ayumi Hamasaki – Party Queen – Chaotic Dusk This track-by-track review finds Ayu being musically adventurous, but perhaps not adventurous enough? […]

  2. That was a good review but I’m not sure I agree with the rating. I feel like it was a weak album, cannot believe she recorded it in my city though! ^__^

    But out of all the songs, Tell me why is my favourite along with Letter and reminds me.

    • I don’t think it’s weaker or stronger than what she usually releases. It’s not an outstanding album but I enjoyed the majority of the songs so that’s why it ended up with four stars.


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