This Is the One

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Written while she was finishing her 2008, Japanese-language album Heart Station, This Is the One is singer, songwriter, producer, and Japanese megastar Utada's second attempt to crossover to the English-speaking market, and a much more reasonable one at that. While the English-language album Exodus tried to be everything at once, Utada the performer is clearly defined here with slick, polished production supporting her songs rather than dominating them. The opening ballad, "Come Back to Me" is everything good about Utada all in one, with simple, precious lyrics and a delicate melody sharing space with a clever idea, which in this case is the bombastic piano intro that's straight out of classical music. Clever ideas are Utada's secret weapon as "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence -- FYI" combines the classic Ryuichi Sakamoto movie theme its half named after with contemporary R&B flavored come-on's, as in "FYI: We're gonna be up all night." The sexually charged "Poppin'" would be a much lesser song without the smart arrangement which wonderfully re-creates the spy movie sound of the '60s rather than becoming a James Bond-biting cliché. Describing a couple's compatibility as "Apple and Cinnamon" makes the Tori Amos-like cut a standout, but most of her lyrics are riddled with clichés with plenty of "whispers in the dark" and whatnot. This means the epic, emotional "Sanctuary" suite that closes the album has to rely on arrangement and delivery, and Utada nails both, combining the grandness of a Disney song like "A Whole New World" with the angst of, remarkably, Nine Inch Nails. Big, behind-the-scene names like Chris "Tricky" Stewart and Antonio "LA" Reid point to the urban meets pop attitude of the album, but Utada will not be overshadowed. This album is hers alone and when placed next to Exodus, it's aptly titled.

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