next-levelArtist: Ayumi Hamasaki
Release Date: March 25, 2009
Label: Avex Trax
Genre: Electronica/J-pop
Number of Songs: 14
Personal Rating: 3.5/5

1. Bridge to the sky
3. Disco-munication
4. EnergizE
5. Sparkle
6. rollin’
8. Load of the SHUGYO
9. identity
10. Rule
11. LOVE ‘n’ HATE
12. Pieces of SEVEN
13. Days
14. Curtain call
So there’s finally a review on one of Ayumi Hamasaki’s newer releases! Just to give a statement before hand, Ayumi usually does really good album covers but for this album…not so sure what to say….I have a feeling that this album isn’t as huge as her phenomenal ones since there’s only two singles for the most part and I’ve heard that she uses more interlude tracks….let’s see what I’ve got to say.

First song up is my favorite Bridge to the Sky! It starts with a techno-like introduction followed by a nice tone of Ayumi’s voice. (Well…a little bit of screaming but that’s kind of the mood of the song.) A great introduction to this long awaited album since it has a very strong and nice feel to it.

Unlike many cover songs for Ayumi’s albums, there’s NEXT LEVEL that turns out to be a little bit disappointing. It’s a nice and decent song but it doesn’t beat, “A Song for XX,” “Appears,” “Duty,” “I Am…,” “Secret,” and “Guilty.” I wasn’t expecting a very amazing and awesome cover track, its just the song didn’t really stand out like her other cover tracks. The chorus isn’t all that powerful or catchy and the instrumental riffs isn’t all that memorable. I like the title for the album though.

Disco-munication turns out to be the first interlude to the album. It’s not very refreshing and certainly, it’s not very enjoyable to listen to. It’s pretty aggressive and all there is to it are synths. I just wish that other interludes are better than this. Like all of Ayumi’s interludes, this pretty much sets the stagenext for the next section in the album…

EnergizE wasn’t a very stand out track either. I’ve noticed that Ayumi added more techno synchs and riffs but the addition to the beats and rhythm made the song sound somewhat “heavy.” Like the song title states, this track is pretty energetic but I have to admit that it’s pretty boring for my taste. Her last line sounded a bit awkward. Her English is great and all but for this song…not really a good idea.

Things get so much better with Sparkle! Making this her first electronica track as the second A-side track from the “Rule/Sparkle” single, she does a pretty great job with the lyrics and the melody. At first, I wasn’t really fond with her mature voice for this song but it began to grow onto me after giving Sparkle another go. Now this is what real techno is supposed to sound like!

Okay, rollin‘? Not a shinning example of an Ayumi track. The introduction was already weird and all but seriously, what were the producers thinking when they made this track? It’s pretty boring and the whole song sounded pretty awkward all at the same time. For the most part, the chorus wasn’t all that catchy and the verses didn’t seem all that enjoyable. I’m pretty disappointed with the album so far.

Finally! Another very extraordinary Ayumi track! I was getting a little worried at first. Unfortunately, its another old track that was released on a single. GREEN pretty much owns the newer tracks. It’s true that I didn’t exactly like this song at first but it soon made me appreciate it after a few more listens. I see that Ayumi’s changing her J-pop style to make it sound more modern and she’s doing a very nice job in transitioning from slow to fast. This is the third song that actually manage to “grow” on me. The other tracks didn’t really catch my attention as much as this one did.

The Load of the SHUGYO totally did not fit the mood of the album. First of all, its another interlude with many guitar riffs and hints of techno. I admit that the beginning was really exceptional but when it came to the part when there’s a little chorus that japanese people would sing before a sumo wrestling match, I was like “what the heck?”

Aren’t there any good songs in this album? Identity totally ruins the stage that “The Load of the SHUGYO” set up for it. The first element was “monotone,” followed by “boring,” and concluded with the dreaded word: 23860_BOOKLET_MOTO(A-JPG)SAI.indd“flop.” The whole song lacked variety and that whole “ID” part was totally out of the picture. What happened?

Rule is the theme song of the “Dragonball LIVE action movie.” And as masculine as the series is, “Rule” did turn out to be more of a heavy J-rock song than her usual J-pop style. Like I said in one of my older reviews, “I usually don’t like J-rock songs but some are an exception.” The start of the song begins with a techno-like drum and guitar introduction. Then more beats are added in to add more style. The lyric shares the same rhythm as “Until that Day,” from her “Secret” album. Does this song mark the beginning of Ayumi’s change of style in her singing career? (I hope she still does a few J-pop like songs.) …I guess this song would be mostly good but the downside is the heavy J-rock acoutics…

LOVE ‘n’ HATE was somewhat a very minor savior for the album. After the awesome “Rule” literally ruled the album, LOVE ‘n’ HATE kind of contributed to it. I would have to say that the background music was…”awesome” but the catchy chorus wasn’t repeated enough to actually enjoy the song. It’s pretty average but if they added more to it, the song would have sounded so much better.

I would personally have to give it to Pieces of SEVEN, for saving the album with this nice interlude. Unlike the last interlude, this was actually the best. It was pretty quiet and a little bit freaky at the beginning but when it transitioned to the beats at the end, I was like “Whoa.” Despite the fact that it’s pretty long for an interlude, I’ve got to say that this was pretty impressive.

Yes, Days makes their grand entrance into this album! I mean, it simply beats all of the newer tracks in this album! The beginning starts with light piano playing and during the second time the instruments play the melody, an electric guitar, beats and drums are added in. The only reason why I was so sucked into this song right away was because of the promising beginning. I was always hoping the Ayumi would stick to her nice, ballad style now that her style consists of electronica J-rock. At least for now, she’s still doing a great job of writing nice ballads. Instead of her calm and emotional ballads,next_level_cddvd this has a j-rock feel to it that made the song one of my favorites.

To end this somewhat mediocre album Curtain call does indeed give this a nice ending. All there is in the background was the piano but the chorus was still a nice addition to the second and last ballad. It sounded pretty nice but I thought that it was a little boring.

Like everyone says, “Ayumi totally took her style to the NEXT LEVEL.” She’s totally changed her style which is a great thing but it’s just that I wished she had a better selection of songs. I personally think that if it weren’t for the old tracks, this album would have probably bombed. I mean Days, GREEN, Rule and Sparkle pretty much owned the rest of this album. (“Bridge to the Sky” is an exception, that track was actually good.) The reasoning for this somewhat disappointing rating was because most of the songs were mediocre and not all that refreshing or memorable. I think I prefer her past album, “Guilty” over “NEXT LEVEL.”

Personal Rating: 3.5/5


2 thoughts on “NEXT LEVEL

  1. awww ur review is so good! its simple yet beautiful!
    i wrote like a boring paper report and dont even want to see it again…just like some of her songs from NEXT LEVEL XD~

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