Tags: Amuro Namie, Namie Amuro, Review, Uncontrolled, 安室奈美恵
- In The Spotlight (TOKYO)
- GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND)
- Sit! Stay! Wait! Down!
- Hot Girls
- Break It (AL Ver.)
- Get Myself Back
- Love Story
- Let’s Go
- SINGING “YEAH-OH”
- Fight Together
- ONLY YOU
After a handful of double A-sides and one triple A-side, Namie announced her tenth album, Uncontrolled, to celebrate her 20th anniversary. Since the album is filled with so many A-sides, she decided to touch a few of them up and even turned two of them into full English tracks. This is the first album that I’ve heard from her that has so many songs performed in English. I wasn’t sure how I would like them because I have never been a fan of her English but I was impressed by the risk she was taking. It’s always a good thing to see an artist try something different and succeed doing it.
Namie begins with In The Spotlight (TOKYO), the first English song on the album. “I feel alive/and tonight’s my night/I’ve got nothing to hide/I’m dancing in the spotlight,” she professes to a simple synth line but once it hits the verse it becomes a dance floor anthem. She takes on a very commanding presence in them and the beat is amazing. The synths take a backseat for the drums which are so crazy and infectious. It slows down again in the chorus but in the second half the synths crescendo into a raving dance beat. It sounds much more exciting with the upbeat melody. In the bridge, Namie goes wild to marching drums and it’s so much fun. The melody has a European sound to it so it plays on current trends but it’s really good. I’m surprised by how much I like the song and her English is fantastic. She’s improved tremendously over the years and there isn’t anything that is hard to understand. This is a great track to open the album because it’s fun, addicting and shows growth. NAKED has the most interesting composition on the entire record. It is an electronic paradise. The synth line is a psychedelic trip of epic proportions and it’s very heavy. Her light voice holds it’s own against the barrage of beats which become more intricate and advanced as the verses progress. Sighing background vocals add a sexy flair to the song and the spiraling synths that lead into the chorus are delicious. The chorus packs a massive punch and she delivers an energetically-charged performance. Her vocals are perfect, filled with excitement and power. I was hooked the first time I heard it and it’s still fresh. It’s just hardcore electro and every second of it is gold. The breakdown before the second verse and in the bridge is awesome. They’re filled with a variety of beats and beeps that get crazier as they go on. Namie ends this masterpiece by repeating “make up your mind now” to the heavy synth line. This is such an immensely wicked track and it’s my favourite song.
GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND) is the first song to receive a makeover and it’s now sung entirely in English. Also, the intro is cut a few seconds short compared to the original but it’s not that big of a deal. I loved Go Round and I was a bit worried with how the English version would turn out even if there was already a lot of English in it. While some parts are a step down, the overall charm remains intact. Melody-wise, it has a catchy synth beat with mechanical mishaps and I love the flow of her voice. There’s a cute tinge to it despite the subject matter and I really like the lyrics, “still like the way that you stay on my mind when you leave (my mind when you leave)/still like the sound of your voice on my answer machine (on my answer machine).” The flow just gets more addicting in the pre-chorus and it shifts into an adorable delicacy for the chorus. The heavy synth beats wrap around her sweet vocals and the way she raises her register as she sings “go round (‘n round, ‘n round, ‘n round)” is so good. There’s only one thing about the new version that disappoints me and it’s the outro. Since the words “days” and “tears” are no longer used in the chorus, she only repeats “how many times” instead of “how many times/how many days/how many tears” which causes it to lose some of its emotion. Sit! Stay! Wait! Down! is relatively new for me because I didn’t become familiar with it as I did with the other singles. It’s humorous because she relates her lover to a dog and it’s a whole lot of fun. She uses deeper vocals this time and the arrangement is made of bouncing percussion and synths. It’s very contagious and I love its quirkiness. The song slows down a bit in its pre-chorus and she throws in some nice backing vocals. The transition to the chorus is amazing because the vocals and synths become wacky. With her fast-paced singing and hilarious dog references, the chorus is the highlight. It’s not an all-out dance track but it has a fantastic groove and it’s too cute when she sings the title. She’s so playful and the icing on the cake is the bridge when she repeats “good boy.” I love the soft dance feel and it’s great to see her be a bit silly.
“Round and round they go/where they stop no one knows,” she whispers at the start of Hot Girls before the dominant drum melody comes in for the repetitive but catchy hook. She takes an in-your-face approach for the chorus and the line “hot girls make the world go round” easily gets stuck in your head from all the times she repeats it. The synths imitate the pounding of the percussion and her voice gets a slight dose of vocoder in the verses. The melody is simple and very western but its heaviness is quite nice. The pre-chorus is much more enticing because the synths kick in and her voice rises, flowing wonderfully to the beat. The bridge features some heavy panting which is pretty sexy and she sings the chorus to a different beat. I’m not crazy about this song because it’s very generic but it’s catchy so it’s not that bad. Break It (AL ver.) came as a surprise to me because I didn’t know it was getting a makeover. Sadly, this new arrangement doesn’t live up to the original which was perfect to begin with. The funky guitar riff is replaced with a hard synth line that isn’t as infectious. In addition, her vocals have a bizarre muffling effect so she doesn’t sound as clear as she did before. However, I still really like the song. The new arrangement isn’t all that bad because the gritty sound of the synths does give it a slightly stronger feel. The chorus is explosive and it’s still immensely catchy. The post-chorus is just as great and she repeats “break it, break it, break it all/shout it, shout it, shout your soul” over a kick-ass beat. The outro was my favourite part and the raging guitars are still included, although muffled, so I’m happy they didn’t change that too much. It’s a shame that they messed with the melody but this is still one of the best tracks.
Halfway through the album and the first ballad, Get Myself Back, finally makes an appearance. Sweet licks of a piano start this incredible R&B ballad but it then soars into a grand melody. The piano becomes livelier and the added percussion compliments its elegance. She sings with soft, lighthearted vocals for the verses which are dominated by the percussion. The arrangement opens up to include a variety of different beats and as it nears the chorus the strings, piano and backing vocals flood in, elevating the serene atmosphere exponentially. This song oozes summery goodness and the chorus is heavenly. The melody is so vibrant and feel-good. The organic instruments are beautiful and the added touch of synths is wonderful. I love the sequence of strings after the chorus because her “ohs” are so catchy. The summer vibe makes this a fresh ballad and a standout in her discography. It’s compelling and performed beautifully. Her voice is warm, welcoming and with the lush instrumental is stunning. Love Story makes for back-to-back ballads and it’s just as great. While the previous one was happy and full of positive energy, this one relies on a more emotional performance. Fragile and vulnerable, her deep voice flows in with a breathless composition of piano, strings and snapping beats. The chimes that flutter in are magical and her tone is gentle and loving. In the chorus, the melody crescendos beautifully as her passionate vocals soar through it. It’s powerful and her emotional vocals make it a gem. It’s a very simple ballad but it’s anything but boring. It’s crafted smartly with a melody that pulls you in immediately and her voice is amazing.
After that little break, the album shoots right back into another banger, Let’s Go. The synths go hard in this rocking track and the drums that join them provide an even stronger punch. Namie takes a confrontational style of delivery and she gets more aggressive as the song progresses, especially in the chorus when the song hits its climax. The verses rely on a gritty sound but as soon as it reaches the pre-chorus the synths shift into dance/trance where she sings the catchiest part, “it’s the idea, the idea, idea of you/it gets me going, going/it gets me going, going.” The chorus continues with the heavy trance and the energy from the vocals and instrumental is incredible. It’s super addicting and she lets out her playful side during the bridge where she chants and shouts. This track borrows from the sound and attitude of her rock tracks but does it in a fun, electronic way. The mysterious and sexy SINGING “YEAH-OH” is next and it’s a delicious dance hit. The synth line is absolute fire and her voice snakes its way around it, making for one of the hottest verses on the record, “somebody stop me ‘cause I think I can’t keep in control (no, no).” It ends up with a very infectious and seductive flair. In addition, her English on this track is good and it’s on par with the original. The switch in melody for the pre-chorus gives it a positive dance vibe and her tone is more enthusiastic than sexual. The chorus is catchy but nowhere as amazing as the verses. It’s very dance-centered but the sensuality of the verses should have been incorporated. However, the bridge is fantastic and it starts with a fun breakdown before it darkens with her low, distorted vocals. This is sleek, sexy and cool, another great track from Namie.
Fight Together oozes vibrancy with its overly cheerful synths. The composition’s feel-good air is contagious and exhilarating. The synths drown in the verses as the percussion takes over and her cute vocals bounce happily to bopping beat. I really like her backing vocals after each stanza in the verse and the sudden change to jazz for the pre-chorus caught me off guard. It definitely makes the song interesting and works as a great lead up to the chorus. The hook is a blast of grand synths and she gets to show off her vocal strength. When she shouts “we fight together,” it gives off such a strong feeling of camaraderie that is quite epic. In the bridge, there are even more surprises because all the electronic instruments die for a small taste of gorgeous live instruments. I totally love the outro where she repeats “life goes on.” It’s such a simple closing but it has such a massive impact and the a capella at the end is a nice touch. Namie performs in English one last time for ONLY YOU, a sentimental mid-tempo and another favourite. Despite the pronunciation issues, this is a sweet track with an uplifting melody. Eventually, the percussion kicks in making it more upbeat and catchier. Her voice is very pleasant, especially during the chorus when her voice rises with emotion and passion. Her “the only thing that can touch me is you” lines are cheesy but they’re addicting and it’s the part of the song that doesn’t leave your head. After the second chorus, her voice shines with the vocal runs she does and the little segment of piano is a sweet surprise. It adds a serene and more sentimental feel as well as making for a great lead back into the chorus. Uncontrolled ends in a beautiful way with the power ballad Tempest. This is the album’s major ballad and it’s easily the best I’ve heard from her. Beginning with a gentle, magical piano and her extraordinary, soft vocals, this is a masterpiece from the start. She’s never sounded so good and her voice is simply stunning. The song transcends to another level in the majestic chorus because the soaring strings crescendos the melody into a heavenly state and her belting is fabulous. The dreamy atmosphere that envelops the chorus is beautiful and really gives it that grandiose sound. I’m so amazed by her voice because it’s so powerful here. I’ve never heard her sing like this and it’s mind-blowing.
Conclusion: Uncontrolled didn’t wow me the first time I listened to it and the changes to some of the songs left me bitter because none of them needed to be tweaked. After getting used to the new English versions, they’re not that bad at all and her English has improved incredibly. It’s actually cool to see her take such a bold move and the songs still have the charm that the Japanese versions had. The ballads are all incredible and I love each and every one of them. Even though there aren’t many new songs, I don’t have any issue with that because all the singles have been great and together they make a strong unit. I wasn’t planning on giving this album a perfect rating but the more I listen to it the more I love it. She never fails to deliver and this is the first Japanese release of the year to blow me away.
Recommended Tracks: NAKED, Tempest, Get Myself Back, GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND), SINGING “YEAH-OH”, ONLY YOU, Sit! Stay! Wait! Down! and Break It (AL ver.)
Tags: AI, Amuro Namie, Anna Tsuchiya, Checkmate!, DOUBLE, Heartsdales, JHETT, Kawabata Kaname, Lil Wayne, m-flo, Mummy-D, Namie Amuro, ravex, Review, SUITE CHIC, Yamashita Tomohisa, ZEEBRA, 安室奈美恵
- Wonder Woman feat. AI & Anna Tsuchiya
- UNUSUAL feat. Yamashita Tomohisa
- make it happen feat. AFTERSCHOOL
- ROCK U feat. Namie Amuro / ravex
- Do What U Gotta Do feat. AI, Namie Amuro & Mummy-D / ZEEBRA
- Wet’N Wild feat. SUITE CHIC / Heartsdales
- Do or Die feat. Namie Amuro / JHETT
- FAKE feat. Namie Amuro / AI
- #1 feat. Kawabata Kaname (CHEMISTRY)
- BLACK OUT feat. Lil Wayne & Namie Amuro / VERBAL
- BLACK DIAMOND / DOUBLE & Namie Amuro
- Luvotomy / m-flo ♥ Namie Amuro
- AFTER PARTY feat. Namie Amuro / ZEEBRA
- WANT ME, WANT ME feat. VERBAL (m-flo)
When it was announced that Namie was going to release Checkmate!, a collaboration best album, I was ecstatic. The majority of her collaborations are fantastic and to finally have an album of them was wonderful news. She has worked with many artists over her career for a variety of styles and genres. These collaborations demonstrate her versatility as an artist and some of the artists she’s joined forces with are unexpected which make the collaborations even better.
Wonder Woman feat. AI & Anna Tsuchiya is one of the unexpected collaborations and one that I didn’t think would ever happen. It’s not surprising for her to work with AI because they’ve collaborated before but Anna is a complete surprise. This is the first time two artists I like have collaborated together and that in itself is amazing. The song is all about girl power and they sound fantastic together. Namie handles the first verse and she sounds incredible. She sounds so different that I didn’t recognize her voice the first time I heard it. Her vocals are fierce and her fast-paced singing is beyond addicting with the groovy synths and guitar. Anna takes over for the second verse and she nails it with her aggressive fast-paced singing. AI does her thing in the pre-chorus and I really like her vocals. It’s a great transition into the chorus which is absolutely infectious with loud guitars, drums and synths. All of them sing with strong vocals and the backing vocals are insane, “I’ll be your wonder woman.” AI’s “wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wo-wo-woman” part after the chorus is enjoyable as well. In the bridge, the music slows down for Namie before going back into the hectic arrangement for the chorus. This is a wonderful collaboration and a great way to open the album. Namie joins forces with Tomohisa Yamashita from NEWS for UNUSUAL feat. Yamashita Tomohisa. It opens up with Namie singing “do you wanna feel maybe something unusual baby?” which immediately leads to her verse. The beat for the verses is quite interesting with all the synths and for the pre-chorus the arrangement is somewhat messy but in a good way. Yamashita does the lead vocals for the first pre-chorus while Namie does the backing vocals. The chorus has a good beat and they sound great together. The parts where they sing to each other are wicked cool and my favourite part of the song, “hey boy do you have a big plan? (yes!)/respect me as a woman? (yes!)/can you be my superman? (yes!)/this is so unusual.” The breakdown in the bridge shows off the instrumentation nicely and it has a good dance vibe.
make it happen feat. AFTERSCHOOL marks Namie’s first time collaborating with a Korean group and the result is an incredible up-tempo. The first verse starts with AFTERSCHOOL and they sing in pairs until Namie takes over. Namie easily outshines the other girls with her confident and cool vocals which are backed up by dramatic strings, “I found a man who has his dreams and desires.” The strings are replaced by delicious synths in the pre-chorus and Namie sings with drawn out vocals while AFTERSCHOOL sings “turn the lights on, turn the lights off,” which is very catchy. The song only gets better in the chorus where the arrangement becomes a barrage of synths. AFTERSCHOOL does the backing vocals while Namie performs in strong and loud vocals. The girl group isn’t used much as they only have half a verse to themselves but their ad-libs and backing vocals throughout the song, especially in the final chorus, are wonderful. ROCK U feat. Namie Amuro / ravex is electropop heaven with blaring and heavy synths. The verses are filled with groovy synths and Namie sings with vocoded vocals which sound awesome, “party’s poppin’ on Friday night.” The English lyrics are super catchy, especially in the pre-chorus, “so shut up and get up, cuz that’s what we do.” In the chorus, the synths become intense with scratching sounds and Namie repeats the title of the track a few times. For the second half of the chorus, her vocals are very girly and energetic. The synths in the bridge are crazy and I love how they pick up speed before the final chorus. All in all, this is a purely hardcore electronic track from start to finish.
Do What U Gotta Do feat. AI, Namie Amuro & Mummy-D / ZEEBRA is one of the first songs from Namie that I listened to when I started getting into her music. It’s a sick hip hop track and ZEEBRA opens it by introducing the other singers. The first verse is split between ZEEBRA and Mummy-D and their raps are very entertaining. ZEEBRA has a deep voice while Mummy-D has a lighter tone to his voice and they sound good. The drums and brass instruments are infectious and produce an irresistible melody. The chorus is sung by Namie and it’s the best part. Her singing flows better with the melody than the rapping and she sounds hot. AI shares the third verse with the guys and her rap is just as strong as theirs. Namie’s ad-libs at the end are so amazing and they’re so catchy. I’ve actually never heard Wet ‘N Wild feat. SUITE CHIC / Heartsdales before as it’s from her SUITE CHIC days but I like it a lot. It also opens with a rapper introducing the singers while Namie continuously sings “nasty nasty” which sounds incredible. Jewels and Rum rap in the verses and they alternate back and forth. I haven’t listened to them before but I dig their style. Their voices are deep and their rapping is so good. The chorus is a mix of relaxing vocals from Namie and aggressive vocals from Heartsdales which works very well with the lovely guitar melody. The part after the chorus is more upbeat because of the synths and Heartsdales sings it entirely in English, “gonna getchuu wet wet all wet’n wild/so make some noise.” Even though Namie doesn’t play a big role, it’s still a great addition to the album.
I’m familiar with Do or Die feat. Namie Amuro / JHETT but I’ve never listened to it all the way through. It’s an aggressive song and Namie puts a lot of attitude into her voice. The arrangement consists of hard beats and synths which are very in-your-face and they don’t change very much. I like her sped up vocals in the pre-chorus and the repetition in the chorus of “do or die” is so addicting. The bridge is the only part of the song where Namie uses soft vocals, “my life…/gambling, tumbling, then hustling,” and it doesn’t sound out of place. Overall, this is a really cool track. FAKE feat. Namie Amuro / AI lacks a little compared to the other songs but it’s still fun and I love their vocals. The first verse is sung by AI and she performs with funky vocals against the drums, synths and brass instruments. In the pre-chorus, AI and Namie sing in a high tone that sounds a bit whiny but I love it. They don’t usually sing in this tone so it’s a nice change for the both of them. In the chorus, they continue with the high tone but it’s a bit more breathy and the repetition of “fake” is somewhat catchy. Namie’s verse is better because I like her vocals more and you get to hear her high voice more in the second pre-chorus. The bridge starts out with some sick synths but then it chills out into a calmer arrangement with a few piano notes.
#1 feat. Kawabata Kaname (CHEMISTRY) is a slick and sexy mid-tempo. Namie hasn’t done this style in a while and she sounds fierce and hot. The verses alternate between her and Kaname Kawabata, who sounds just as great. When they sing together they sound so amazing and seductive. The chorus is also split between them with Namie singing the first half and Kaname singing the second half but for the second chorus their positions are switched. The chorus is quite catchy, “you need to be my #1 yup,” and the whispering backing vocals are simply delicious. The bridge is just as hot and the repetition of “# 1” is infectious. For the final chorus, both of them sing together which makes it even better. BLACK OUT feat. Lil Wayne & Namie Amuro / VERBAL is a surprising collaboration because it features a popular American rapper, Lil Wayne and it has a dark vibe to it. The synths in the verses are crazy while they’re tamer in the chorus. VERBAL does his thing in the first verse and for some reason he’s one of the few rappers that I seem to enjoy most of the time. Lil Wayne raps for the second verse and I’m not really a fan of his voice. He has a raspy tone that doesn’t sound good at all and the song would have benefited more without his inclusion, “and I wear them skinny jeans so you see my fat wallet.” The dark elements are very prominent in the chorus and Namie kills it. It’s the best part of the song and her vocals work perfectly with the melody. I especially love her repetition of “black out” near the end.
BLACK DIAMOND / DOUBLE & Namie Amuro is one of the hottest tracks on the album and one of Namie’s most popular collaborations. With crazy synths and irresistible vocals from both ladies, the song oozes sex the second it begins. Namie owns the first verse with her sexy vocals and the backing vocals as well as the pre-chorus, which are sung by DOUBLE, are superb. The second verse isn’t as strong as the first one because Namie sounded fiercer and DOUBLE did the backing vocals, which were mostly in English, better. While the chorus is infectious, it’s slightly weaker than the verses and that’s mainly due to the lyrics, “when you meet a guy who’s fly/always call him black diamond.” I do like how Namie sings the final line in the first chorus while DOUBLE sings it in the second and in the final two choruses they sing it together, “we’ll be the winners/so we get the black diamond.” The bridge mainly consists of the title being repeated and in the second half they sing together but they’re voices don’t go well together because of the high tone that they use. Besides this little issue, this song is ridiculously hot. I immediately fell in love with Luvotomy / m-flo ♥ Namie Amuro when I heard it and it’s my favourite song that Namie’s taken part in. It starts off almost like a ballad with a repeating synth line and her vocals are flawless. The pre-chorus is out of this world and the English backing vocals make it even better. Namie closes the pre-chorus with strong vocals and the song switches to an up-tempo which leads into VERBAL’s amazing rap. This is probably one of the best raps I’ve ever heard and I love the back and forth singing he does with Namie, “you want it all… this… that…this… that… this… that…” The chorus is synth heaven and completely irresistible. The shouting backing vocals pump up the energy and the English lyrics are great, “I wanna walk away,” and “it’s a lie.” VERBAL’s second rap is even better and it’s crazy. As the song picks up in speed he raps just as fast and it’s just jaw-dropping. Namie returns for a slowed down version of the chorus and her distorted vocals sound really good. This is, without a doubt, the gem of the album.
AFTER PARTY feat. Namie Amuro / ZEEBRA is another song that I didn’t know existed and it really surprised me because it’s the most laid-back and relaxing song on the album. The arrangement is quite tropical and it gives off a summery feel. ZEEBRA’s vocals aren’t as exciting as they were in his other track and he sounds a bit lifeless. His relaxed vocals don’t really work well. In contrast, Namie does the soft and sexy vocals much better which is why the chorus stands out the most, “so, just love me/it’s after party.” However, the beat doesn’t change so it kind of drags on at the end. The hidden song, Want Me, Want Me feat. VERBAL (m-flo) closes the album and it’s a nice remix. The only difference of this song is that VERBAL’s rap replaces the first verse. This version isn’t anywhere near the level of the original but VERBAL’s rap fits the song really well and the “nananas” he sings to the beat of the song are so catchy. This is a nice little bonus to the album.
Conclusion: Checkmate! is the best compilation I’ve ever heard and one of the reasons why it’s so good is because it doesn’t feel like a compilation album at all. While there are many different styles on the album which range from hip hop to electropop, it actually flows well and the old tracks sound as fresh as the new ones. Namie’s played around with many styles over her career and these collaborations showcase that. This is a wonderful treat for the fans and it’s a release I’ve been wanting for a long time. If you aren’t familiar with her collaborations, this is your chance to get to listen to some incredible songs.
Recommended Tracks: Luvotomy / m-flo ♥ Namie Amuro, make it happen feat. AFTERSCHOOL, Wonder Woman feat. AI & Anna Tsuchiya, BLACK DIAMOND / DOUBLE & Namie Amuro and UNUSUAL feat. Yamashita Tomohisa