Otsuka Ai [LOVE LETTER] (Fifth Album)

April 19, 2009

Rocket Sneaker
Bye Bye
Kurage, Nagareboshi (クラゲ、流れ星; Jellyfish, Shooting Star)
Ningyou (人形; Doll)
Kimi Fechi (君フェチ; You Fetish)
Creamy & Spicy
Do Positive
Shachihata (シャチハタ; self-inking rubber stamp)
One × Time
Ai (愛; Love)

The album starts off with the ballad LOVE LETTER. I’ve said this before, but I really always like an album to start out with a more up-tempo and upbeat song, but I suppose this’ll do. I’m not sure why I like this song, because it is rather boring, or more like dull, but it could of course be because I like ballads so I can be a bit bias towards them. This song is lead by the piano and it doesn’t get anymore simpler than that. I thought it was nice, in a not so interesting way. Ai-chan’s vocal performance is decent, but she didn’t seem to be doing much, even for a ballad and it came across as weak to me. This was not the best song to open the album with, but I still found it a somewhat nice listen.

The next track on the album is the mid-tempo Rocket Sneaker. I never really paid attention to this song when it first came out, but it is a good song. I like how the arrangement is mostly piano driven, but still manages to sound so punk in a way. Its rather fresh and I enjoyed it a lot, gave the song such a youthful feel. I’ll say the same about Otsuka’s vocals, I really loved her tones during the chorus when she holds the notes. The track doesn’t let up and stays consistent and engaging to the very end, nice.

The next track on the album is the somewhat mid-tempo Bye Bye. I had to listen to this song twice and I’m tempted to listen to it thrice because I can’t decide on whether I like it or not. I’m guessing I like it though, because the song isn’t really all that bad. I don’t like however how the arrangement seems cluttered and at times it seems like it was throwing itself at me, because I couldn’t really be bothered with it. I also thought at points it sounded all right and country-sounding. Ai-chan’s vocals are decent, but sometimes her voice got wonky and grating, so I wasn’t feeling it that much. I’m half and half, but I’m figuring it’ll grown on me (I can’t believe this was the track chosen as a recut though, its like Ken Hirai all over again…).

The next track on the album is the ballad Kurage, Nagareboshi (クラゲ、流れ星; Jellyfish, Shooting Star). I think I’m being bias, but I don’t really care. This is different from the single version, as it seems to play more on the strings instead of the piano and its a lot more duller and underwhelming than the single version, plus is it me or does Otsuka sound like Tomoyo from Cardcaptors? Well, not quite Tomoyo, but one of those little girl anime characters, her vocals are rather innocent in cute, almost to a sickening degree. This is definitely her weakest ballad to date, but I like it anyways… I guess.

The next track on the album is the down-tempo Ningyou (人形; Doll). This song is rather touching. The arrangement consists of just the piano, which emits such a somber vibe that is quite heart-aching, but very effective, despite how simple it is. Ai-chan doesn’t do much with her vocals, but I like the slow approach and how she sounds wistful, yet sweet at the same time. This song is very melancholy to me and gives off such an atmosphere of remembrance and longing.

The next track on the album is the semi mid-tempo Kimi Fechi (君フェチ; You Fetish). Hmm? The title is pretty odd. I almost thought I wasn’t going to like this song, but it grew on me pretty quickly. The arrangement is the drums and bass, which was nice and even though it was pretty simple the whole sound just made it seem like a lot was going on with it. Otsuka’s vocal performance was pretty airy, not very interesting, but I did like how she chose to sing the chorus’ and how she held the notes at the end of said chorus’. This is a decent track.

The next track on the album is the quirky Creamy & Spicy. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to like this, but it turned out to be all right. The guitar arrangement is pretty simple, I like the calm flow of it and how it seems Country in a sense. Ai-chan’s vocal performance was actually bearable and though I’m guessing this was suppose to be one of her trademark silly songs, it came off as a bit serious to me. This track doesn’t stand out, but I somewhat liked it, well… the chorus anyways.

The next track on the album is the lank Do Positive. I was wondering when I was going to stumble across a song I didn’t like, here we go. The arrangement is rock oriented with the drums and guitar and whatnot, but its so typical and stale. Ai-chan’s vocals were torture, I don’t know why she chose to sing this song in such a grating and annoying way, but she did and the whole thing was just exasperating.

The next track on the album is the semi down-tempo 360°. This is quite a song, I mean I really didn’t expect it to go the way it went. I am in love with the piano arrangement, just the love. I really want an instrumental, it was gorgeous. I liked Ai-chan’s vocal performance as well, she seems really into it and the breathless high notes she would hit added a lot of depth to this track and really made it stand out. This is a really unique song from Otsuka, it may just become one of my favorites.

The next track on the album is the odd Shachihata (シャチハタ; self-inking rubber stamp). I guess with a title like ‘self inking rubber stamp’ I should have expected not to like it, despite it having quite the creative title. This is more like an insert to some sort of anime like Cowboy Bebop for there is no song just a Jazz arrangement and Otsuka channeling Ella Fitzgerald. I don’t know, I love Jazz what a great genre of music, but this left me mostly confused and unimpressed. The arrangement wasn’t so bad though.

The next track on the album is the down-tempo One × Time. This is quite a nice song. I enjoyed the piano arrangement, elegantly and engagingly simple. Ai-chan’s vocal performance was sweet as well. This is definitely a track I can see myself listening to again and again, very nostalgic and wistful.

The second to last track on the album is the precious Pocket. Ah, I really do like this song. It may be one of her more weaker ballads, but the soft lilt of the piano arrangement and Ai-chan’s genuine and emotionally moving vocal performance really makes this song such a nice listen.

The last track on the album keeps the down-tempo’s coming with Ai (愛; Love). It looks like Otsuka finally decided to turn her name into a song and since ‘ai’ is one of my favorite Japanese words I didn’t mind, the song isn’t half bad. The arrangement was pretty simple, gentle and subtly sad. I’m however on the fence with the music box melody. I liked Ai-chan’s vocal performance, it came across as very sad to me, like she was telling of a painful memory or something. The backing vocals were a bit random, but not surprising. It reminded me of her song ‘always together’ off her first album, only difference is the whole singing kids thing was a bit annoying this time around. A nice end to the album though.

Rating: ** stars

Otsuka Ai’s fifth album LOVE LETTER was a decent album, but its definitely a step down from LOVE PiECE. I don’t know, this album just seems so tame compared to what I’m use to from her. I mean I expected to hear a lot more quirky songs than I did and yeah ‘creamy & spicy’ made no sense, but its nothing compared to the zaniness of ‘happy days’, ‘smily’ or even that mosquito song off her previous album. I’m a ballad whore and Ai-chan knows how to deliver some good ballads, but I did think it was strange how the majority of the tracks on here seem very balled oriented, though the only ballads I bought were ‘ningyou’, ‘one x time’ and ‘pocket’. I also thought the random Jazz song was odd, because I expected it to be one of her trademark loony tunes, but it was pretty mild in comparison. This isn’t a bad listen, but I just don’t like how Otsuka totally flipped the script on me. I just didn’t get it. I did like this album considering, Ai-chan never disappoints me entirely, but I do hope she returns to normal on her sixth try, this album was just so vague.


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