With a long career and a longer discography, Ayumi Hamasaki spends a lot of time on the pop charts reinventing herself to meet the mores of the current J-pop scene, whatever that may be at the time. On Guilty, she updates her sound to fit a modern version of J-pop, infused heavily with rock and with darker, more gothic elements. With Hamasaki unfortunately, the result is a fairly staged, theatrical sound. She stretches across her range admirably to capture the darker, deeper tones of the rock, but it nearly invariably sounds like theme music to a basic Asian robot-based sci-fi film. This isn't necessarily to say that the sound isn't put together well, or that Hamasaki underperforms. To the contrary, if anything she overperforms here, adding an unnecessary melodrama to the proceedings and ruining what seemed the original intent of the album. Moving away from straightforward bubblegum (and the occasional power pop style track) is an attempt to add a bit of the emphasis on authenticity that's swept through much of Japanese music, including the pop sphere. Where others explore elements of folk and more emotional attachment, Hamasaki comes off as either a fairly flat and standardized singer of fairly flat and standardized songs, or as a great singer trying hopelessly to keep up with dark rock ballads that are horribly mismatched to her temperament and her delivery style. Hamasaki's got plenty of good work in her catalog, Guilty is unlikely to stand with the best portions of it, even for her numerous fans.
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