Review Summary: One of Ayu's best (if not the best) album. I am... is the total package. A very satisfying listen
I am a HUGE Hamasaki fan and a first time reviewer, so here it goes.
I am... - The title track is an awesome opener. The acapella vocals sound very powerful in the very beginning. It's obvious once the music starts that Ayumi has officially moved away from the sound most prevalent in her first 3 albums (especially in LOVEppears) which is beat-heavy synth-pop and transgressed into more of an edgier pop-rock sound. It's also nice that we see her taking full use of real instruments which wasn't been seen much in her first albums. I love the echo effect in the verses and the powerfulness of the chorus. My only real complaint is the end. Her voice becomes distorted and I never really liked this effect. It makes her voice sound very old and strange, but that might be a matter of preference.
Opening run - This instrumental is really fun to listen to. It moves kinda fast and has a really nice beat. But it's a little repetitive. Luckily, it's very short.
Connected - Connected is one of my least favorite songs on the album. I'm all for techno/trance songs, but there seems to be something lacking. Another problem is Hamasaki's vocals. This song (especially the chorus) seems to been in a too high key for her. Her voice strains a little. It's not a bad song, it's just not one I put on repeat
UNITE! - These next two songs are quite similar. The first one is UNITE! I love the intro into the song! It turns from a little piano laden instrumental to fast paced pop-rock as soon as Hamasaki concludes her intro. The best parts are the chorus, but the hi-light is the instrumental section in the middle. Anyone who is a fan of Hamasaki knows that UNITE! is one of her staple songs that she performs at almost every concert. This is a song that is a lot more fun to watch her perform dance along to than maybe to listen to. But it doesn't hurt. UNITE! is a lot of fun
evolution - evolution is very similar in sound to UNITE! Like UNITE!, evolution starts very soft then quickly turns into a fast-paced guitar driven melody. This difference is, evolution keeps a constant energy from the guitar's first appearance to the end. Everything is a bundle of energy. The verses, the choruses, everything. This is also a fun song to listen to. It moves very fast and it's no wonder that this also is a Hamasaki favorite to perform. Just watch a single performance of evolution and you'll see how much fun she has up there singing this song.
Naturally - Naturally is a very interesting song. It combines the etherealness of Connected but the drum beat from I am... The verses are very cool. Hamasaki's voice switches between distorted to normal, almost like she's answering herself. But the best part of the song is the chorus. It's so powerful. Hamasaki uses fast-paced vocals to really convey her emotion and it adds up to be a really neat song.
NEVER EVER - NEVER EVER is sort of an iffy song for me. I love the instrumentation and the arrangement, but the problem with NEVER EVER is Ayu's vocals. Like Connected, NEVER EVER is too high for Ayumi. She returns to that ultra-squeeky sound of her olden days. It sort of works, though, for the music-box like instrumentation in the beginning. It can get a little too squeaky, especially in the middle portion. Like other Hamasaki songs, the chorus is the best part. It's just low enough for Hamasaki to express her emotion without going in to that high pitched squeakiness. This song may require a certain taste. If you're a first time Hamasaki listener, I would not start with this song. If you're a veteran and know how squeaky her voice can really get, maybe you'll just appreciate that this is not the worst it can get.
still alone - I don't know why, but everyone I've talked to, does not like this song. I, however; have grown to really appreciate it. The beginning alone shows how Hamasaki's composing skills have grown in such a short time. The vocals start in a simple melody and then intensify completely in the chorus. This is one of those songs that can turn very badly if Hamasaki could not control her voice (especially at the key change) but she pulls it off very well. The chorus is very powerful, maybe one of the most powerful of any of her songs. It sort of hits you in the gut (in a good way, of course). I really enjoy this song, especially its instrumentation. It's a really nice song to listen to and I highly suggest it.
Daybreak - I have always liked this song. I personally think that this album version is much better than the one released on the single and set to the music video. This version has a much more heavier, darker, feel and the vocals, in my opinion, fit the original instrumentation better. This darker feel makes the climax of the song so much more satisfying than the single mix. I honestly wish that this was the single version. It probably would have fit the look of the music video better anyway. (You can watch it, to see what I'm talking about). However, this is certainly not the highlight of the album. Compared to some of the rest of the songs, Daybreak's instrumentation is fairly simple (thought that's not a bad thing), it just seems more stripped away than some of the other songs. It's a very good song, but it can get old, pretty quickly
taskinlude - taskinlude is the second instrumental and the first in the instrumental series of instrumentals on almost all of Hamasaki's composed by tasuku; each one of them has the word 'task' in them. Well, taskinlude is a very weird song. It shifts the album from the faster paced songs to the slower ones as exemplified by taskinludes very slow beat. I never really liked the vocoded voice in the song, it's a little creepy. The use of real drums in the song is really cool, though. But other than that, taskinlude is not my favorite instrumental. It's too slowD, but it's not a ballad. It has that sort of dragging, sinking feeling.
M - M is my favorite Ayu song ever. It is simply gorgeous. This is her first song in which she herself composed and it's an impressive first effort. The music is very ethereal at the beginning. Hamasaki sings very softly. Then after the little pre-chorus, the music shifts to an edgier sound. The beat is heavier and the guitar is introduced. Then comes the chorus. It's a very powerful statement. Hamasaki pouring her soul to Mary, crying out to her. Then after an awesome guitar solo we move back into a second chorus, then finally the climax. This song is famous for the powerful high notes that Hamasaki sings. Her voice is full of emotion and then it all stops... it turns back into the original sound of the beginning and ends very softly, ending with Hamasaki's final intake of breath. It's no question why this is one of her most popular and acclaimed songs.
a song is born - after M, a song is born is such let down. It's not a bad song, it's just very bland. The original version was a duet between Hamasaki and KEIKO from the pop group GLOBE. It was released as a charity single from avex trax to raise funds for 9/11 victims. This version, is Ayu's solo version. It's a very sweet song, but again there's that problem of Ayumi singing in a too high key. Her vocals are very strained in the chorus. The melody is a little too simple for my taste and it's a bit repetitive. It's good for a once in a while listen, not a song I'd put on repeat
Dearest - there's one word to describe Dearest: pretty. From the instrumentation to the vocals, Dearest is just very pretty, but that's all it is. It's the closest thing to a traditional pop ballad on the whole album. Western anime fans may recognize this song as the 3rd ending theme to Inu-Yasha, that's how I got into Hamasaki. So in a way, I owe a lot to Dearest. However, after hundreds of listens, it has become very boring and uneventful. For people just starting to listen to Ayu, this is a great song to start with. It exemplifies her sweet, soft vocals and the beautiful music. But it's not a favorite of mine.
no more words - The beginning of no more words is absolutely gorgeous. It has that beautiful bell ring and Hamasaki singing in a gorgeous ad-lib (I suppose I could call it that). After the beginning, though, it's a little bland. It's a very sweet, relaxing song. There's not much different about it, but it fits in the album. It's a nice peaceful listen
Endless sorrow ~gone with the wind version~ - This is the official last song on the album. It's very laid back and Hamasaki's voice reflects the new take on this song. Her vocals are less emotional and much more sweet and soft. My problem with this song is the exact opposite of that of Daybreak. The single version is much better. The whole feel of the song simply matches with the title. The climax of the single version is much more fulfilling with the sweeping violins and powerful guitar. This version is just very laid back from start to finish. It's a nice song, but I much prefer the single version. However, it's a very nice and tidy finish to the album
flower garden - flower garden is a hidden track that comes on a couple or so minutes after Endless sorrow. It couldn't be anymore different form the previous song. It's very fast and very short and tons of fun. There's band participation in the chorus vocals and it makes for a very fun song to sing live. It (like UNITE! and evolution) is performed very often. The audience and Hamasaki's staff (and Hamasaki herself) have oodles of fun watching and singing a long. It's a really fun song and I highly recommend it
I am... is in my humble opinion Ayumi's best album. Its her first foray into composing and she pulls it off very well. Most of the songs bring something different from the last and it's a must hear album from any Hamasaki fan. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested