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Women whose work is never done

by Steve McClure

“Senko (Flash),” singer/songwriter UA’s first single in three years, further cements her status as one of J-pop’s most enigmatic and original artists. Released July 24, “Senko” is a dark, moody piece that’s half tone poem and half pop song. UA and co-producer Rei Harakami have created a sparse, ambient-ish soundscape for “Senko,” which is a very uncommercial six minutes and seven seconds long.

You’ve got to give UA credit for being uncompromising and unconventional in making “Senko” her comeback single. I’d be surprised if it rose very high in the charts, though — it’s just too left-field. For example, to say that the lyrics to “Senko” are oblique would be an understatement. A few sample lines: “Like the thawing snow/The light that shines into my depths/Comes from beyond the single line that lies deep within your eyes.”

UA’s new album, “Dorobo (Thief)”, is very much in the same vein as “Senko” — low-key, almost in the chill-out mode, with hints of jazz here and there. Throughout the album, UA sounds very laid-back, verging on lethargic at times. A good album for late-night listening, “Dorobo” is out Sept. 19.

UA has spent the past three years on projects such as singing with the band Ajico, which released a rather good album, “Fukamidori (Dark Green),” last year, and working on the film “Mizu no Onna (Woman of Water),” in which she plays the daughter of a public-bath owner (the film premieres this fall, by the way). It’s great to see UA back on the scene as a solo act, but I hope she rocks out a bit more in future.

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Ami Suzuki is making a comeback — sort of.

The once-popular teen idol, who found herself blacklisted by the Japanese entertainment industry after she and her parents had the audacity to sue her production company, is coming out with a photo book.

“Suzuki Ami Photograph Collection Ami ’02 Summer,” published by Bungei Shunju, hits the shelves July 28. According to advance publicity, the tome features shots of Suzuki in various “summery” locations and will not include any nude shots. Imagine my disappointment.

Actually, I really can’t imagine anyone spending 1,900 yen on a book of photos of the very ordinary-looking Suzuki, but then again, I couldn’t imagine anyone spending money on her off-key warblings. And yet, until her downfall, the girl they call “Amigo” was one of J-pop’s biggest stars.

Suzuki was supposed to be making a comeback in February under the auspices of Osaka-based production company Yoshimoto Kogyo, with Tetsuya Komuro once again on board as producer. So far, however, nothing has come of this purported new deal. The most likely explanation is that Yoshimoto is waiting until Suzuki and her parents settle another lawsuit, this one with her record label, Sony. Until then, Suzuki’s fans — who are a remarkably loyal lot — will have to be satisfied with her photo book.

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Hikaru Utada has recorded an English version of her recent hit single, “Hikari (Light),” for use as the opening and closing theme of the new PlayStation2 game “Kingdom Heart.” The recording session took place at the end of June, marking Utada’s first time back at work since her recent operation.

Her English rendition of “Hikari” will be included in the North American and European versions of the game, whose release date has yet to be announced. Utada’s record label, Toshiba-EMI, says that so far there are no plans to release the recording as a single. That might be difficult because, as you may recall, in February Utada signed a worldwide deal with the Island/Def Jam label as an English-language recording artist.

I really hope Utada can break through in North America and Europe, but despite the encouraging news that she’s back in the studio, it’s likely that she’s going to continue to take things slowly for a while as she regains her strength. O-daiji ni, Hikki-chan!