Streaming services remain a fledgling part of the Japanese music industry, but the major players are learning from their Western counterparts. Last week, Avex “surprised” J-pop fans with Ayumi Hamasaki’s new album “M(a)de In Japan” (with the “a” being her own distinctive logo) on the label’s AWA platform. It’s not a total shocker, as Hamasaki has talked about her 17th full-length before, but the timing was sudden.
If Avex really wanted to make a splash, it should have used an artist currently not suffering declining sales. Still, it’s a safe move — despite the sinking-stone narrative, Hamasaki remains visible enough to grab headlines, as “Made In” has. And, like Beyonce and Rihanna’s surprise albums this year, it emerged right before Hamasaki embarks on a national tour.
Maybe AWA would have benefitted from an album that sounded as unexpected as its release date. “Made In” finds Hamasaki jumping between sounds, hop-scotching from driving rock numbers featuring arena-ready guitar solos to surging ballads — all familiar ground for her. The album title hints at an embrace of Japanese sounds, which do emerge on shamisen-guided intro “Tasky” and the dramatic “Flower,” but by track nine she’s diving into EDM-pop with “Summer Love,” blessed with a shoutalong hook and cursed by a hiccuping drop. “Made In” constantly shifts, but into forms you can hear anywhere.
For Hamasaki, though, this is her best work in years, thanks primarily to a play-time clocking in at under 40 minutes — assuming you ignore the bonus track, a cheesy cover of Globe’s “Many Classic Moments” (and with AWA’s playlist feature, you can do just that!). But unless you’re a fan, “Made In” isn’t worth the one-month trial (the physical release is set for June 29). It’s a fine and familiar collection, but streaming in Japan needs a paradigm shift.