album review: Utada Hikaru “BAD Mode”

At last, we have reached the album!

Released January 19, 2022, as a gift to their fans on their own birthday, “BAD Mode” is Utada Hikaru’s (or Hikki’s, as their fans devotedly call them) eighth studio album, featuring singles that trace back to the beginning of 2019. In the three year span, Hikki would go on to display a more subdued sound, collaborating with producers such as A. G. Cook and Obukuro Nariaki, and every song would have a tie-in to a Japanese-made property.

“BAD Mode” is one of the hotly anticipated releases of early 2022, but is “BAD Mode” all it’s chalked up to be? Is it the bad mode you wish to feel, or are you just on a ‘good’ mode instead? Or is the release just… bad? Let’s take a look into the album onward.



Utada Hikaru promoting BAD Mode

BADモード

BAD Mode

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hope I don’t fuck it up again.

BAD Mode“. The first track off of the album is its title track, and it is bad… badass, frankly.

“BAD Mode” has Hikki maintaining the sound of previous singles, though this one has more of a dance groove that will have you bobbing your head. The mesh of its smooth guitar with a twinkly piano-synth topped with horns and trumpets will have you feeling all sorts of sensual; it’s a fantastic track, and one that was worth the wait. The track does change significantly in its second half, flipping the song into a different key, but it does not hinder its ability to captivate its listener; it’s a rollercoaster of a song, but it’s a fun ride.

The track’s lyrics delve into the relationship between partners and how one is willing to love and protect a partner through the good times and the “BAD Mode” times, and I gotta say, Hikki really knows how to reach the heart with their music; there’s never really a “BAD Mode” when it comes to their music.


君に夢中

Kimi ni Muchuu
Translation: Crazy for You

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You can catch my review for this track here, but as I’ve mentioned about “Kimi ni Muchuu“, it is still a stellar track, despite it being the weakest of the singles that led up to the album release. Its melancholy and simplistic instrumental, Hikki’s emotional and skillful vocal, and its beauty in its themes make this song quite the listen. Sure, it’s a slower effort, and one that takes some time to get used to, but soon, you’ll find yourself going crazy over this song.


One Last Kiss

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Having already been released as part of a mini-album and reviewed by me here, “One Last Kiss” still remains to be one of my favorites from the singer-songwriter, both from the album and within their discography. With its bittersweet lyrics and themes, to its emotional ambience and sweet vocal delivery, it is an absolute treat listening to this every single time… it never is one last kiss for me.


PINK BLOOD

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Another one of the singles, reviewed here, follows suit: “PINK BLOOD“, and as mentioned in my review, it is a bloody good time. With its subtle elements of funk and synth, a crafty and ear-catching melody is formed; it is a fresh sound that still feels nostalgic; it almost is worldly in sound, despite it containing elements that you may find yourself hearing in mainstream pop songs. Hikki has a way with crafting and reinventing their sound, and it is on full display in its pink and bloody glory.


Time

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Released as a single prior to the album, “Time” can be left here with the label of ‘the best song on the album’, but that wouldn’t be fair to the other new songs. That said, it doesn’t really matter, because time is no matter to how great this song is – its funk still vibes, its groove still hits, and yet, it still feels so subdued, even when it contains these upbeat elements. “Time” is an effort that I will continue to share with my ears for many eras to come.


気分じゃないの
(Not In The Mood)

Kibun ja Nai no (Not In The Mood)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

We’ve finally reached a new track titled “Kibun ja Nai no (Not In The Mood)“, and it is definitely in a mood (haha).

Here, the new track takes on a very late 90s alt feel, opting for a jazz-like sound that is powered by a slow drum and piano melody, which makes this track real interesting (at first). It’s a mellow change from the momentum of the previous single tracks. It almost feels like an interlude, with its moody tone and themes.

That sort of wherein lies the problem for this song – it feels drab. It is also at a whopping seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds (and it isn’t even the longest track on the album, just you wait…); the melody carries for a full four minutes before we have a significant change to the song (which is the better half of the song in all honesty), but at that point, you’re kind of wishing for the song to be over. Sure, it’s got some of the elements much of the album has, but I don’t know… maybe I’m just not in any mood to listen to a boring song for seven minutes. Sorry, Hikki.


誰にも言わない

Dare ni mo Iwanai
Translation: I Won’t Tell Anyone

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Another single song has landed! This time, we have “Dare ni mo Iwanai“, my review of which can be found here, and as I’ve mentioned there, this is a Fantôme-era pop that I absolutely enjoy. While not catchy, it is a calming song and that says something when its instrumental contains a frantic flow of bongo and synth. It’s a fresh track, almost as fresh as the water it was tied to for promotion; worldly and ethereal, I’ve already told everyone so I can’t not tell anyone… I love this.


Find Love

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A new track?!

Twinkling in after seven songs is “Find Love“, a full-on English track. And it is one of the best songs on the album. Interestingly, and I’ll delve on this when you get there, but both its English version and Japanese version are formidable musical entities – if I had to describe this song, I would say it’s Hikki’s way of appeasing the homosexuals. But why them?

Well… it’s fierce. It’s the moment. Its synthy xylophone-like melody that meshes a deep synth, and its incorporation of a 90s-like electronica element to its instrumental, make this absolute ear candy worthy of club rotation; it’s the dance track of the album, and someone on YouTube put it kind of nicely: It’s Hikki revisiting EXODUS. And who’s to say they can’t, and then make it good? I’m sure I’ve found love, and it’s clearly with this.


Face My Fears
(Japanese Version)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

We once again find ourselves in familiar territory with “Face My Fears (Japanese Version)“, the first song released prior to ‘BAD Mode’, and it continues to be a profound epic of a song that ties in so well with its video game counterpart, Kingdom Hearts 3, as its opening sequence. As I mentioned in my previous review for it here, it’s the goosebumps you feel when that dubstep hits, and you’ll have yourself wondering why you doubted Hikki’s efforts in that genre at all. To that, I say, you’ve faced your fears.


Somewhere Near Marseilles
-マルセイユ辺り-

Somewhere Near Marseilles -Marseilles Atari-

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We’ve hit the last original song on the album, “Somewhere Near Marseilles -Marseilles Atari-“, and my friends, this is the longest song on the album. Clocking in at 11:54 for my copy, it is a full 12 minutes of your life – but will you be begging for those 12 minutes back or are you taken into the best 12 minutes of Marseilles?

Let’s put it simply: this is another dance track, though it is definitely going to take time to get through it all. Whatever Hikki was taking during the recording process, I want it, because they just gave no flying fxxks. The track’s melody is entirely fueled by an electronica flow that will have you jamming along in your seat, and I think that’s what is needed here so you forget that you’re in this ride for twelve minutes. It never fails to lose its vibe.

It really does feel like Hikki is exploring previous EXODUS territory with some of the tracks, and I really appreciate it; they have a knack for crafting songs for all sorts of genres, and electronica was never a problem. Is this a little too long? Maybe. But it might be worth a listen, if you have the time or are somewhere near Marseilles…


Beautiful World
(Da Capo Version)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

We’ve reached the bonus tracks area of the album, and if you’ve found yourself jamming out from the last track on the album, then you’re going to need some tissues – we are entering absolutely, positively mellow area with “Beautiful World (Da Capo Version)“, released as part of the ‘One Last Kiss’ mini-album. And I’ll reiterate what I said in my review here, but it is a haunting track – it transitions from ballad to acoustic guitar, but it never lets up; it keeps its haunting, darkly beautiful melody. It does tend to wane, but if you’ve found yourself a beautiful world, then I hope you hear this at some point…


キレイな人
(Find Love)

Kirei na Hito (Find Love)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The next song is one you’ve heard before, but this time, it’s in Japanese: “Kirei na Hito (Find Love)” is the Japanese alternate of “Find Love”, and again, I don’t know how much I can say this but… they’re both the best new songs on the album. Of course, I’m akin to the Japanese version as it just feels authentic and its lyrics carry more meaning through Japanese words; that said, I can’t dock points for the English version – both are fantastic. Find love here. It’ll catch you.


Face My Fears
(English Version)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The last of the tracks from the prior singles, “Face My Fears (English Version)” is the more familiar of its many versions for fans across the globe, as it is the tie-in track for Kingdom Hearts 3’s opening sequence. As I reviewed here, the English version carries on the same instrumental but it doesn’t have quite the oomph that the Japanese version does solely for its lyric take – and maybe that’s me looking at the English lyrics at face value; yet the Japanese version feels more profound and effective. Regardless, either song still carries a level of epic beauty to them as you listen, making you want to face your own fears in the process.


Face My Fears
(A. G. Cook Remix)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

We’ve reached the last of the bonus tracks, and the end of the album, and once again, we are introduced to another version of ‘Face My Fears’, the remixed version “Face My Fears (A. G. Cook Remix)“.

Now, maybe I was expecting way more considering A. G. Cook is from PC Music, so I was thinking I’d be hearing a hyperpop version of ‘Face My Fears’, which would be incredible, but… I don’t really find this to be captivating as a version in the slightest? It has A. G. speeding up several parts, incorporating quick piano melodies in between to give it a bit more oomph, as well as additional vocalizations by Hikki that is not found in the original version. It’s an interesting take on the song, but again, it just doesn’t have an epic feel to it in comparison to its original, and I was excited to hear an epic hyperpop take on a beloved video game tie-in.

Not the way I wanted to end the album, and not the way I wanted to face my fears, but it does give me the old late 00s J-pop-era vibe of including a remix to the end of an album, so I’ll forgive it.


OVERVIEW

Despite its many ups and downs, Utada Hikaru’s latest effort, “BAD Mode“, should really be titled BADASS Mode, because this album gets a definite recommend rating.

While the album is littered with tracks we’ve heard over the span of three years, and should really just be labelled as a best album to be quite frank, that doesn’t stray from the fact that the album is a love letter to their fans for keeping up with them, and it is also an album that saw Hikki branching out to collaborate with other renowned producers.

“BAD Mode” is also a return to an enjoyable sound for me – I was never fond of their works following the return from their hiatus; but here, everything feels so fresh, so clean, and so in their element.

Utada Hikaru saved 2022? Maybe. Talk about a GOOD Mode, instead, lol.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

MUST-LISTEN: One Last Kiss, Time, キレイな人 (Find Love), Find Love

For more Utada Hikaru reviews, visit the archive!

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