Utada Hikaru – Fantôme

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Kouya no Ookami (荒野の狼). A bass that slaps, her breath like a percussion. It took me some time to cope with that track, the most surprising song in the entire album. There’s a twist at 1’30” and you suddenly return to classic Utadic mode, but then after, I feel like the song doesn’t have a balance and sort of repeats its first two steps. A bold and not entirely unsuccessful attempt at something else. B

Boukyaku (忘却). This one I feared. I have to be honest, I’m not into rap, at all. So when I read that KOHH was a guest, I was like OMG! Result? Surrender! I was trashed by the team: 6/0, 6/0. First you have that long intro with synths and a heartbeat, and here HE comes painting the studio and your room, with words of pure pain and brutal sorrow; and then SHE comes with a voice straight from the ether, singing the gloomiest words she’s ever sung. I have no idea about the emotional state the two of them reached inside the studio, but yes they did share a lot. You can actually feel the pain, the sense of loss (father for KOHH, mother for Utada), and it’s excruciating and yet beautiful. A

Jinsei Saikou No Hi (人生最高の日). As the artist herself was in charge of the track order, I suppose it was kind of deliberate to put this joyful and upbeat song right after the dark and beautiful Boukyaku, in sharp contrast. I tried several times to listen to it on a stand-alone basis, but, in my opinion, it’s the weakest song on the album, musically speaking. Okayish. C

Sakura Nagashi (桜流し), co-written with Paul Carter. If memory serves me right, co-writing songs is something new to Utada or we have to go back to the Cubic U era, before she stormed the Japanese music scene. Some of her fans were already familiar with Sakura Nagashi which was available as a DVD in 2012. I remember noticing how deep and mature her voice was when I first heard it. I think it’s nice she made it available as some sort of epilogue for Fantôme. Sound, vocals, instruments, it fits in perfectly. A

In the end, what makes Fantôme unique in her discography is an apparent lack of unity on the surface. You move from one setting to another, at times it’s a straight flight from cold and raw Mars to hot and sultry Venus, but this is a demanding album that requires patience and some effort. To give you an example, it took me a few listens to notice those little drops of harp in Manatsu No Tooriame just as she sings those very words, I’m not hard of hearing and I’m a bit of a musician too…

I also firmly believe that it’s not just a comeback album, I see it as some form of transition, as we have atmospheres we’ve known for years and territories she seldom or never explored so far…

The album did very well in Japan and her usual Asian strongholds (Taiwan, Hong-Kong, the Philippines…), but what is noteworthy is the fact that on its first two weeks of release, Fantôme ranked in the Top10 of several European iTunes charts, like— #1 in Finland !!?? Fresh! Just like Ringo, a singer-songwriter such as Utada has two major assets to decide what and when is best: talent and reputation. After a long hiatus, she came back when she saw fit, did what she’s always done and what she wanted. She simply offered her new collection of songs like “here it is, this is where I am, who I am right now and it is filled with my naked heart.” I took that gift, opened it and loved it. Apparently, I’m not the only one. It might be a lonely road, but we’re not alone.

Rating: ★★★★¼ 

by Nill Newt.

You can purchase Utada Hikaru’s Fantôme on iTunes, or buy physical versions of the album on HMV JP, Amazon JP and YesAsia in three different editions [Japan][Taiwan][Korea].

2 Responses

  1. Hervé says:

    So interesting. Excellent critic from à real music lover. Utada is a great artist And her come Backstreet is a great surprise.

  2. jukabom says:

    Wow I love your review. Mostly agreed on the song grades. I don’t know about masterpiece but this is her best album to date. The production is far more refined than anything preceding it. Even a weaker song like Jinsei Saikou No Hi seems to carry underlying messages; the song might be in fact about the day she joins her mother in the afterlife. Also, the word Utadic gave me a chuckle. Thanks for writing this.

    Shameless plug:
    https://reviewlikenobodysreading.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/utada-hikaru-fantome-album-review/

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