Utada Hikaru’s back on form — whatever that means. Her English-language “Exodus’ album in 2004 was a global flop, yet undeservedly so; an experimental set that chose artistry over chart domination, it was a quiet masterstroke after three albums of undiluted pop smashes. She said it was the album she’d always wanted to make; that she was no longer interested in pandering to her fans.

It’s almost a shame, then, that “Ultra Blue” reverts to the formula that made Utada a teenage sensation. There’s no doubt that “Ultra Blue” is a top-notch pop record, and if Utada had never dabbled in the raw creativity of “Exodus,” this would surely be her best, most mature effort to date. “This Is Love” and “BLUE” are swollen, epic, heart-tugging floor-fillers; “Making Love” soars like a proper gay-disco hit; and “Keep Tryin” is wonderfully weird.

Utada’s greatest strength lies in manipulating emotions with her ambiguous melodies and unusual chord changes, and “Ultra Blue” is no exception. But while this album will delight Utada’s fans, you have to wonder whether it delights Utada herself. Is this a copout on her part? Or was the flawed experimentalism of “Exodus” just something she had to get out of her system? One thing’s for sure — once Utada finds a balance, she could produce the best pop album of her generation.

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