Hikaru Utada

Distance

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Following the staggering success of her debut album under her own name, 1999's First Love, the biggest selling album in Japanese recording history, was preceded by four number one singles. To say that Utada Hikaru's 2001 follow-up, Distance, was hotly anticipated would be a huge understatement. Her debut's R&B-influenced sound evolved with little significant stylistic change, yet Distance stands out from other Japanese pop albums of the period with its rich production providing stark contrast to the cheap, tinny sound that characterized much Japanese pop of the previous decade, with "Wait & See" and "Addicted to You" both featuring the production talents of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Elsewhere, "Can You Keep a Secret?" remains a landmark in Japanese R&B both in terms of the sophistication of its songwriting and in its production, "Drama" shifts slightly from that template by introducing heavy, multilayered guitars and a darker, more rock-influenced sound, and "Kettobase!" mixes Hikaru's usual R&B with more rock guitar and a techno-influenced sequencer pattern. Despite arriving relatively early in her career, Distance stands as one of Hikaru's most consistent and inventive albums, and comes across as a far more convincing example of R&B by a Japanese artist than her later attempts to crack the U.S. market.

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