Flashback: Review – Life by Angela Aki

Here’s another old review that was never published.

Life by Angela Aki

Life, Angela Aki’s fourth album, was released a year and half after her Oricon chart topper, Answer.  This is the second time she has produced an album on her own, and the result reveals her growth as a musician and songwriter.

The first track, “Ai no Kisetsu”, is typical Angela Aki material: a catchy and powerful piano-driven song. Aside from the obvious lyrical resemblance, the introductory chords and vocal crescendo are also reminiscent of RENT’s “Seasons of Love”, making one wonder if she was inspired by the Broadway musical.  Next is “Kagayaku Hito” which has Aki on acoustic guitar.  Although she relies on her vocals to carry the song, she demonstrates that she is more than a one-instrument wonder.

Co-written by Grammy winner Janis Ian, “Every Woman’s Song” celebrates womanhood and diversity.  The lyrics are somewhat cliched but uplifting.  If Lifetime ever needed a theme song, this would be perfect.  The energy picks up with “Sign”.  The blending of the guitar and piano makes the song sound more like it was by The Angela Aki Band.  In contrast, “Remember Me” is all about the solo artist.  Aki belts out the chorus with her heart and soul, and the accompanying orchestra adds drama without overshadowing her voice.

The next two tracks, “Unbreakable” and “What Are the Roses For?”, veer into the country genre.  Both are melancholic pieces sung entirely in English.  “Ai to Bansoukou” is another powerhouse number, but it lacks the punch that others have.  Following it is “Mad Scientist”, a jaunty confrontation of a lover’s jealousy gone out of hand.  The shattering glass and ear-piercing shriek at the end make the song seem almost like a B-horror movie: not to be taken seriously.  “The Truth Is Like a Lie” is the saddest song of the album.  Aki’s vocals and piano-playing is soft as though she is consoling herself through music.

After the gloomy pieces comes a more upbeat song, “Bop Bop Bop (Colors of Your Soul)”.  The “bop bop bop” sounds out of place and amateurish, but Aki shows off her technical skills by playing a series of rapid scales.  These light and airy scales are a nice change from her usual strong chord progressions.  “Haha Naru Daichi” refers to Mother Nature, and thus, the woodwinds and strings provide an appropriate pastoral feel to the intro.  The song is a long one at over six and a half minutes long, but Aki never loses momentum.  She draws out the notes as though this was a final farewell or a finale.

As a result, “Life” feels more like an epilogue.  It is a quiet, but still solid, conclusion and a reminder of Aki’s strengths: passionate singing and piano playing.  Aki says that she “turn[s] to the piano and search[es] for the answers through songs” (Japan Times) and perhaps this song is a reflection of the answers she has found through the journey of love, heartache, struggles, and triumphs in Life.

Listening to:Tashika ni” by Angela Aki

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