Here’s a question: If more than 8 million people have already bought Utada Hikaru’s “Flavor of Life” as a physical or download single, do they really need it on an album too?
Super-megastar Utada, 25, is not alone in releasing an album that is chock-full of previous single releases — in Japan it’s a depressingly common practice. But really, when you unwrap your ¥3,059 copy of “Heart Station” and realize that seven of the 13 tracks have been released as singles or B-sides, stretching back 16 months, you may feel a little short-changed. Especially when among those songs are “Boku wa Kuma,” a sweet throwaway children’s song that kills the album’s melancholy vibe stone dead, and two versions of “Flavor of Life.”
Utada’s voice is on fine form, dripping with cracked emotion, and there are some very good songs on “Heart Station.” The trouble is that you’ve already heard most of them. Of the previously unreleased songs, album opener “Fight the Blues” is the most rewarding; understated strings and warm electronics give the song an ethereal feel. But it’s followed by a run of five previous singles and a short, dull interlude track, which just feels so lazy.
Perhaps more interesting is that Utada is working on a new English-language album. Her last one, 2004’s “Exodus,” was a commercial flop in the United States and Europe, which the biggest-selling musician in Japanese history could never have predicted. It was also arguably her most creative, diverse and naked album to date. While Utada can get away with releasing pretty much anything in Japan, another stab at the States might push her to do something really special. We can only hope.