I met my friend for lunch one day at Shokudo and told her that Ayumi Hamasaki has released a new album. “Who’s [What’s] that?” she asked. Maybe I am too naïve to think that everyone know who she is. Japanese artist Ayu has been my inspiration for years. Since 2000, she has been releasing one studio album, one video recording of her concert tour, and one video recording of her New Year countdown tour per year, non-stop. She is involved in all aspects of production including the branding of her own image. That makes her one of the most hardworking and successful artists I have seen. Even with the loss of hearing on her left ear since 2008 amongst other distractions such as her failed love relationship, the show must go on. This sort of spirit inspires.
At 30, onto the 10th year of her commercially success career, I thought the title “Next Level” is timely. The sound is mostly electronic, the fashion is colorfully fresh, “Next Step” is a premium production that fans will love. I do. As seen in her previous productions, “Next Step” has songs of similar nature packaged in segments divided by the instrumental tracks. The opening tracks are energetic, discotheque-like, and almost sound like a series of remixes. Midway through the album, it is transited to be more rock and “Next Step” is closed with an acoustic track that she shot the video barefoot walking around the movie street set in what seems like a freezing evening (see below). My favorite track is the non-single track “Rollin’”. That reminds of “Startin’”, not sure why.
Comes with the package is a CD recording of her Premium Countdown Live 2008-2009 and a DVD consists of 6 videos from “Next Step” as well as the making clips. That covers the entire spectrum of studio production to live recording to video production with a glimpse of her personality. Would I prefer the Countdown Live in DVD format instead? In a way, yes, because her live concerts are always so out-of-the-world. However, without the visual impact, I tend to pay more attention to her vocals. I have got to say, for someone who has partial hearing loss, that is one heck of a performance.
Below is the last track of the album – “Curtain Call”.