2015 has been a busy year for Sakamoto Maaya - her 20th anniversary - and between my last Sakamoto-related post and now, she's had 3 new releases, Follow Me Up being the most recent. Released just over a month ago on September 30th, 2015, it's touted as Sakamoto's ninth studio album - yes, not a single collection - though I've seen a lot of split responses towards this album over that fact, amongst others.
***Fast-forward to 2016.***
Yup, I didn't finish this post the day I started it. Now that so much time has passed since the release of this album, however, I can say that I've formed definite opinions of the album's 15 tracks. Some have become favorites, and others are songs I oftentimes forget exist. I think that's the average outcome for Sakamoto releases - and that's not to say Sakamoto is failing as an artist to me. She's still my favorite singer and I have doubts that that will ever change. I just have so many songs I rotate through on a daily basis, haha - the result is inevitable.
Anyway, I received my limited edition copy of Follow Me Up not even a week after its release in September, as is typical for me, and received (also typical) my copy of the first press/external bonus as well. So if you're curious to see pictures of everything, or simply want to know my thoughts on this 'studio album,' then stay tuned.
|LEFT: Front of the album.|
RIGHT: Back of the album.
Something I loved about this album from the start is the artwork. As you can see pictured above, the album's cover is fairly simple, with Sakamoto photographed with both her usual short hair and a much longer cut (which I wish she would keep, haha). The limited edition artwork has a soft blue/green color scheme, while the regular edition has a soft pink/red color scheme.
I feel like the two looks can be read in numerous ways. For me personally, the choice of artwork reflects change and development. Sakamoto's longer hair reminds me of her earlier days as an artist, even though she's back to it now, while her shorter hair reminds me of the many years in between. I can also see the theme of development as far as the album tracklist goes, which features many songs from previously released singles as well as new compositions by Sakamoto herself, adding a chapter of songs to her portfolio as a composer.
|A close-up of the image of Sakamoto at the back of the album.|
The back of the album continues with the simplicity to which we're first introduced with the album's cover. As per usual, an album tracklist and the limited edition content can be found here.
|LEFT: The album's tracklist.|
RIGHT: The list of music videos featured on the limited edition DVD.
In the case of Follow Me Up, the limited edition version includes a DVD with a small collection of PVs for some of the songs taken from previously released singles, including: "Hajimari No Umi," "Be Mine," "Replica," and "Shiawase Ni Tsuite Watashi Ga Shitte Iru Itsutsu No Houhou." I was especially excited for this LE content purely due to the fact that I love the music video for "Replica" and wanted it all to myself, mwahaha.
|LEFT: Disc 1, CD.|
RIGHT: Disc 2, LE DVD.
I don't have much to say about the actual discs for the album. There are two - one for the album's songs and one for the LE music video collection, shown above - and both are mirror-like with the album's title comprising as the main design. Nothing exciting here, though there is another lovely picture of Sakamoto at the very back of the album's inside.
While I share some of the other pictures of Sakamoto from the album's exterior case and booklet, I thought I'd give my opinion on the whole debate of whether or not this album should indeed be considered a 'studio album' versus a singles collection.
When I first read information on Follow Me Up, I understood that it was a singles collection and wasn't that excited for it, especially after Sakamoto's anticlimactic 20th anniversary album, Request (yes I will review this, but in a nutshell it wasn't very memorable). Then I started hearing how there would be new songs featured on the album, including one composed by Kanno Yoko, as well as the addition of "Kore Kara," a song previously only electronically released. Suddenly the usual anticipation that I get before all new Sakamoto releases began to kick in and September couldn't come fast enough.
It is now February 2016 and I've owned this album for 4 months knowing that it is, officially, Sakamoto's ninth studio album. And I guess you could say that my opinion is really torn.
Follow Me Up has 15 tracks, 7 of which were released on previous singles. That makes the album nearly half re-promoted singles, but, consequently, also half brand new songs. And there is, in my opinion, a nice diversity of songs included in both of those halves. I guess you could say it would be hard to call this a singles collection, but equally as hard to label it as a studio album (which suggests almost all of the songs are new). I think it comes down to a few details as to whether or not you'll be offended or in agreement with the album's official label as a 'studio album.'
Something that really puts me off about this album is one stupid, minute detail: the fact that two of the re-promotes came from the same single, "Be mine!" and "SAVED." I mean, why not just throw "Koe" in the mix and have the entire single on this album? But then, what kind of studio album includes the full contents of a previously released single in its tracklist? One could argue that both songs were very popular, hence the double release of the particular single they were featured on, but I still think it makes no sense to include both if this is indeed a studio album and not a singles collection.
Then there's the strength of the new songs on the album. I think some listeners would be okay about referring to Follow Me Up as Sakamoto's ninth studio album if the 8 new songs truly held their own, and this is likely where the final division happens. For me, about 4 of the 8 songs are memorable, while one is sometimes in my thoughts and the remaining three are forgotten. Oddly enough, however, I still enjoy this album and am not as put off by some of the new songs as other listeners are. That's why, although my opinions on paper seem to classify Follow Me Up as a singles collection, I can't say I'm offended by the fact that it isn't.
With that being said, I thought I'd just go ahead and share the first press/external bonus that came with this album before diving completely into opinion with my individual track reviews. I have to admit that I've been disappointed with the bonuses for recent releases. As you can probably tell, this album's bonus was a mass-produced autographed postcard, like many before it. I don't find these exciting or interesting, and miss my posters! CDJapan, BRING BACK THE POSTERS!!! Please? Haha...
TRACK LIST (Disc 1)
To reiterate, Follow Me Up consists of 15 tracks of which 8 are new and the other 7 are from previously released singles.
01. FOLLOW ME*
02. Be mine!
05. Tokyo Samui
07. Shiawase Ni Tsuite Watashi Ga Shitteiru Itsutsu No Houhou
08. Hajimari No Umi
09. Kore Kara*
10. Waiting for the rain
11. Road Movie
12. That is To Say
14. Kasukana Melody
Tracks in red are new, and those with an asterisk (*) are composed by Sakamoto.
TRACK LIST (Disc 2, LE DVD)*
01. Hajimari No Umi
02. Be mine!
04. Shiawase Ni Tsuite Watashi Ga Shitteiru Itsutsu No Houhou
*As mentioned earlier, the LE bonus with the Follow Me Up album is a DVD with the promotional videos of the above four songs. I will not be giving individual reviews on these videos; in short, "Replica" is my favorite and "Be mine!" is my least favorite.
Since many of these songs were previously released, I'll give briefer reviews/updated thoughts on those which I've previously reviewed on this blog (with links to those posts). Otherwise, I'll give my full thoughts as per usual.
01. FOLLOW ME >>>
The opening of the album as well as the track whose title mirrors the album title, "FOLLOW ME" is the first of three songs composed by Sakamoto on the album. This song was a miss for a lot of people, and I hate to say it but my opinion is no different. The song has catchy parts - including the chorus and the 'ah-ah-ah-ah' that ends it each time - but something about the music itself is jumbled and dull. Sakamoto's voice is reduced to a simple, 'cute' sounding range that really does no justice to the emotion she's usually able to express. I give this song a three out of five because it isn't so terrible that I hate listening to it. There are just other songs I rather be listening to.
02. Be mine! >>>>
A previously released song from the Be Mine!/SAVED single, "Be mine!" is a song that I still find catchy and upbeat, although I categorize it with the 'average' bunch of Sakamoto songs. It's a song I enjoy listening to, even now, two years after its initial release. It just isn't so amazing that I consider it a favorite. Four out of five pengu flippers, which is probably what I would have rated it back then, too. You can find my post on the Be Mine!/SAVED single here.
03. Sanagi >>>>
Another new song, "Sanagi" is my boyfriend's favorite from this album, but it's another that I don't find myself thinking of often. The song is like the power-driven, pop version of "Replica," but with less memorable music. I liken it to "Replica" because the instrumentation is very chaotic and loud - "Replica" is simply miles ahead because a balance between chaos and organization is somehow achieved in that song. "Sanagi" is a song that's more fun to sing than to listen to, lol! I do enjoy Sakamoto's voice more in this song than "FOLLOW ME," hence why I give this four out of five pengu flippers.
04. SAVED >>>>>
Be Mine!/SAVED was the popular single on this album because here is the second re-promote from it, "SAVED." Can I really say I'm disappointed, though? It has been just over two years since "SAVED" first came out and I still love this song as much as I did the first day I heard it. It's such a sweet, emotive song and Sakamoto sings it beautifully. It has since joined my top three songs by Sakamoto, and I like to joke that I want it to be the song played at my wedding - it means that much to me. Five out of five. Again, my post on the Be Mine!/SAVED single can be found here.
05. Tokyo Samui >>>>>
Although this is a previously released song, it's a single I never got around to reviewing, Anata Wo Tamotsu Mono/Mada Ugoku. The b-side of that single, "Tokyo Samui" was actually my favorite of the single's three tracks. It's peaceful without dragging and makes me think of a city lit at night, from a distance. Sakamoto's voice paired well with Cornelius's arrangements on the single, but I found her voice especially soothing in "Tokyo Samui." I don't listen to this track as much as I did when it first came out last year, but I still consider it to be above other Sakamoto songs. Five out of five here, too.
06. Arco >>>>>
Kanno Yoko and Sakamoto team up again in this new track. I feel predictable in saying that this song is my favorite of the album's eight new songs, but I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't, so it is what it is. Kanno is simply an amazing composer and I really believe that after working with Sakamoto for so many years in the past, she just knows how to bring out the best in the singer's voice. I think the bridge is the most forgettable part of the song, while the harmonies and repetition that follow directly after, in the last third of the song, are the most memorable. "Arco" is a song that was with me through many important, tense months of my life, and it is one that I've coincidentally attached to those memories since the music captures much of what I felt during those times. It's weird to say, but it's one of those songs whose creation I am grateful for. As such, five out of five pengu flippers.
07. Shiawase Ni Tsuite Watashi Ga Shitteiru Itsutsu No Houhou >>>>
"Shiawase," as I like to call it for short, is a re-promote from a single released a little over a year ago. While I do enjoy this song and the way it showcases Sakamoto's cuter, catchier voice, I wish they would have used "Shikisai" from the same single instead. That being said, I'm not surprised this one was picked because it's these types of songs that seem to catch more attention, and this particular one was especially promoted during the single's release since it was the opening of an anime. Four out of five pengu flippers, but another average song in my opinion. You can read my review of the single, Shiawase Ni Tsuite Watashi Ga Shitteiru Itsutsu No Houhou/Shikisai, here.
08. Hajimari No Umi >>>>
I had to laugh when I saw that "Hajimari No Umi" was included on this album, but I guess they had to since its single was released between this album and the last, lol. I view this song as Sakamoto's take on elevator music - it's calming, steady, but nothing spectacular. My opinion on this song hasn't really changed much from when I first heard it back in August of 2013, so check out my post here for more information. Four out of four penguin flippers.
09. Kore Kara >>>>>
While this song isn't technically new, as it was previously released electronically, it is new to me since I couldn't access the electronic release. "Kore Kara" is the second of the three tracks composed by Sakamoto, and I think it's the strongest of the three, although I still consider it more of an average song. The piano and strings are very powerful with Sakamoto's voice, especially as the song progresses, and I really feel Sakamoto's emotional connection to the song in every note that she sings. I came to appreciate this song more after viewing her live performance of it on the 20th anniversary Follow Me DVD, perhaps because she sings it while clips of all of the promotional videos from the start of her career to the present are played. In any case, I give this song five out of five pengu flippers, although I personally feel it ranks lower than other songs I really enjoyed from the selection of new tracks. The melody doesn't capture my attention the way, for example, "SAVED" does, I guess.
10. Waiting for the rain >>>>>
"Waiting for the rain" is Sakamoto's newest English song, and I have to admit that I like it quite a lot. The lyrics, being that I can understand them right away, are nothing truly moving, but the music builds up beautifully between verse and chorus, both in intensity and pace. One thing this song lacks is a bridge - something that could have added the complexity that would have taken it up another level. The absence of the bridge is compensated, I guess, by the added repetition of the chorus at the end. I don't really appreciate this repetition because it occurs too quickly and, in turn, pulls the song into a more boring direction. For these reasons the song felt incomplete at first, but something about the music is compelling enough that I really came to enjoy it. I give it five out of five pengu flippers.
11. Road Movie >>>>>
"Road Movie" is another new song on the Follow Me Up album, and my second favorite. Something about this song - be it the instrumentation or the unusual harmonies - makes it a song different, in my opinion, from all of Sakamoto's other songs. The lyrics of the song, whose translations you can find here, depict both a figurative and literal journey taken with someone, and I find relativity to myself in both. I remember many times being in the passenger seat on a journey somewhere with someone important to me, who played a large role in the bigger journey of my life. I remember listening to this song during one of those journeys, and thinking if only I could freeze this moment. If only I could capture my feelings, my companion's proximity, the color of the sun through the windshield. These are all little things that become the tiny points of animation to the bigger picture that carries on with us through to the end. The concept is both beautiful and haunting, and I find both of these perfectly embedded in the atmosphere of "Road Movie." Everything in this song was done right, in my opinion, from the slow but heavy pace of the music to the utilization of Sakamoto's lower range (something we don't get enough of). For this reason, I give it five out of five pengu flippers.
12. That is To Say >>>>>
The sixth of the eight new tracks, "That is To Say" is a song that I had to listen to a few times before I was able to form my opinion on it. What is refreshing about this song, not only in contrast to its predecessor, "Road Movie," but in contrast to all of the album's songs up to this point, is that its music has an acoustic feel to it. You can really pick out the part of every instrument. The end result, with Sakamoto's hollow-like notes, is one that is relaxing and alleviating. The chords of the guitar, the soft hum of the acoustic bass, and the fluid but distinct notes of the piano all come together in a way that gives the album another...face, or identity, I suppose. I give this song a five out of five, and have since done a very short, mediocre cover of it on my SoundCloud.
13. Replica >>>>>
What a way to follow "That is To Say," lol. If track 12 wasn't really your thing and got you feeling kind of bored, "Replica" will pull you up in an instant. "Replica" is another re-promote that I still love as much as I did when it first came out in August of 2014. It's energized, powerful, and a touch modern compared to other Sakamoto songs. I never tire of this song. I still give it a five out of five, and you can read my initial commentary on the Replica single here.
14. Kasukana Melody >>>>
The second to last of new songs (and of the album's tracks as a whole), "Kasukana Melody" is the album's jazzy song. It's lighthearted, catchy, and laid-back all at once. It's the one of the eight new tracks that I occasionally think about, because even though it doesn't hold its own compared to other songs by Sakamoto, it still has clips of music that appeal to me. I enjoy the way it starts off slow and steadily picks up speed as you get deeper into the song. In fact, I prefer the faster paced, second half of the song over its first half. I think it would be fun to see "Kasukana Melody" live. It's one of those songs, I think, that Sakamoto would really bring to life on stage. Until then, though, it's a song that best lives in the background for me. I give it four out of five flippers.
15. Iris >>>>
"Iris" is the album's last song, the last of the new tracks, and the last of the three songs composed by Sakamoto. I guess you could say there is a lot of finality in this song. It's predominantly Sakamoto's voice (back in the high range) and the piano, although more instruments join in the song's second half. I don't know what it is about this song, but I like it as much as I dislike it. My favorite part of the song is the piano solo between 1:10 and 1:39. As for the rest of the song...it's okay. It's very basic. I don't really care for the flute, or the percussion, or the "la, la, la" vocals at the end. Maybe this song would have been more musically appealing if it was Sakamoto, the piano, and strings only, but the composition is still too basic to effectively win my attention over other songs - even other Sakamoto compositions. That piano solo is the reason I give it four flippers over three, because the song as a whole should really be a three out of five. "Iris" is the sad, forgettable sister of "Singer-Songwriter," lol!! A weak way for the album to end.
Wow, I guess I had a lot more to say about each song than I thought. And I feel like I can go on even more about the album as a whole now that I've taken the time to collect my thoughts on each individual track, but this review is already so long. I'm publishing this post months after the album's release because I knew it would be a heavy one...still, damn.
Overall, Follow Me Up is one of the more interesting album releases from Sakamoto Maaya. Whether it can truly be called her ninth studio album is for you to decide. As for me, I guess I would consider it as such. It isn't her official 20th anniversary album, but I feel like Follow Me Up's layout is appropriate considering its release on Sakamoto's 20th year as a singer/songwriter/voice actress. Many people will see failure in this release - its opening and closing tracks alone are on the weak side - but I was able to find enough gems on it that I'm overall pleased with this addition to Sakamoto's discography.
What are your thoughts on Sakamoto's most recent studio album? Did you enjoy the LE content of the promotional videos? Are you a fan of the external bonus? What do you think about Sakamoto Maaya's musical career now that she has surpassed the 20th year of it? Let me know in the comments section. :) I hope you found this review bearable, enjoyable, useful, etc., haha. As always, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my blog. 'Til next time. ('<>')>
Otherwise, the regular edition of the album can be found here.
Thank you for your support if you do choose to purchase through these links. ^_^