Review Summary: Japan's pop sensation is equal parts style and substance and with Ultra Blue, Hikaru Utada really shines.
Hikaru Utada is a big deal. Never heard of her? Well outside the popular Playstation video game series, Kingdom Hearts, Utada has had little to no exposure here in the states. That being said, she is a force to be reckoned with. For example, three of her albums rank in the top ten selling albums in Japan....of all time. Claiming the first, fourth, and eighth respectively. So it's fair to say, when Utada sings, people listen.
However, is this fame well founded? After all, American pop stars are more a flash in the pan than actual musicians. Putting out a good single or two, only to make room for a younger, prettier version. Yet Hikaru Utada has shown some true staying power. That being said, nothing displays that better than Ultra Blue.
It must be said, that there is a language barrier. She is Japanese after all, and this is entirely sung in her native language. Yet this isn't a legitimate complaint.
The style of Ultra Blue is a mix of electronic and standard pop elements. Throw in the occasional keyboard or piano and you're left with some pretty solid background music. I say background music because her voice is the thing here to listen for. Utada has a great voice, full of passion and emotion. She clearly has some singing chops.
So what I've been describing sounds like a classic right? Well unfortunately that's not the case. What Ultra Blue suffers from is a few tracks that are just a lot weaker than the others. From a purely songwriting standpoint, they lack the spark that makes the rest of the album worth listening to. "Keep Tryin'," "Making Love,"and "One Night Magic" are three such songs. They just aren't interesting. And as much I wish it weren't true, they really do put a damper on the experience.
Aside from these however, are some really standout tracks. If there was one song that truly defined this album, "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro" would be it. It's gorgeous, emotional, and a real showcase of her voice. Without a doubt the best track. "Colors" was another hit single, more upbeat and electronic in nature with "Sea Route" being the opposite. Both are great tracks also. "Passion" is the albums closer, and easily the second best. Released in the United States for Kingdom Hearts 2 as the English language song"Sanctuary,""Passion" shows Utatda at her most varied. Much quicker in pace and just as passionate as the rest of the tracks, it is a truly interesting song.
If J-pop isn't your thing, I can't see Ultra Blue persuading you. But it really stands out amongst the bubblegum pop that is prevalent in the Japanese music scene. Those who do give this a listen won't find an instant classic, but instead a wholly satisfying and rewarding experience.