Namie Amuro Album Review: Uncontrolled
"Uncontrolled" is Namie Amuro's 9th full-length album released on June 27th, 2012 in celebration of her 20th anniversary in the music industry. Unlike it's predecessor, "PAST > FUTURE", which was only preceded by one single, "Uncontrolled" was preceded by four. Out of thirteen tracks on this album, only four are completely new. All the new songs came with a corresponding music video, which, in conjunction with the nine single-related MVs also included, makes this the Namie album with the most MVs included.Also of note are the three radio single songs, "ONLY YOU", "Hot Girls" and "In The Spotlight (TOKYO)", which are sung entirely in English. The album consists mostly of electro-pop dance tracks with a couple ballads thrown in.
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 my overall enjoyment of the songs and their innovation in Namie's discography. This goes against my, say, Ayumi Hamasaki review hubs which base scores in comparison to Ayumi's other songs. This does not apply to Namie Amuro reviews.
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 - In The Spotlight (TOKYO)
Music: Christian Anders Fast and Henrik Carl Nordenback
The first song of the album jumps right into a chorus of English backed by a pulsing dance beat. This is one of four new song on this album and one of three recorded in English. First, you're probably wondering how Namie's English is, granted her...questionable pronunciation history. Well, for the most part, I can understand her just fine. There's a few places where she could've used some coaching from a native speaker (mostly, her "Rs" are kinda silly) but my big beef is the Americanized way of saying Tokyo as "Toe-kee-oh". Aw, come on! (Also, is it me or is she saying "I'm dance in the spotlight?" Cause uh, that's not correct.)
The sound of the song is very euro-dance, which it should be considering it was written by a couple of Swedes. Overall it's an enjoyable jam with a super catchy chorus that sets the tone of the album well. Namie's vocals are average until she starts warbling the chorus, and then it finally get a little interesting. I kind of dare anyone to listen to this song and not get the chorus stuck in their head, ugh.
VIDEO: What does stylish driving, shots of Tokyo at night, people club banging, and gratuitous shots of Namie Amuro's domination of Shibuya advertising all have in common? If you answered "they're all in the video of this song" well then you win absolutely nothing, but are correct! The music video for "Tokyo" is a lot of fancy camera tricks mashed with Namie driving in car and...well, all that stuff I mentioned above. It's all pleasantly edited together to create the sense of "night life in Tokyo" but it's pretty funny that Namie isn't doing any trademarked dancing in this video. She just kinda either drives, walks down Shibuya with a hood over her head, or gyrates a little in a studio set. Nothing super exciting, but a good once or twice watch nonetheless. I love the part where she wags her head when she says "spotlight". Swag Queen.
Track #2 - NAKED
Music: Shinichi Osawa
Whenever Shinichi Osawa is involved, you know it's going to be an electronic trip. Well, "NAKED" is no exception. From the first second you hear the repetitive hook from either hell or heaven, it can go either way depending on the day, that hook stays with you for the entire song - there is no escaping it! While on one hand this makes "NAKED" incredibly easy to identify out of Namie's entire discography, it's also liable to make you jab pencils into random tables and desks. But that's what makes it such a great hook when layered behind the simple composition and sultry vocals. You never once really fault the hook for doing anything other than its job while Namie tells you to "take it off" during the chorus. There's no doubt this is one party-popper, especially when the break down smashes in halfway through the song. Osawa knows what he's doing with a keyboard, and Namie knows what she's doing with her voice. It's an unstoppable combination not heard since their "WHAT A FEELING" collaboration in 2008.
VIDEO: Oh look, Namie with her posse inside a highly stylized set doing some dancing. We've never seen this before! What thankfully sets this apart from her other stylish dance videos is the military-inspired theme, with its sleek costuming and fierce poses. Can't help but get chills every time I see Namie in that pink...thing...claiming that box as hers. (Also, the fancy camera tricks with the dancers between verses is entertaining.)
Pretend it's in English
Track #3 - Go Round ('N Round 'N Round)
Music: Kim Tae-sung, L. Nervo, M. Nervo and T-SK
As the most recent single before this album's release, "Go Round" is still fresh in most people's minds. When this song first came out I thought "aw yeah, that's an opening!" with its dark beats and seductive verses. Then the chorus hit and I thought "whhhyyy" because it suddenly turns happy pop and Namie just kind of says "go round!" a few dozen times. But after a while I came to love this song in its entirety even though the composition is kind of all over the place. So of course they completely changed one part of the song for album release - the lyrics are now entirely in English! And unlike the smooth practice of "Tokyo" and later's "ONKY YOU", "Go Round"'s English is a mess. I can't understand half of what she's saying (unless it was English already in the original version.) She doesn't enunciate the consonants so all the words blend together. And for some reason I'm really irked by the way she says "times" in the chorus. It's like she spits it out too fast when the "i" should be held out a little longer and it sounds unnatural. A for Aeffort, though!
VIDEO: (Note: The video included is of the original Japanese lyrics version.) Now this is an interesting video, and a throwback to the surreality of 2008's "Do Me More". Namie takes on a "trump" card look with a very, very subtle "Alice in Wonderland" concept. Most shots are of Namie (in a super cute short wig) dancing in awesome outfits in a room full of vertigo-y staircases. The discomfort is magnified every time the camera jerks around or turns. If you're careful you won't get too weirded out by dancers walking up the walls or hanging upside down. Whoever edited this fun trip needs an award right now for being a badass.
SCORE: 7.75 (score lowered on album because of lyrics. Because they affect my enjoyment of the song that much.)
Track #4 - Sit! Stay! Wait! Down!
Music: T. Kura and MICHICO
Oh lawd, this song is just...a hilarious mess. The whole concept revolves around talking about her lover as if he's a dog. It's hard to put the whole mess into words lyrically, so I recommend you go look them up yourself to make your own judgment call. Sound wise it's a silly pop song with lots of repetition and what I'm pretty sure is AI's backing vocals. (Anybody got confirmation?) My favorite part is the middle where she just says "good boy!" over and over again. I just...lol. I can understand why this song ended up without a music video.
Track #5 - Hot Girls
Music: L. Nervo, M. Nervo, S. Ridel, M. Smith
Our second new track (and in English) of the album is "Hot Girls", a short and flirty track that I can only assume is Namie's response to Beyoncé's "Rule the World" because it's pretty damn similar in content. "Hot Girls" attempts to be a girl-power song but instead comes off as both try-hard and just flat. I mean, with lyrics like "Hot girls make the world go round!" and "If you want him to commit / You've gotta keep yourself fit / Come on just admit it" how can you take this seriously? (As in, seriously about empowering women. Um. Maybe Namie-levels of women.) Compared with the 2000-era beats and the Regina George "I'm better than you" atmosphere I just want out. Namie I am disappoint.
VIDEO: This video was highly anticipated after fanclub members were invited to participate as audience members. And...they're the most interesting part of the video, which is otherwise just Namie standing on a catwalk with her Nicole Kidman look going on while her backups pole dance and shake their goods. I'm...almost willing to give Namie the benefit of the doubt that this is all tongue in cheek, but I somehow, well, doubt it. What a bore. And again, disappoint.
Track #6 - Break It (AL. Ver.)
"Break It" was the first single released for this album almost two years ago - dang, it's been a while of this song. Hence, the complete makeover it got for the album! The opening is now more dramatic and the overall arrangement is a bit rockier without losing its original punch. I do miss the beats that made the original as great as it was.The original is dancier but this one shows that a rearrangement isn't necessarily a bad idea. Hey, at least it wasn't rewritten in English.
VIDEO: (Note, the video included is for the original version.) Futuristic Namie is acting futuristically with her futuristic dance-offs with her futuristic back-up dancers. Also, futuristic motorcycle with corresponding posing that has nothing to do with anything. Sound like a good time? Hey, at least it's cool looking.
SCORE: 7.5 (The original is better.)
Track #7 - Get Myself Back
It seems you can't separate "Break It" and "Get Myself Back" for anything, cause here they are back-to-back again for the album as the segue into the slower interlude. "Get Myself Back" is a relaxing mid-tempo ballad reminiscent of "Baby Don't Cry", but mellower. It's a self-empowering song about Namie struggling to "get herself back", by reconnecting with her roots and seeing where she's come from and where she's going. I've always loved this song, even though I'm generally not a huge fan of her slower songs. The whole song tells Namie's story, from the piano tinklings of childhood to the heartbeat-beats of adult life. Her voice is sweet, yet forceful; nostalgic, yet optimistic. The "oh-ohs" between verses are warm, and the background vocals are supportive. Honestly, this is probably one of the highlights of the era, and there's a lot of smaller highlights to contend with.
VIDEO: For the first time since starting her career, Namie has filmed a video in her native Okinawa. Very fitting, if you followed all my chatter about the song above. Namie's returning to her roots in an attempt to "get herself back". The video is scenic and shows Namie absorbing the nostalgia of her home country. Some of the shots are beyond gorgeous, such as the scenes in the field and in the woods. It's not a groundbreaking video by any means, but Namie is lovely in her maturity and you can just feel the atmosphere of Okinawa infusing in her blood. (This is not creepy, I swear.)
Track #8 - Love Story
Music: T. Kim, L. Nervo, M. Nervo and T-SK
And now for our super dramatic ballad of the album (can't live without them, you know), "Love Story" was Namie's winter hit that, I can attest, got extensive airplay in shopping centers and supermarkets. Regardless, it's Namie at her ballad A-game, and even though I don't generally love her ballads as much as her dance songs, "Love Story" is a very nice song indeed - maybe one of her best ballads in a really long time. It has a powerful chorus, heartfelt vocals, and sweet lyrics. You know, the holy trinity of a "great J-pop ballad". If you love Namie's ballads, you'll probably really love this one. If you don't, then you might give this one a chance anyway, because it's good.
VIDEO: Where the song exceeds the video...well, it tries. It appears to have been filmed in Europe, based on the cars and buses. We get shots of Namie singing inside a closed-up restaurant and wandering down streets looking lost while we have the lyrics spoon fed to us on overlays. That's about the extent of it. If you enjoy shots of Namie sitting around looking gorgeous, then odds are this is a good video for you.
Track #9 - Let's Go
Music: T. Kim, L. Nervo, M. Nervo and T-SK
We're back to the electro-dance tracks with "Let's Go", one of the four new tracks, and the only one of the new tracks not all in English. (Although I can't stand the way she says "idea".) "Let's Go" is definitely a club anthem that calls back to the forgotten B-side "Higher" (with even some of the same lyrics? Okay.) It's short and sweet and doesn't overstay its welcome, but it also doesn't really...do anything. It pumps, it's catchy, and it promises a lot, but it doesn't really live up to its own hype and kinda pitters out just as it's about to get going. The real start of the song is the hot arrangement - everything else is just a hasty addition.
VIDEO: This is probably the coolest of the four new videos, if only because Namie is so fierce and gorgeous I can barely stand it. She works that microphone like it's her girlfriend (not boyfriend, girlfriend. You can see the difference coughcough.) Meanwhile we get glitzy sets spinning around to the time of the song. As usual, there isn't much substance to a Namie video, but we don't care anymore. Just bring on the hot.
Pretend it's in English
Track #10 - SINGING "YEAH-OH!"
Music: T. Kim, L. Nervo, M. Nervo, T-SK
Like it's single pal "Go Round", "YEAH-OH" has been rewritten in English and is marginally better in that department than "Go Round". Mostly because it's hard to screw up "Singing yeah-oh~ singing yeaaaah-oh~". Thus, unlike "Go Round", this new language version doesn't ruin some of the enjoyment of the song. "YEAH-OH" was already one of my fave songs from this era and it's still one of the best on the album. Between its sexy beats and the filters over Namie's voice, this is one of THE songs to get down to on the album. I suggest cranking it up and just dancing like a total asshole. Your parents will thank you.
VIDEO: Have I mentioned Namie's really good at the whole "dancing in a scenic / futuristic place" thing? Well, she is. And that's what you get again. Except it's super low-budget and all you get for "scenic" is a bunch of screens behind everyone flashing stuff. And Namie sitting around looking fierce and feisty. It's not the most entertaining video, but it does have its cool shots (such as the shadow dancing). I'm starting to feel like I've seen all these videos before - oh, because I have.
Track #11 - Fight Together
"Fight Together" is our token mid-tempo pop song of the album. It was a theme to the hit anime "One Piece". The song is a simple little optimistic diddy about sticking (or "fighting") together. Friendship, camaraderie, etc. etc. It kinda gets a lot of flack in the fandom for both its tie-up and the fact it isn't a dance theme nor a ballad (you know, the only types of songs most J-pop artists are ~allowed~ to do.) But I think It's really relaxing and goes well with songs like "Get Myself Back". I'm glad it was included in the album and not relegated to B-side status on the "NAKED" single.
Track #12 - ONLY YOU
Music: Peter Månsson, Christian Fast, Didrik Thott and Sharon Vaughn
"ONLY YOU" is our last new song and the third one in all English. It was also the first one to appear as a radio single and music video for the album's promotion. It's an upbeat ballad with a solid beat and wonderfully low vocals. It's also probably Namie's best English on the whole album (it only took us what, ten songs to get to it?) It's very Western, though, so if you don't like your Western songs completely invading your J-pop, you're probably not going to like it. I actually think this would make a great closing song, but we still have one more to go.
VIDEO: A really Western video needs to be shot in the West, obviously. And thus "ONLY YOU" was shot in the deserts just outside Los Angeles, the perfect place for Namie to sit around all alone looking gorgeous in yellow and red dresses while she talks about getting touched. Also, there's a horse ridden by a stuntwoman that does a decent job of looking like Namie. Really, the only thing detracting from the scenery of this video is the fact Namie is standing up on those high boulders in stilettos. You spend the whole time irrationally fearing she's gonna fall off and kill herself. (Also, looking at the stuntwoman again...she doesn't even have long hair. Haha.) (Also 2, why is she standing around a ribbony field-goal...)
Track #13 - Tempest
Our final song on the album starts off as a quiet piano ballad during the first verse before exploding into a traditionally inspired (it's the beat okay) ballad in the chorus. "Tempest" is like a fusion of "Get Myself Back"'s electronic backing and "Love Story"'s atmosphere. It's not the best ballad on the album but it's a killer finale to the album, even if it feels tacked on the end because of this idea that only ballads can close out albums. But Namie's powerful voice carries the album to a close until she quietly fades away.
VIDEO: Not much to see here aside from Namie standing on something and looking into the camera dramatically turning around her while random flower petals fall on her from nowhere (come on, they're obviously in a studio.) I suppose it does its job in not detracting from the power of the song, but overall, it's a snore. Take your screencaps and gifs and move on.
OVERALL SCORE: 7.7
Listened to the album? What do you think?
I never know what I'm going to think about Namie's albums. 2007's "PLAY" was an instant hit for me but has fallen flat since then, and 2009's "PAST < FUTURE" was awful at first listen but has since really grown on me...so...how will "Uncontrolled" go? Maybe right in the middle. I was excited for it to come out just because, man, and after listening to it I had a very lukewarm reaction. Great, but not fantastic. Interesting, but not innovating. Namie doesn't take many risks with this album outside of the English tracks (is she trying to break out overseas? Hm.) and going with a slightly more Western sound. In fact, there seems to be no trace of her "hip-pop" style in this album, which will either be fine for you or a killing note - the album is purely electro-pop with a couple slower ballads in there. The flow of the album is good - again, not great, but good. But unlike her contemporaries Ayu and Kumi, who also had new albums this year, Namie doesn't have any particular story to tell or invoke with her new album. And that's fine. Actually, it's kinda nice. There's no subtext to this album and you can enjoy it just as is.
My favorite aspect of the album is indeed the musical contents. The videos are...well, they're pretty boring. You see one of them you've seen all the rest. Namie dancing in a pretty place. Namie posing and singing. The end. This is where the lack of a story starts to kill "Uncontrolled". And that's the other thing. The title. I was expecting a huge head-banger with a title like that, or, you know, covers that reflect the title. What are those covers? They look like forgotten covers from her "ALL FOR YOU" single. I can appreciate the idea of the annular eclipse behind it, but it's so tame and just...there for the sake of being there that even the title is demure and confused. Lawd. Bring back the promo pic of Namie hanging out with the dogs.
If you like jamming to Namie (like I do), you will enjoy this album. If you're looking for her hip-pop fusions, you might feel lacking. If you detest her ballads, well, you'll be kinda out of luck. If you're looking for visuals to stimulate your mind, nah. You can't overanalyze this album like you can others released this year. It's an ironically tame dance album, but with Namie's attitude all over it.
So is it good? Is it meh? It's neither. While it's not great I have a feeling it's a grower and will stand a good test of time.
All images in this hub are copyright avex trax/their respective photographers. They are used here for promotional purposes only.