Sound Decision
Corrinne May, Utada, Beni Arashiro

by Jonathan Mays, Dec 21st 2005


Corrinne May: Safe in a Crazy World —Pink Armchair Records
Sample the full album at CorrinneMay.com

Safe in a Crazy World is not a Christmas album, but it might as well be one. Singer-songwriter Corrinne May's second album is filled with the kind of genuine love and joy that so many artists wish they could capture. That's the funny thing about being genuine: you can't fake it.

I met Corrinne a few months ago in Long Beach, and it was every bit as rewarding as I hoped it would be. She is quiet and a little bit shy, but she smiles with the kind of serenity of that only someone who is at peace with herself can. Her inner calm is contagious, to say the least.

And of course, it shines through in her music. There are ten songs, and I wish I had the space to write about each of them. Little Superhero Girl has the hook of a theme song, maybe because it was inspired by the Powerpuff Girls. The song is about saving the world and, along the way, herself.

Free is a song about faith, I think. "Help me to see everything fall into place/ Wake me from dreaming, no more deceiving, break these chains... " Corrinne sings with... I was going to say desperation, but that's not quite right. Anticipation, maybe, and some impatience.

The next song, Everything in its Time, sets the tone for the rest of the album. "Hold on to patience, and watch for the sign..." Ironically, there's a quicker pace in this one, and it's actually Corrinne's vocals that hold the song back from rushing away.

Safe in a Crazy World has an exceptionally inspiring chorus, reaching higher and higher with the safety of a cello and violin. "You keep me flying, you keep me smiling / You keep me safe in a crazy world... You understand me, embrace my fragility..."

Angel in Disguise is a nice story about kindness that plays as you might imagine. If I Kissed You gives a worldly weight to one of those things that we don't think about enough, and The Birthday Song is the most thoughtful and personal of anything on the album.

I am so entranced by Corrinne's music that I nearly forgot to mention the album topped the charts in Singapore, and that she performed at Dodger Stadium earlier this year. Maybe I should note that she has collaborated with Carole King and Carole Bayer Sager, but that seems beside the point. All that really matters is that Corrinne May has some magic in her music, and she's kind enough to share.



Utada Hikaru: Passion Toshiba EMI

Utada is in a dangerous place. Not commercially, of course. As she readily admits, Japan will buy anything she drops, quality and creativity aside. But musically, I think she's on the edge of losing touch with her identity. All the clichés about not forgetting where you came from apply here.

I know, I should cut out the impulsive analysis, but how can you not be tempted to dissect a career as interesting as hers? It's not everyday that a sixteen year old sells nearly ten million copies of her debut album, and while I'm on the tangent, please do find a copy of First Love if you haven't already. It's a masterpiece and still her best by far. Beware, however, of fantasies that Utada will abandon this electronica stuff and parade her Japanese material across North America.

Anyway, reality is that we will probably see a lot more music like Passion from Utada, and that's not a particularly good thing. Backwards lyrics are not novel, they're distracting. She seems to have confused muddy and sophisticated songwriting, which is a real drag here because the actual melody is entrancing and parallels the style of the original Kingdom Hearts theme. But instead of cherishing every note like she did in Simple and Clean, she's made a mess that sounds like a radio caught between two stations. (In the weird coincidence department, the song also bears a striking resemblance to .hack/SIGN's battle music.)

No, it's not really a bad single. Yes, the After the Battle version cleans things up a little bit. But Utada is capable of great things, so she loses points for outthinking herself on this one.

From December 22nd to January 11th, you can download a special online performance of Passion from Utada's website. These things are too cool to miss.



Beni Arashiro: Cherish —Avex

Somebody, please get Beni Arashiro a competent songwriter. With all the wildly over-produced acts in Japan, how is it that a genuinely talented artist like Beni gets stuck with amateur pop songs? Ever since I heard her for the first time in Infinite... , I had a feeling this would be a problem, but her latest single, Cherish is just ridiculous.

Think of your favorite 90s soft rock song. Now rip out the melody, leave maybe half of the backbeat, and squish it all into one octave. That's basically what Cherish sounds like. It does have a nice Carol-ish bridge between verses, but it can't even begin to make up for the five minutes of tedium that make up the rest of the song.

GOAL seems to think it's cooler just because everything goes up an octave and moves along more quickly. I'm listening to it again as I write this, and 90 seconds in, I have not even the slightest inclination to hear the final three minutes. Work That Body shows some promise with a few sparks of 80s energy, but then it gets lazy and decides it's just as easy to drag everything out for eight minutes and pass it off as some dance piece.

Discs like this make me angry. I like Beni Arashiro, and I want to see her succeed, if not with her early Latin R&B style than at least with something. But at this point, even gimmick groups like Mini Moni are getting more respect from their writers.

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