Following up on his 2008 hit Bridge, actor-singer Hiroshi Tamaki returned in 2009 with Times, an attempt to vary his sound a bit while still holding onto the basic form of his simplistic but popular vocal form. The album opens with a relatively flat delivery on Tamaki's part, but builds to "Pallet," a pop ballad with some speed and a sweeping, flowing format that hearkens strongly to groups like Sukima Switch. There are serious bouts with cheesiness to be sure -- a misplaced chorus in "Last Song," a mediocre bit of Brazilian in "Kimi to Sora," a heavy dependence on sweeping string arrangements and easy listening accents that could well have been avoided. In his best parts, Tamaki can invoke the spirit of other hitmakers -- touches of what SMAP has done with the jazzy end of things, touches of what singers like Noriyuki Makihara have done with the borderline between base pop and deeper songwriting talents. Only periodically, though, does the listener really get something original and intimate from Tamaki. Those moments shine brightly, but they're few and far between.
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