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Utada Hikaru's third album, released by Toshiba/EMI in 2002.

  1. SAKURAドロップス Sakura Drops is simply a weird song, heavy on New Age-y synthesizers and sampling tricks. When I first heard this song, I scratched my head. I'm still scratching my head. It's a nice slow song, and the instrumentation is excellent (if airy), but it's not what you would expect from Hikaru. **
  2. Traveling brings Hikki back into the world of mainstream pop. The only problem I have with Traveling is that it totally lacks phat soul: although the beat grooves a bit, it's still not what you'd expect from Hikaru. ****
  3. 幸せになろう Shiawase Ni Narô This song starts out sounding like yet another mediocre experiment in another genre.... but about 40 seconds in, it gets back to the R&B that brings out UH's latent sexiness. Finally, someone at Toshiba EMI remembered that Hikaru sounds good against a piano! Definitely one of the best tracks she's done so far. *****
  4. Deep River shouldn't have been the title song on this album. It's a slow jam song, the sort of song made for macking, not dancing, but it's not a particularly exceptional slow jam like First Love was. Like Sakura Drops, it uses synths quite liberally, and has a very artificial sound to it. *
  5. Letters got me dancing about ten seconds in. It's a great jazz/R&B song along the lines of Automatic, only with an added Latin twist that made me immediately think of the Miami Sound Machine. Hikaru pours the teen angst on in this one, and the overall effect is astounding. One of my favorites. *****
  6. プレイ・ボール Play Ball alternates between slow and fast to fairly good effect. It smacks of Utada Hikaru, with vocals that complement, rather than follow, the beat. While it's not a particularly memorable song, it has a certain funk factor that makes it fun to listen to. ***
  7. 東京NIGHTS Tokyo Nights is fun. It uses sawtooth waves and harpsichord riffs at the same time, and if that combination doesn't bring Tokyo to mind, I don't know what does. Hikaru's singing isn't that up to par on this track, but it's still a good song, and definitely worth a listen. ***
  8. A.S.A.P. is a fast melancholy song, which is usually a recipe for disaster. Listening to it makes me think of commuter trains in a rain storm. Hikki brings her sweet voice back to hammer out lyrics alongside a Mauserlike drum line, but it doesn't help a fairly poorly conceived song achieve coolness. **
  9. 嘘みたいなI Love You Uso Mitai na I Love You is Hikki's rock-inspired track for Deep River, along the same lines as Dorama and Kettobase on her previous album. Just when you think that Hikki's sunk into slowjam whining, the distortion pedal kicks in and the song comes back to life. This happens a couple of times to great effect. Overall, a good, but not stellar, track. ****
  10. Final Distance is what Distance should have been in the first place. It has the same lyrics as the original, but is set to an incredibly smooth orchestral background sans drum or bassline. The new arrangement is infinitely more appropriate for the song's wistful lyrics, and showcases Hikki's singing voice to its fullest. Definitely recommended. *****
  11. Interlude ... just some weird Celtic stylings that don't really fit into the album at all. I have no clue why they're even here. The music industry is weird.
  12. Hikari, known in English as Simple and Clean or just "the song from Kingdom Hearts," is a good song to close off the album. As the English title implies, it really is a simple and clean song: there's no freestyling here, just a sweet Hikki singing yet another token love song against a 4/4 beat and light instrumentals. It's the sort of song we all love to hear her sing, and she sings it well. ****

Overall rating: **** - not as good as Distance; roughly on par with First Love.

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