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Ayumi Hamasaki Album Review: Love songs

Updated on June 5, 2012
Ayumi Hamasaki promoting her 12th album, "Love songs".
Ayumi Hamasaki promoting her 12th album, "Love songs".
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"Love songs" is Ayumi Hamasaki's 12th full-length album released on December 22nd, 2010. As the title implies, the album mostly consists of mid-tempo ballad love songs - but what sets this album apart from others in Ayu's discography is that most of the songs were composed by famed producer Tetsuya Komuro. Ayu had worked with Komuro before in 2001 with the charity single "A song is Born", but "Love songs" marks the first time they have collaborated in over a decade.

The album's theme is heavily influenced from Ayu's romantic relationship with music video co-star Manuel Schwarz, whom she later married shortly after the album's Christmas release. Manuel first appeared in the music video for "Virgin Road" which also stood as Ayu's 50th single the previous autumn. Manuel appeared again in two more music videos, and many of the songs' lyrics seem to reference his and Ayu's time together. This album could be seen as a tribute to Ayu's short-lived marriage (as she and Manuel would divorce less than a year later).

This review consists of a track-by-track analysis followed by my overall thoughts. Each song is scored on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. It should be noted that scores are based on comparison's to Ayu's other works, not to music as a whole. With over 200 original songs in her library, I mostly compare Ayu's work against itself, and thus the scoring will reflect a song's standing in her library.

Disclaimer: By no means is this review the be-all-end-all of what is and isn't great. I'm just one big fan with a lot of bias but also a lot of expectations. Feel free to add your thoughts about this album in the comments below!

Track #1 - Love song

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

Tinkling piano opens the first chords of the album, quickly followed by strings and acoustic guitar. The whole titular (well, minus an S) song is an acoustic rock-pop number that is hard to place as a traditional Komuro composition. But the composition is definitely the standout feature of this song, with pulsing verses and haunting bridges. Ayu's vocals are on fantastic point as well with their passion and distinct layering, particularly in the verses where a folk-like choral blast is heard. The lyrics aren't bad as well, as Ayu talks about how meaningless life is without dreams, love, and music, compounded with questioning the listener as to whether or not they have someone they care for and if they're capable of selflessness. In the context of the title, the song isn't so much a "love song" in the romantic sense, but one about general love for concepts, people, and ideas. As usual, Ayu's meanings aren't what they seem at face value.

The song is both innovative enough for Ayu and Tetsuya Komuro to warrant the opening slot on the album. Its upbeat message and feel without being overly cheesy sets a high bar for the rest of the album.

VIDEO: The video for "Love song" is actually part 2 in a three part mini-movie, in which Ayu and Manuel are feeling the rockiness of their sudden relationship. In the beginning Ayu is seen crying and promptly leaving her life with Manuel behind as she rushes out into the city to...stand on the sidewalk and hail cabs. Manuel chases after her, but of course, even Austrian models can't outrun New York taxis, although he somehow manages to catch up more than once. The editing and camera employs a lot of slow motion that comes off as sillier than more dramatic, but the intent is there. In a sillier twist of irony, Ayu comes across a bank robbery in progress and sees herself and Manuel as the bank robbers. As police give pursuit Ayu is caught in the gun crossfire, and, you guess it, gets shot! Ayu dramatically falls to the ground d-e-a-d but without bleeding. Now that's the true talent of a diva. Overall, an overdone and predictable video, but Ayu looks great at least.

SCORE: 7.75

Track #2 - crossroad

Music & Arrangement: Tetsuya Komuro

Now this song is definitely more recognizable as Komuro fare, but that's not a slight. In this mature mid-tempo ballad, Ayu questions the choices she's made in her life as she's gotten older and how she has changed since being a "girl", all while using the tried and true metaphor of standing at a crossroads as the title implies. It's a lyrical match that most adults can relate to while a heavy march plays in the background. It's a very solid tune, definitely worthy as single material, but it's nothing groundbreaking and - even though the chorus is quite catchy as is wont of Komuro - quite forgettable after a while. It's one of those songs that comes on shuffle and makes you go "oh, yeah, this song". It's never gonna see much time at the top of request charts anywhere, but it's a solid song nonetheless.

VIDEO: A distraught, hot long-blonde hair Ayu spends all her time watching hot short-blonde Ayu sing on TV. (I can't complain about this concept, as I wouldn't mind doing this in my spare time either...) Ayu then enters pyro mode and lights a few matches and lovingly gazes at the flames while short-haired Ayu gets a hundred closeups on the dozens of TVs around the room. But, uh oh, Ayu forgot to extinguish that match and now she's on fire! Well, dang! She doesn't seem to mind being on fire, however - in fact, she's quite pleased as the flames crawl up her arm and across her fake-as-heck wig. Ayu spends the next couple of minutes just sittin' around burning. In the end Ayu is engulfed in flames and bursts into rose petals. Okay. Visually it's a very artistic video with lots to look at and lots of symbolism abounding everywhere...too bad it's not very transparent and the viewer is left going "Okay. What?" But it's not a bad video...really.

SCORE: 7.25

Track #3 - MOON

Music: Yasuhiko Hoshino

Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

Time to take a short break from the TK compositions for the more familiar Hoshino compositions. "MOON" is your general yearly Ayu ballad, although since this one was released in summer it has a "warmer" vibe reminiscent of "HANABI ~episode II~" and "fated". True to Ayu's traditions, "MOON" is a depressing, mature ballad in which Ayu has apparently severely hurt a past lover that she now feels remorse for. The ballad is carried by heavy percussion and lonely strings across a five-minute elegy to love. Although it's a standard Ayu ballad, it manages to stand out with its warm tones and endearing chorus - there's even electric guitar towards the middle that's not often found in her ballad singles. While "MOON" will never be one of her greatest hits, it may well become one of her more standout ballads as the years go by.

VIDEO: Depressed Ayu is depressed, and she'll show you her depression by sitting all disheveled in her parlor of privilege while flashbacks show us the ~happier times~ of her old relationship now soiled. Somewhere during the second verse flashback-Ayu gets doused with black...oily...stuff and she doesn't seem to give a single care about it. It's kind of interesting, really, sort of an antithesis to "Because of You's" purification via "white ooze" and a reflection of "Moments'" tar and feathering. But we're never shown much beyond a few shaky flashbacks, oily Ayu, and depressed Ayu dramatically lip-synching on her couch. This song had a lot of potential, and so did this video, but it falls very flat and in the end is about as exciting as getting doused with black stuff.

SCORE: 7.75

Track #4 - sending mail

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

Our first non-promotional track of the album is also the heaviest and, dare to be said, angriest. It's an intense rock song built on frustration, depression, and the inability to properly express one's self. Throughout its four and a half minutes we're treated to Ayu shouting her desire - over and over - to be able to send the damn mail already. Something's (or, someone) riled her up so awful that she find herself unable to convey her feelings into the written word, a situation that I think most of us have found ourselves at one point or another. All of this is conveyed via repetitive choruses, percussion, and guitar riffs, but the song itself doesn't feel negatively repetitive. It's more like we're trapped in Ayu's angry mind, and when a mind is angry it tends to hang up on the same angry idea and repeats it until the mind is too exhausted to carry on. The same phenomenon is presented in this song, as for the last minute we hear the choruses over and over again until it suddenly cuts off and a harried violin finishes off the song. It's easy to imagine Ayu running herself empty with all her angry thoughts and just passing out in exhaustion.

This song debuted right when I was in a similar situation in my life, and my bonding with it was instantaneous - thus, I have quite a bit of bias for this song. But based on others' positive reactions I've seen it seems that "sending mail" resonates with almost all of Ayu's listeners. But since it's an album track with no tie-ups or even a promotional video, we'll be lucky to see it performed a few more times before it disappears. "sending mail" is a fantastic song, but I have a bad feeling that it's going to be forgotten by most fans as time goes on.

SCORE: 8.0

Track #5 - Last angel

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: CMJK

Whenever CMJK shows up as the arranger on an Ayu song, it's almost guaranteed to reflect electronic sounds..."Last angel" is no different as it begins with throbbing electro beats and takes us away from the rock-pop sound that has been "Love Songs" until now. But even though the arrangement is definitely stand out, the composition is even better. TK surprises us with a varied composition comprised of very distinct parts that all flow together into one giant emotional ball of song. Ayu's vocals weave in and out of her vibrato in the choruses to a very deep near-tenor during the bridges, offering more great variety in this already weaving song. However, this is a rare case (for this album) where the vocals and lyrics take a total backseat to the overall sound of this song. This is the type of song to blast in the stereo and escape into another dark world, and offers a great break from the otherwise monotony of pop-rock.

VIDEO: The video for "Last angel" picks up where the video for "Love song" left off, with Ayu shot (and magically not bleeding) and killed on the city sidewalk. Ghost Ayu wanders around and laments her relationship with Manuel as it's implied he was cheating on her (and may be why they were fighting in "Love song"), while in the real world lots of people stand around and emotionlessly stare at Ayu's dead and not bleeding body. Even the cops, who can't be arsed to do a damn thing about it, apparently. In the end Ghost Manuel shows up in his tux and takes Ghost Ayu (now in her wedding dress from "Virgin Road") away to happy fun times. Overall, the whole duo of "Last angel" and "Love song" is boring and, as the kids say, "no1curr". But the art direction and the editing adequately reflect the themes of the songs and should be recognized. Too bad it's not enough to save these otherwise bores.

SCORE: 8.25

Track #6 - insomnia

Music & Arrangement: CMJK

All of the instrumentals on this album are of the slower, minimalistic "ballad" variety, but that's not to say they're boring or likely to put you to sleep. The first instrumental, "insomnia", is an eery piece with a breakdown fluctuating throughout strings and piano for about two minutes. It's an interesting departure from the heart-pounding "Last angel" and into the even darker "Like a doll". Most people, even fans, don't pay as much attention to Ayu's instrumentals anymore, but "insomnia" is certainly one to write home about if her instrumentals are your thing. Very eery and very memorable.

SCORE: 8.0

Track #7 - Like a doll

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: CMJK

The "sandwiched" song of the album is "Like a doll", a transparent, child-like song about becoming, well, "like a doll", in order to avoid the pains and disappointments of the world. The highlight sound of the album is the repetitive "like a doll" chant that permeates the whole song. Otherwise it's a fairly simple song in composition and arrangement. There's also nothing particularly stand out about the vocals or even the lyrics...aside from the very last line in which Ayu pleads, "Don't live as if you've died". Wow. It's quite the chilling ending for a song that tried its damndest to be creepy until this point.

"Like a doll" is essentially "Marionette" Part 2, with its themes and how it's placed in the album. But it doesn't quite hit the power of "Marionette" until that very last line. And although last lines are the ones that stay with you, it's not quite enough to pull the whole song above the water. It's not a filler track, but it's nothing even remotely legendary either.

SCORE: 6.5

Track #8 - Aria

Music & Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

The second instrumental of the album is aptly titled, if not rather boring. I mean, it's pretty enough, especially since I love me some strings usually, but it feels like something more off an Enya album than something to shake up an Ayu album. The second half picks things up with a few pop elements but it's not enough to save the song. Next.

SCORE: 6.0


Track #9 - blossom

Music: Yasuhiko Hoshino

Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

"blossom" was the closest thing we got to a typical "summer" song from Ayu in 2010. It's upbeat, it's poppy, and it's simplistic in its ideas about supporting that special someone. But there is a more mature quality to "blossom" than there is most of Ayu's previous summer songs, such as "Grateful days", "glitter" and "Blue Bird". The feeling in it is more akin to "fairyland" than any other, although the sounds are completely different. It must be because of the pop-rock guitar that's still prevalent in the background, whereas most of Ayu's summer songs rely on electronic summer thrills. It's a very refreshing summer song that fits well into "Love songs"...any other traditional Ayu summer song would have completely disrupted the flow, and we would have had another "GUILTY" mishap on our hands.

VIDEO: Like "Last angel", the video for "blossom" didn't come out until way after the song's original release. But unlike "Last angel", Ayu doesn't even appear in the video. Instead we've got Korean singer and actor JEJUNG starring in it. It's a run-of-the-mill "hey we're in love but oh no now I'm gonna die now I'm sad" video, and unless you're a huge JEJUNG fan you're just not going to care about this video. We get it, Japan, it's all about the angsting over diseases when it comes to your dramas.(In fact, I mostly just busted out laughing over the overly-dramatic interlude of JEJUNG sobbing on the beach and flailing around in the ocean. I mean...lol.)

SCORE: 7.75

Track #10 - Thank U

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

Earlier I said that "Like a doll", while sort of bland, still did not feel like a filler track. Well, we've now hit our main filler track of the album, "Thank U", which is just as deep and meaningful as you can probably guess from that title. "Thank U" is about as deep as a kiddie pool, but of course that doesn't mean it's bad. The best part of the song is the sweeping, uplifting arrangement and powerful "la la las" that Ayu delivers best. Ayu's voice also strains to hit some high notes and it's evident that she really shouldn't be doing that. However, it's the "thank you to my fans!" song of the album which always gets a couple of kudos for its intent alone. But "Red Line" from earlier in the same year was better. The whole song is about four minutes too long and would've been much better as a short interlude with just the intro and a couple rounds of the "la la las".

SCORE: 6.25

Track #11 - Sweet Season

Music: Noriyuki Makihara

Arrangement: Shingo Kobayashi

"Sweet Season" is composed by J-folk/pop singer-songwriter Noriyuki Makihara, and his sound is definitely present in this song. Ayu croons about the passing seasons with her lover while guitars and fiddles plow away in the background. The nostalgic chorus is the best part of the song, but that isn't much when compared to the lackluster verses and the try-hard instrumentation. Okay, "Sweet Season" isn't that bad, but for me it's easily the worst song on the album. I didn't care for it much on the "L" single and I care even less for it on "Love songs" when plenty of other songs that sound just like it (but better) surround it.

VIDEO: Well, here's something kind of different. Ayu's stuck in 1960s Americana, toting white kids around in station wagons and throwing pool parties for the neighborhood. Everyone's having the perfect childhood with their white picket fences and 2.5 dogs while Ayu forces herself on everyone going "CAN I JOIN?!". Wait, this seems pretty odd. I mean, Ayu in 1960s America? HAHA. Oh wait, you mean it was ALL A DREAM? And the "real" Ayu is passed out piss-drunk at the "real" pool party? Well that sounds better, let's be real. It's pretty obvious that the theme behind this video is "dreaming of a better life", but it caused more controversy amongst Ayu's fans than it was worth. The video barely makes the song better, but in the end it's just kind of bizarre. However, the theme does get fully explored in Ayu's next full-length album, "Party Queen".

SCORE: 6.0

Track #12 - overture

Music & Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

Our final instrumental of this album is hardly distinguishable from its predecessor "Aria" as it tries to drum up dramatic interest. But honestly, this interlude is completely unnecessary and doesn't really bridge anything between "Sweet Season" and the next song "do it again".

...Although, I could SWEAR the composition for the winds section matches another song on this album. Anyone know? Am I just hearing things?

SCORE: 6.25

Track #13 - do it again

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

After the previous three disappointments, it's time for a song to completely rock this album off its hinges. Oh, hey! Here's "do it again" to do just that!

The first thing any listener will notice about this song is the seemingly endless repetition of "Dance dance dance do it again" (which switches to "Sing sing sing" later) in the opening. Just as you're starting to think "Really? We have to do this?" the song slips into the dark and brooding verses and then speeds up into the nervous bridges before collapsing into the "do it again" repetition...again. The best part is that although Ayu is singing at "normal" speed, the arrangement makes you feel like you're going in dramatic slow motion. The entire song is a movement that beautifully captures the feeling of forgetting your dreams as you fall into the trappings of monotony. But the urgency of the arrangement and the vocals implies that even attempting to get out off this monotony is futile and you will always just "do it again", as the final notes imply.

This is the best song on the album and one of the best songs Ayu has put out in years. The only thing that makes it better is the...

VIDEO: This video was also shot in America alongside the other album videos. But unlike those videos, "do it again" does not play into their storylines or even artistic directions. Instead, "do it again" tells the story of Ayu waking up in an apocalyptic world, putting on some fancy clothes, and walking her dogs through the chaos and carnage of a world after a disaster. The sets are chilling, the background actors morbid, and the camera work amazing - however, this video is not for those who get motion sickness easily. The director utilizes tilting cameras, spinning cameras, and basically any kind of camera work that sets your stomach on edge and makes you dizzy - but all with a very awesome outcome. Visually this is probably one of Ayu's most intriguing videos and is a definite best of the era.

SCORE: 8.5

Track #14 - November

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: CMJK

"November" is probably the one album track that made the most waves amongst Ayu's fans, especially in the wake of her sudden marriage to Manuel. The theme of the song is "soulmates", in particular lamenting if it's possible to ever actually meet that one true love, or if you would even know they exist. Upon her marriage, it become pretty evident that this song reflected Ayu's thoughts about Manuel, especially when the title "November" (when their relationship would most likely have been solidified) is considered. The composition reflects this lament about love with its soaring choruses while the whimsical arrangement attempts to ground Ayu's vocals. There's a lot of layers to this song, both musically and thematically, and in the end it's a very nice song that definitely has a place on the album - however, when I personally think of "Love songs", "November" is not one of the first songs to spring to mind. But many fans seem to love this song and it has wormed its way into their hearts.

SCORE: 7.0

Track #15 - Virgin Road

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: Yuta Nakano

Heralded as "Who..." Part 2, "Virgin Road" (the title refers to the aisle a bride walks down) was the primary promotion for Ayu's 50th single "L" with a big budget video and a big budget feel. The song itself is minimalistic in sound almost the whole way through, but the lyrics are full of promises to her mother - in "Virgin Road", Ayu tells her mother that she's met a man similar to her father, but she hopes that her mother won't fault her for it or worry over her. On the surface it's a simple "Dear Mother, I'm moving on and becoming a big adult, please wish me luck", but if you're familiar with Ayu's past then it's clear why this song is somber as opposed to nostalgic or hopeful. (Short version: Ayu's father left her and her mother when she was a baby and it greatly affected her maturation.) It's also clear that Ayu holds this song close to her heart, especially in correspondence to her subsequent marriage, which speaks for its preferential treatment in promotions and its placement on this album as the climatic conclusion. And indeed, it's easy to feel the emotional power in this song. But otherwise it's very, very long (almost six minutes!) and Ayu's voice strains to hit most of its notes. It's easy to appreciate, but not so easy to listen to over and over again.

VIDEO: A small chapel in the desert; a bride and groom riding into the sunset in their convertible; a car exploding; a bank robbery! Ayu the bride has a machine gun! Manuel the groom has sacks of money! Well, gee, is this a stereotypical western or a Ayumi Hamasaki video?

Bonnie and Clyde have got nuthin' on Ayu and Manuel as they go on their crime spree in the American desert, all while dressed in their wedding best. Police cars and helicopters chase them down, but nobody can catch this deadly duo as Ayu sings on water towers and sprays the sky with bullets. This black and white video is easily one of the most interesting Ayu has ever put out and is certainly worthy to be her "50th single" video...there's also the bonus that it takes a rather bland song and adds a huge dose of intensity. (Oh, and Ayu's incredibly gorgeous. Always a plus.) Great video to watch, on mute or not.

SCORE: 7.25

Bonus Track - SEVEN DAYS WAR

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: CMJK

Our first bonus track is "SEVEN DAYS WAR", a cover of a song by TM Network of the same name. This particular song is only found on the CD only and the regular press of the CD+DVD album versions. It's usual TK fare but of the late 80s, early 90s variety. So while still distinguishable as TK, it has a different flare from the other TK tracks on this album. As a bonus track it gets the job done and is possibly better than half the other songs on this album. It just doesn't fit in as thematically, but that's okay - bonus tracks get a pass.

SCORE: 7.5

Bonus Track - Seven Days War (Live at Yoyogi on Oct.11.2010)

Music: Tetsuya Komuro

Arrangement: CMJK

This live version of the bonus track appears on the limited CD+DVD and the USB album versions. It's the same exact song but...live. Wow, how about that? Regardless, it's still a nice touch since Ayu's live vocals are fairly on point in this version. I prefer the studio version, but since I own the limited CD+DVD version of this album I'd be lying if I said this live hasn't grown on me.

SCORE: 7.5

AVERAGE SONG SCORE: 7.25

Listened to the album? What did you think?

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Album Rating

4.8 out of 5 stars from 5 ratings of Love songs

Final Thoughts

"Love songs" came somewhat suddenly at the end of 2010, only a few months after the release of Ayu's 11th album "Rock'n'Roll Circus". But the second album of 2010 fares better than the first in its cohesiveness and overall sound. There's no failed expectations in "Love songs", nor is there any pretension that presents this album as anything other than what it is: an album full of "love songs", and everything that implies.

The absolute highlight of this album is the in-depth collaboration with legendary J-pop composer Tetsuya Komuro. He composed all but three songs on this album ("MOON", "blossom", and "Sweet Season") and his compositions lend to the mid-tempo pop-rock tune of the album very well. The only thing about the TK songs is that they're not the pinnacle of innovation for either himself or Ayu, although songs such as the titular "Love song" and "Last angel" definitely stick out in terms of memorable compositions. Let's also not forget the ingenious repetitions of "do it again" and "sending mail", neither of which are overdone but both of which jam themselves into the listener's mind like the most delightful of earworms.

The album is not without fault, of course. The entire middle section is lackluster when compared to the other tracks - take the whole chunk out (even, yes, perhaps "blossom") and the album would get an even higher score from me. As it is,the lackluster songs just elongate an already super long album. And that's another thing - with as long and thematic as it is in sound, "Love songs" is an album best served with the right mood. It's not a varied album with "something for everyone". Either you love it all the way through or you're less than impressed. But with a discography as long as Ayu's, she's allowed to have the occasional album like this.

"Love songs" is one of my favorite albums as of late. It's far from perfect, but it's mature sound and themes are a welcome addition to an already fabulous discography.

All images in this hub are copyright avex trax. They are used here for promotional purposes only.

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    • hildred profile image
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      hildred 5 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Thanks mikey! I definitely suggest checking out more of her songs then. This is a good album to start with.

    • profile image

      mikeydcarroll67 5 years ago

      Excellent review! I have only listened to some of her songs.