Ayumi Hamasaki

Rainbow

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Before she was a megastar, Ayumi Hamasaki was still a formidable star in the cosmos of Japanese pop. Rainbow came after a string of high-charting albums, itself not reaching the same heights thanks to some interesting but uneven experimentation with her sound. The album opens with some light ambient introductions before going into an energetic bit of stereotypical J-pop drama in "We Wish." "Real Me" incorporates elements of Aaliyah into string accompaniment and a touch of English lyricizing, and "Free & Easy" puts particularly light and airy passages in direct contrast with exploding horn-and-shout passages. There's some electric rock in "Heartplace" and after the forgettable "Over," Hamasaki moves to "Hanabi," a fair hit that focuses strongly on her vocal qualities as well as some interesting phrasing. With some basic filler tracks, the album chugs along until it gets to "Dolls," a sparse and echoing piece that again allows the listener to focus on the nuances of Hamasaki's vocals and a touch of greater emotion than in some of the more pop-oriented pieces. Despite some intriguing church bells, "Close to You" never quite gets off the ground, especially when compared to the ending track, "Independent," which combines rock, cheerleader chants, and modern electronica into a surprisingly coherent showcase for Hamasaki. The album doesn't have as much refinement as much of Hamasaki's later albums, but it shows the progression of her skills and vocal abilities.

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