After taking something of a forced hiatus after some notably bad publicity in the late '90s, Noriyuki Makihara returned to the Japanese music scene in the middle of the 2000s re-energized, with songs waiting to be sung and charts waiting to be played. Indeed, Personal Soundtracks starts with something of a musical mea culpa, though the subject may be more about love than his personal history. Makihara's vocals sit sparsely against a simple piano accompaniment, creating a stronger focus on the accentuations and ornamentations, and creating a surprisingly capable ballad. Only at the end of the ballad does additional instrumentation appear, in the form of bagpipes and snare drums, lending a bit of austerity to the ending. With the next track, Makihara briefly touches on world music with a Middle Eastern drum bit at the beginning that quickly evolves into a Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica piece and a slightly jerky pop number. There's almost a touch of French café music in "Chocolate et Sweets," and a sweeter (if somewhat off-key) ballad in "Kimi no Ushirogata." There's just a touch of funk following, and sitars come out in force for "We Love You." "Hey" mixes a disco beat with an R&B delivery, and he gets a bit of his old drama back for "Firefly." With a couple of more standard ballads, the album finishes off softly. Makihara has been at the forefront of Japanese music off and on for years, and the range and abilities shown on Personal Soundtracks make a good argument for why that has been the case. He isn't always perfectly on, but when he is on, it's incredible.
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