Namie Amuro

Concentration 20

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Producing a follow-up to Amuro's Sweet 19 Blues was a daunting task, but producer/svengali Tetsuya Komuro was on a roll in a period that the Japanese music press dubbed "Komuro-jidai" ("The Komuro Era"). From the lush, flashback funk of that album, Komuro changed tactics, moving his arrangements closer to the techno-industrial pop of his group globe. The album has "mature effort" written all over it, but it feels forced. Amuro's voice is still limited by her range, but Komuro brings it closer in the mix, and begins to have her sing higher than she can manage (something he began to do with singer Keiko of globe). It's not the album it could have been: only "No Communication," "A Walk in the Park," and "How to Be a Girl" stand up as fully formed pop songs, though they are terrific ones. The latter is especially strange, a stop-start drum'n'bass-esque verse is surrounded by electric drones before diving into its rockin' chorus. The big hit here was the ballad "Can You Celebrate," a perfect soundtrack for any high school slow dance, grandiose, with swirling strings -- though ruined here by Komuro insisting on singing backup (which he does execrably).

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