Utada Hikaru
DEEP RIVER


4.5
superb

Review

by Kevin K USER (57 Reviews)
March 13th, 2013 | 52 replies


Release Date: 2002 | Tracklist


I’ve been going at J-pop for a while now, checking out a wide variety of different bands and female-fronted ensembles, digging up standard genre fare and discovering oddball native genres such as shibuya-kei along the way, long past the aftermath of discovering Utada for the first time and far outside the penumbra that composes of anything remotely similar to her. I’ve heard many a female singer sound nearly identical to another, particularly among bands such as the Cymbals, Cecil, Serani Poji, et al. In a nutshell, they’re identical. I’ve also heard a few distinguished voices, like the raspy Shiina Ringo, and the super versatile Mariko Goto, whose voice is capable of transforming from teenybopper to terminator like the flip of a switch. Avoiding only the laziest of copycats, I’ve come back to Utada expecting to be jaded, but instead I wound up appreciating her more than ever. Not that I’ve seen everything there is to see, not even close, but the scale is level between the peerless pioneers and ponytailed posers, and among them all, Utada remains at the tippy-top.

Utada is a household name in Japan, but despite her fluency in the language and superior stardom in said country, she was actually born and raised in the United States. She moved to Tokyo in 1997, where she hit it off huge with her debut First Love, which would soon become recognized as the highest-selling album in Japanese history. After yet another chart-destroying release, Distance, she had wormed her way into millions of hearts and became a true pop idol, impressive considering she approached her music as a singer-songwriter rather than opting from the get-go to be the center of pop-aficionados’ shrines. Taking this approach she also avoided sex-icon status the best she could, occasionally waxing lust with collaborations such as Rush Hour 2’s cunnilingus anthem “Blow My Whistle”, though generally she kept her image clean, and garnered respect because of it. Before she released her third album (the album currently under review), she developed cancer in the ovaries, postponing its release and promotion. Though it is true she boasts the highest album sales in Japan and that she was diagnosed with a tumor, she proved none of that could hold her down, kicking cancer’s ass and succumbing to no pressure when writing her third album. The impressive feats don’t end there either, Deep River was a breakthrough album for Utada, both stylistically and internationally, ushering in a new era of super stardom for the gifted young songstress.

Upgrading her sweet-hearted R&B vibes while expanding the scope of her sound brings Deep River to the top of her catalog. Utada spews out truly gorgeous vocals, bearing crystal-clear emotion to the forefront of her music. Whether it be the seductive crooning found on the title track or the supercharged, subdued passion heard on “Final Distance” (and pretty much everywhere else), her voice is gentle yet unquestionably powerful. She more or less sings this way regardless of what’s going on in the background, whether the backdrop is bouncy and danceable (“travelling”), bluesy and affectionate (“Sakura drops”) or laden with zesty guitars and electronics (“Uso Mitai na I Love You”), but nothing ever comes across as redundant or unfitting. The album’s instrumentation is varied and consistent, creating a beautiful spectrum onto which Utada spills her voice. Spicy Caribbean percussion and guitars coalesce with her romantic vocals on “Letters” to create a deliciously bittersweet vibe, while angelic, silvery pianos lull serenely elsewhere on “Final Distance”. Generally she favors electronics and guitars as the key instrumentation for Deep River, but she manages to do so sparingly and tastefully enough that each song stands out and caresses the ears on their own unique merits. The interlude found near the end of the album, while vocally naked, manages to sum up the sonic forte of the album in little over a minute, fusing ethereal synths with a playful string section together between a light beat-driven percussion before signaling the start of album closer “Hikari”. From beginning to end, she puts on an excellent performance showing off both her singing talents and songwriting penchants, and Deep River shows her musical evolution hit its prime.

Preceding an equally impressive Ultra Blue, Deep River sets a new bar for Utada, and it sets it quite high. She does her own thing among her many peers in the genre of Japanese pop, and she does it extremely well. Her superstardom began to expand to western audiences around this era of her work, propelling her beyond the native worship walls of her home country. Deep River is an essential pop album; after searching long and hard for the next Deep River, I’m back to the start and impressed with how Utada maintains her distinctive image and sound in between all the other artists I’ve come across. One of my first forays into J-pop, I’d recommend you make it yours too if you haven’t already started somewhere.



Recent reviews by this author
Yukari Fresh Yukari's Perfect!Uio Loi Uio Loi
Lord Mantis Death MaskSundrugs Hidden Scenes
Julianna Barwick The Magic PlaceFlying Lotus Los Angeles
user ratings (68)
Chart.
4
excellent
related reviews

HEART STATION

ULTRA BLUE

Exodus '04
recommended by reviewer
Utada Hikaru Ultra Blue

Comments:Add a Comment 
WashboardSuds
March 13th 2013


5017 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

tried the best I could to avoiding referencing Kingdom Hearts. for WeepingBanana's review a random album game and for trebs who suggested it

sixdegrees
March 13th 2013


17149 Comments


about time this got a review, pos'd

Digging: 10Minimal - Aluminum World

foxblood
March 13th 2013


6797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

finally

Keyblade
March 13th 2013


14888 Comments


it's always hard to avoid referencing KH i feel u bro

sixdegrees
March 13th 2013


17149 Comments


Uso Mitai na I Love You is the shit

foxblood
March 13th 2013


6797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

the 33 is gonee :o

sixdegrees
March 13th 2013


17149 Comments


RIP

WashboardSuds
March 13th 2013


5017 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

keyblade you must have it really hard

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
March 13th 2013


50455 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

wag

Digging: Viper the Rapper - You'll Cowards Don't Even Smoke Crack

Keyblade
March 13th 2013


14888 Comments


RIP 33

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2013


28581 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Lol

Digging: Chris Brown - X

foxblood
March 13th 2013


6797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

sakura drops is omg

Keyblade
March 13th 2013


14888 Comments


nice dig acad

NOTINTHEFACE
March 13th 2013


1653 Comments


Lol @ all the anime profile pics in the thumbnails.

This album is great. I completely agree with your sentiment that J-Pop always seems to come back to this album. It's that way for me too.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
March 13th 2013


1627 Comments


I dunno much about this album but I find the cover really, really striking.

toxin.
March 13th 2013


12496 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

wait is this that great?
omg i've wanted some jap music to get some more exposure to the language. fucking 5'd just to bookmark

Keyblade
March 13th 2013


14888 Comments


just watch anime if you want exposure

toxin.
March 13th 2013


12496 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I do watch anime, but I've hit a bit of a rut on not-shit anime to watch.
So far I've got Death Note/Geass (which I hear meh things about tbph), Mirai Nikki, and MSMM I think

Keyblade
March 13th 2013


14888 Comments


death note is great imo...one of the few i really enjoy. i have geass too but i never watched yet

toxin.
March 13th 2013


12496 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I dunno, Fate/Zero is one of my favorites for how they juggled so many different motivations so adeptly. The comparison a few reviewers have made is to Death Note, where they talk about how they basically spoonfeed you the strategy, which means a lot of people overrated how "mind-blowing" it is.

Obviously I can't comment on its validity but it's enough to make Death Note just another thing on my list of stuff to watch instead of something I have to watch.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2014 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Privacy Policy