NEXT LEVEL is Hamasaki Ayumi’s 10th album and it was released on March 25th, 2009. It reached #1 on the Oricon Weekly Charts and has sold 377,872 copies.
1. Bridge to the sky
2. NEXT LEVEL♠♠♠♠♠
8. Load of the SHUGYO
11. LOVE ‘n’ HATE♠
12. Pieces of SEVEN
14. Curtain call
When Sparkle was first released, I imagined that was the sound she was going to go for with her new album. Fortunately I was right and she took this path, creating amazingly fresh and fierce new music on this varied package. However, not all songs fall under the same category, thus they sound out-of-place on the album.
I’d penalty NEXT LEVEL under this, but if one is going through the album in order, it’s misplacement isn’t as severe. The thing is that it’s the only real “pop” song on the album. It has that summer-y feel, but emits freshness with every layer of sound. Even Ayumi’s stressed vocals(which sound very forced at times) sound particularly new. It’s respective interlude, Bridge to the sky is just as crisp as well.
After the first two tracks, the album turns into this rock-inspired electronic album filled with fierce left and right. The album flows particularly well from here on as well(excluding the final two tracks) since there are a hefty amount of interludes. I can’t say I enjoy everything on the album though. One of these new electropop songs, EnergizE, is just not my cup of tea. Although it starts decently, I didn’t like the way Ayu tries to sound cute and how she still persists even during the chorus. Of course, others may very well enjoy it.
GREEN is another out-of-place track. Actually, it has no place on the album since it doesn’t fit in AT ALL(maybe at the end). I think it was just added in for the sake of having more tracks. Speaking of the end, even though it’s introduced by probably the best interlude on the album, Pieces of SEVEN, it just feels so much like an add-on. Honestly, this album wasn’t made to have ballads in it. Days is still a decent track but when followed by Curtain call, another ballad, the which only makes use of piano and has that “sad to happy” formula, it’s just too much for the listener to grow accustomed to.
I must mention the great new tracks though. My personal new favorite “electropop” track is definitely rollin’ since it has an awesome gritty synth line and an explosive chorus where Ayu’s overuse of her vibrato actually works out. identity is also a winner. It’s more in the rock category(it kind of lacks anything to make it “electric”) since it focuses on the electric guitar but has a bundle of other sounds, such as epic strings~ My favorite. Another rock track is LOVE ‘n’ HATE, which is even more powerful than the last two tracks and has more of those strings, except this time accompanied with Ayu’s chilling countdown to 7. Or is it 0?
There were a few things that went against the overall goodness of this album. Interludes were plentiful, but in the end they just made the album flow better. My complaints come in the form of the tracks that didn’t fit into the album’s theme, namely GREEN, Days and Curtain call. I’ll exclude NEXT LEVEL since it was at the beginning of the album(and well, it’s just good). While it is a departure out of her musical safe zone, I think she pulled it off excellently. The new tracks are really great and worth multiple listens.