Utada Hikaru – Fantôme
It’s a heartscape, nothing but a heartscape…
by Nill Newt.
Fantôme is not a “masterpiece” but hey what does this word or concept mean in this day and age? In case no one really noticed, the days of Electric Ladyland and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are long gone. In a Facebooked world of blogs and tweets there’s no more room for “masterpieces,” nearly everyone is a reviewer and by the way, my baker has just released his third live album on YouTube, so who’s gonna define what a masterpiece is?
Not a masterpiece but a good, correction, a very good album packed full of gems that is, for sure. There we have beautiful lyrics served with delicately crafted songs by a singer who’s eventually reached her best. Texture, tone, range, her voice has stretched the limits of the soft and soothing, from the ether (Boukyaku) to lower keys (Tomodachi, Sakura Nagashi). In this respect, there’s room for praise.
I must confess my Japanese is below average but as I was aware she did put a lot in them lyrics, I worked a bit on the original texts –not just the English translations- and then submitted selected songs to a few Japanese friends who are keen on poetry. They confirmed: carefully chosen words, powerful imagery…
Michi (道) opens the way. Utada Hikaru herself decided it’d be the opening track. In my opinion, that was not just to deliver her “now, I’m fine” message but also to kind of reassure the listener. We’re on familiar ground there, from Tokyo Nights  to Goodbye Happiness [MV] the usual Utada electro-beat is instantly recognizable, maybe a tad too much. I would have loved some taiko –or any other big drum- resonate each time she utters “ROAD.” It’s a pleasant track though. Lyrics wise, it’s not that light and happy. I give it a B.
Ore no Kanojo (俺の彼女). With this one, things get pretty serious. Catchy, nearly jazzy tempo with a constant piano line quite reminiscent of McCartney’s best shots, then the song develops with layers of remarkable vocals and strings (real strings if I got things correctly) to reach a climax and a couple of sentences in the French language. The whole song is so unexpected and so much her at the same time! Ore no Kanojo is one of those 4 or 5 tracks that make me think her songwriting has reached new heights. A if not A+
Hanataba wo Kimini (花束を君に). I sort of disliked it when it was released as a digital single last April. I got used to it. I like the lyrics and the chorus has –yes, again- some Beatles feel to it. Her singing is particularly strong and womanly, even motherly. Compared to other tracks, it’s lighter but it’s a sweet song nonetheless. B
Nijikan Dake no Vacance (二時間だけのバカンス). Coffee time! Utada and Shiina. What else? The two of them covered a Carpenters song years ago… quite forgettable. This tune is a much more interesting collaboration. Actually, I saw the video first and each time I listen to the song, the images come back, a real feast. Cool guitar chords for the jazz-like intro, then the song builds up and goes on track at normal Utadic speed and mode. The pleasure sure comes from the blend of voices: the mellow, the smoothness and the sultriness with Utada, the acid, the power and the strength with Ringo. A kiss or a kick? Well, you get both from the same cup. Utada has always talked to my heart and soul, Shiina appeals more to my brains, I respect and admire them as they belong to that very small club of songstresses with outstanding achievements, therefore I want more of that and I do hope they’ll work together again. Definitely an A.
Ningyo (人魚). A harp, drums, her voice. That’s all. Sober, beautiful, moving. I was told by a Japanese friend who is keen on the works of the late Keiko Fuji (her mother) that Utada is sometimes mimicking her way of singing in that tribute. That, I don’t know. Anyway, there are some beautiful words and phrases [lyrics], and her voice is a mix of calm and grace. It is indeed a sad lullaby, and you can feel the grief, but she avoided the trap of the tear-jerking artifacts. It’s pure, simple and raw. No marking, there’s no letter before A.
Tomodachi (友達). A welcome transitional track, which might not be the best song of the album, but it is quite enjoyable. On top of a Spanish feel, you have yet another fine vocal duet. Obukuro’s falsetto backing vocals combine well with Utada’s lead who sings in a lower key. C+/B
Manatsu no Tooriame (真夏の通り雨). Another very strong track, lyrics wise. Often sad memories, heavy stuff in there carefully woven into a tapestry of words. The song requires a little patience. The opening, just a piano and her voice, may sound bland and casual at first but the track gradually evolves into something deep to a poignant finale. At this point, the production is somewhat weird, the drums are obscure and muffled as if it were some old mono track on vinyl. I’ve come to think this is deliberate to create an atmosphere that brings blurred echoes from the past while a heart (hers?) still beats. One of my fave songs in her entire discography. To some extent it has a similar structure to Sakura Drops (Deep River) but that sense of melancholy we often get in such songs of hers has reached a deeper deep. A/A+
At this point of the review, while listening to the album again, it occurs to me that I’ve been to a disco, walked down the street with a great girlfriend, picked up flowers in a garden, visited space and the desert for a vacation, seen a woman watching a mermaid, shared memories…what’s next? Isn’t that the core, the cement of this album, an emotional voyage, a trip into her heartscape?