Nana Mizuki

Ultimate Diamond

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For her seventh album, Nana Mizuki takes a big step, cutting a swath through the subgenres of Japanese pop ably and showing off musical sides even longtime listeners might not recognize. The album opens with "Maria & Joker," a spy-style jazz track that showcases a lounge-style delivery from Mizuki. The delivery itself gets a little histrionic, but is a far reach beyond your average pop vocalizing. "Perfect Smile" seems to be built off of a Billy Joel piano riff, and "Trickster" amps up the rock influences a bit. Jumping off immediately, though, "Mr. Bunny" cranks up the cutesy factor for a few minutes before giving in once again to more dramatic synth-based animé-style theme music. There are some straightforward dance/pop tracks mixed in, but it's when Mizuki starts breaking genre boundaries again that things get interesting -- "Gimmick Game" provides a high-tempo trance outing that gives Mizuki some room to try out some different vocal phrasings, for example. The synth-orchestral hits can get grating in pieces like "Ray of Change," but Mizuki earns back some credit when she gets into less overwrought works (which would clearly not include melodramatic pieces like "Shinai"). The sum total is a bit hit and miss, but when Mizuki gets into a clear space to try out new phrasings and new tempos, she can deliver in spades. When she doesn't go to those lengths, she comes out as just another basic J-pop singer.