Break the Rules

Namie Amuro

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Break the Rules Review

by Ted Mills

This is an album of diminished expectations being rewarded with fine pop, of a star out of the limelight enough to begin to get interesting again. Like the cover art suggests, Amuro's second team-up with American producer Dallas Austin (Boyz II Men, Monica, TLC) preps her for an announced American breakthrough (although that's what they said about the older Japanese pop diva Seiko Matsuda, whose attempt to hit the U.S. market was laughably flat). There's even a song called "Crossover." Austin may be the right man for the job: his tracks (about half of the album) are far from pop (though nothing too far from mainstream R&B -- witness the Jennifer Lopez soundalike "Girlfriend"). He doesn't push Amuro beyond her range (except on "Think of Me" where you find out she isn't Christina Aguilera -- thank goodness), and keeps her vocals sleek, multi-tracked, and smooth. Highlights include the pop psychedelia of "Better Days," sounding like a great lost P.M. Dawn track; "Never Shoulda," full of drama; and Komuro's own effort, the lead-off single "No More Tears," which is complemented at the end by a disco remix by Junior Vasquez. It's an interesting test run for Amuro's takeover bid, but suggests there's more work ahead.

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