倉木麻衣 – delicious way
Artist: 倉木麻衣 (Mai Kuraki)
Album: delicious way
Release Date: 06.28.2000
Continuing Plastic Candy’s J-Urban week with another review of an album that may also be considered a pioneer to R&B in Japan for following through with a similar style as Utada Hikaru‘s First Love (but taking it in another direction, slightly more 80s or early 90s, as a matter of fact), is Mai Kuraki‘s debut album, delicious way.
This album struck a lot of controversy because of similarities in style with First Love, but I think that it was more in a form of flattery than plagiarism. Utada’s foray into the Japanese music scene was so striking that she was bound to affect the industry someway, and Mai Kuraki was a disciple of her legacy through this album.
Just like First Love, delicious way isn’t exactly J-Urban because of its heavy western influences, it’s more like straight-up R&B, but it’s proof of the success of R&B as a genre in Japanese shores in the early 00′s, so it’s also very significant when it comes to the formation of Japanese strong J-Urban culture as we know it!
The album opens with the title track, delicious way. Straight off the bat, it has a very strong 80s influence, but I don’t feel like it’s a strong enough track. The chorus isn’t very striking and the song feels quite continuous since the beat is nearly unchanging. Mai sounds very good though, her voice has a very sweet quality to it which makes the song somewhat enjoyable despite its monotony… it feels like the instrumentals aren’t fit for what she’s doing with her vocals.
Luckily, the classic Love, Day After Tomorrow makes up for the somewhat disappointing beginning of the album. This track has very interesting instrumentals, very laid-back and delicious, and the song overall sounds like something that would be included in Namie Amuro‘s LOVE ENHANCED♥ single collection compilation, and I mean this in the best way possible! I love the smoothness of this song and how Mai’s vocals blend in with the fluid R&B instrumentals, and she doesn’t require much emotion in her voice to make this happen! A very special song that I really enjoy.
Secret of my heart is a fantastic song because of its striking, emotional chorus. It follows the same vibe as the previous song’s but Mai exercises a little bit more of her range, which definitely adds a lot more feeling. I love the transition to the chorus and this song is simply lovely! It has a very classic yet refreshing quality to it, perhaps it’s the great use of the backing vocals and the liquid aspects of the song, but it really works and it’s a big highlight in the album for me!
The beginning of Stepping ∞ Out takes the album in a different direction. It starts with more of a hip-hop sound as opposed to the midtempos we were introduced to so far, but it slowly grows into a midtempo too. This track is very interesting because it’s very melodic, not only when it comes to the instrumentals but also when it comes to Mai’s vocals. Her adlibbing is pretty soothing and I really like what she did with this song.
Baby Tonight ～You & Me～ sounds like it could be a classic ballad of the 90s, something by an artist like Mariah Carey. What I really like about this album is how classic and refreshing the songs sound, and this is a ballad that truly makes that impression clear. It’s a very sweet ballad, but very fresh and mellow… simply gorgeous!
Can’t get enough ～gimme your love～ is staple 90s R&B from the beginning. The backing vocals are really soft, but Mai doesn’t sound as rich as she has so far in the album, her voice doesn’t sound as comfortable though the song itself doesn’t sport anything very different from what we’ve heard so far. It’s enjoyable despite its awkwardness but the backing vocals are pretty much spot-on, though.
NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP sounds a bit playfully tropically, and I love tropical-sounding music, so I’m all for it! Mai’s vocals are back to their non-awkward self and she sounds quite comfortable and natural here. A lot of chimes and wind instrumentation gives it its charm and it’s a very interesting, pleasant song.
Stand by my side isn’t as urban-sounding as the other tracks in the album, consisting of a simpler arrangement that sounds more pop. I like how the focus is turned more to Mai’s voice rather than the harmony between her vocals and the instrumentation of the song. It’s not a big highlight of the album, just an enjoyable change of pace from R&B midtempos to a slow, more pop-ish song.
Everything’s All Right is definitely more upbeat than many of the other songs in the album though it’s composed of the same synthetic, R&B goodness. This song is full of sweet little touches to it that make it very interesting and cute and the instrumental break sounds very organic too, something we haven’t seen in too much depth so far, but it’s still fashioned as a mellow midtempo, though more upbeat and brighter than the romantic songs we’ve heard so far.
happy days doesn’t sound very happy in the beginning… or at all. As a matter of fact, this song sounds a bit stoic. The ending of the chorus has a little tint of emotion but overall this song falls a little bit flat, it’s not very inspiring since the melody is quite repetitive and Mai doesn’t sound very interesting either.
君との時間 wraps up the album in quite an uninspired note as well. I think songs like happy days, Can’t get enough ～gimme your love～ and now 君との時間, which are songs I found quite lackluster, would be more enjoyable on their own once I’ve listened to the songs I really love in the album thoroughly, but in the context of the album they don’t sound as brilliant as the other songs. Because delicious way has a such a signature sound to it, I would prefer the last song to be a great celebration of this flavor rather than a ballad almost entirely stripped from the R&B flavor present throughout the record, but that’s only because I know Mai can definitely do better than this!
Overall, delicious way is a very delicate and refreshing album that I really enjoyed! I’ve read a lot about her past competition with Utada, but I don’t see them as rivals in any way when it comes to their debuts… while Mai took a more classic-sounding R&B route, with material that I would expect to hear from Mariah Carey or other iconic American R&B stars, Utada took more of a youthful vision, with material that was influenced by artists such as Aaliyah but material that I couldn’t see any other artist performing, it definitely has somewhat of a Japanese flavor to it as well. Both are really good albums in their own way and I love how they both helped introducing new takes on western R&B to Japan!
Neither album is truly J-Urban, but they’re precious R&B gems!
89 / B+
倉木麻衣 - Love, Day After Tomorrow