Next Level (Ayumi Hamasaki album)

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Next Level
Studio album by Ayumi Hamasaki
Released March 25, 2009 (2009-03-25)
Recorded 2008–2009
Genre Pop, pop rock, dance-pop, electropop, techno
Length 51:45 (CD)
72:10 (Live CD)
50:50 (DVD)
Label Avex Trax
Producer Max Matsuura
Ayumi Hamasaki chronology
A Complete: All Singles
(2008)
Next Level
(2009)
Rock 'n' Roll Circus
(2010)
Singles from Next Level
  1. "Days/Green"
    Released: December 17, 2008
  2. "Rule/Sparkle"
    Released: February 25, 2009


Next Level is the tenth (eleventh overall) studio album by Japanese recording artist Ayumi Hamasaki, released on March 25, 2009 by Avex Trax. The album was in production after Hamasaki's tenth anniversary with her record label Avex Trax, which was supported by the single "Mirrorcle World" and the compilation "A Complete: All Singles". The album was written by Hamasaki and production was all handled by long-time collaborator Max Matsuura. Musically, the album is an electronic dance album that fuses many genres including pop, J-pop, techno and electropop. On its release, the album was in several formats: CD, CD+DVD, 2CD+DVD and a two-gigabyte USB flash drive.[1][2]

Next Level received mixed to favorable reviews from music critics. Many critics praised her songwriting and production values with some highlighting the intros and singles. However, some critical views were towards the musical genres and felt Hamasaki was following trends instead of creating them. Commercially, the album was a success, but became her lowest selling studio album at the time, only selling under 500,000 copies. To support the album, Hamasaki went on her Ayumi Hamasaki Arena Tour 2009 A: Next Level and Ayumi Hamasaki Premium Countdown Live 2008–2009 A tours.

Background[edit]

In January 2008, Hamasaki released her ninth studio album Guilty (2008) by Avex Trax. Commercially, the album was a success, selling more than 400,000 copies in its first initial week end. Guilty peaked at the number-two position on the weekly Oricon charts, making it Hamasaki's first studio album not to reach the top and ended Hamasaki's streak of 8 consecutive number-one albums.[fn 1][5] In critical analysis, the album received mixed reception, with Adam Greenberg from Allmusic explaining: "Hamasaki's got plenty of good work in her catalog, Guilty is unlikely to stand with the best portions of it, even for her numerous fans."[6]

In April 2008, Hamasaki celebrated her tenth anniversary with her record label Avex Trax. In order to commemorate this achievement, Hamasaki released the single "Mirrorcle World"; the single was originally a two-minute introductory track on Hamasaki's ninth studio album, Guilty (2008).[7] Hamasaki had extended the song's production so it could be featured on her greatest hits album A Complete: All Singles, which featured all her singles from 1998 to 2008. The compilation was a success, selling over 800,000 copies and is the 8th best selling album of 2008.[8] After the anniversary, Hamasaki begun work on her then-untitled tenth studio album, writing and composing all the songs, with additional production by long-time collaborator Max Matsuura. The first single was released three months album the compilation album.

Composition[edit]

Sonically, the album is an electronic dance.[9] Greenberg commented about the albums structure and musical composition; "The album opens innocently enough, introducing bits of electronics as accentuation around the strong focus of her vocals. As it progresses, the beats and rhythm tracks begin to take over, placing [Hamasaki] herself into a much deeper, thicker set of sounds custom-built to emphasize her stronger points and combine for an outstanding dance set.[9] Random J Pop.com, which comments and reviews Asian-related pop music, said "The album has a very electro pop, synth heavy driven sound [...] She is no Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Tommy february6 or Kumi Koda - yet she decided she had the vocal style to ride the electro pop wave.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[9]

Next Level received favorable reviews from most music critics. RandomJPop.com awarded the album five stars out of ten.[10] The reviewer from the publication said "The most glaring problem with Next level is that Ayumi's voice doesn't suit many of the songs. Ayumi only just about gets away with this song because there are large chunks of the song where she isn't singing, and on the few occasions she does she's either auto-tuned or drowned out by all mixture of synths, guitars and warbling bass lines." The reviewer examined that while the album was more consistent than her previous efforts and commended the slower songs, he concluded "There's no getting away from the whole album being a case of great material that went to the wrong lady [...] From a woman in her 30's who has been in the music game for over 10 years, you'd think robot-face would know what sound works for her by now, and be able to put out an album which showcases her talents from start to finish. But instead she slung herself head first onto the electro pop bandwagon."[10] Victoria Goldenberg from Purple Sky Magazine gave it a mixed review, saying "[Next Level] itself is less exciting [...]" She examed that while she "sounds more smooth and on-key than she has lately", she felt that "this is nothing new. For the past three years, Hamasaki’s new songs have sounded like blander versions of older ones."[11]

Greenberg awarded the album three-and-a-half-stars out of five, making it her highest-equal review along with Rainbow on the website.[9] Calling it an "interesting line from her previous releases", he commented "While she's always been on the forefront of new developments in the pop world, her music has stayed largely based on standard dance and pop tracks over the years, with a large exception being a series of remix albums endorsed after her major studio releases." He explained:[9]

"[...] With the interest taken in those remixes and their heavier electronica bent, Hamasaki went a bit deeper on Next Level, combining with songwriter Yuta Nakano and club DJ CMJK (formerly of Denki Groove) for a thick, somewhat wild release of dance tracks infused with a healthy dose of technology. Hamasaki continues to evolve her sound, and the deeper experimentalism on Next Level only helps to cement her claim to the top. As an added bonus, multiple parallel versions of the release include music video DVDs, concert footage DVDs, and a live concert recording CD."

Commercial response[edit]

Next Level debuted at number one on the Oricon Daily Chart with total sales of 99,200, giving it a 30,000 increase from Guilty which sold over 60,000 on its first day sale.[12] Next Level peaked at number one with 240,000 sold, which became lower than her previous albums first week sales.[13] The albums monthly sale ranked to over 370,000 copies and became the 16th best selling album of 2009 in Japan. The album is certified Double Platinum for shipment of 500,000 copies.[14] To date, this became Hamasaki's lowest selling album at the point, not managing to break over 500,000 copies, but was supassed by her following releases.

Promotion[edit]

It was released as a CD only version, a CD+DVD version, and a limited edition 2CD+DVD version with the second CD containing live songs taken from her New Year's Countdown concert.[15] Additionally, it is the first album by Hamasaki and one of the first albums in the world to be released as a USB flash drive.[16][1] The 2GB flash drive includes the 14 songs of the album in MP3 format along with their lyric data, and six music videos in MP4 format.[1] The flash drive edition is priced at ¥6800 (approximately US$68 at the time of release).[16]

"Green," the second a-side from the first single, was used to promote Panasonic's Lumix FX-37 in 2008.[17] The title track, "Next Level," was used in Panasonic's Lumix FX-40 commercial in 2009[18] while "Rule," from the album's second single, is the international theme song for the film Dragonball Evolution.[19] Additionally, "Sparkle" was used in advertisements for the Honda Zest Spark.[20]

At a price of 6,800 yen, the USB version is said to be a bargain, as typical USB drives typically sell for much less. The USB is packaged in a case the same size as a normal CD case, making it easy to display in stores. Oricon included the USB drive version in its sales tracking. Hamasaki explained, "As the way we listen to music changes from day to day, I looked at things from the listener's perspective and decided to sell it this way."[21]

Legal issues[edit]

On May 21, 2009, it was revealed that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police were investigating a publicity event held in April. Hamasaki made unexpected appearances in Shibuya to promote the release of her new book and the album "Next Level", but apparently either she or her manager failed to obtain the necessary permits for the event. The PR event happened on April 7, in front of the 109 Building in Shibuya. Approximately 8,000 people gathered to see Hamasaki, resulting in temporarily blocked roads. Before her appearance at 109, she also paid unexpected visits to a few major record stores, going from store to store by car while fans followed her on foot, which led to chaotic conditions in the streets. Buses and other modes of transport were subjected to traffic delays.

Even though the events officially took place in stores, police determined that the scope of the event required a permit for the use of the roads. Because that permit was never obtained, authorities stated they plan to send the matter to the prosecutor's office for Hamasaki and her manager to be questioned.[22][23][24]

Music videos[edit]

Aside from the singles "Days/Green" and "Rule/Sparkle", two other music videos were made for "Curtain Call" and "Next Level". "Next Level" and "Curtain Call" were both directed by Stanly Izumi Kim and Luis Hernandez and filmed in Los Angeles.

The PV for "Next Level" featured Ayumi singing in her car while driving along an open road near the coast of a beach.

The PV for "Curtain Call" depicted Ayumi wearing a little black dress while barefoot. She starts off singing at a set. When the first verse is over she walks away and the production staff and crew close down the set. She walks through different sets and crew (including different seasonal themes such as rainy, autumn and winter). In the climax, she stops and behind her sparks a wall of fireworks. The curtain closes and the camera moves away from Ayumi and she is seen being attended by her hair and makeup crew. The whole video in entirety was done in one take. Originally, when she filming the black dress had a long and heavy part, but she said to her crew she wanted the heavy part to be cut off.

Track list[edit]

All lyrics written by Ayumi Hamasaki. 

CD
No. Title Music Arranger(s) Length
1. "Bridge to the Sky"   Yuta Nakano Yuta Nakano 1:43
2. "Next Level"   D.A.I HΛL 4:30
3. "Disco-munication" (instrumental) CMJK CMJK 1:32
4. "Energize"   Yuta Nakano CMJK 4:31
5. "Sparkle"   Kazuhiro Hara CMJK 4:30
6. "Rollin'"   Yuta Nakano CMJK 5:04
7. "Green"   Tetsuya Yukumi tasuku 4:49
8. "Load of the Shugyo" (instrumental) CMJK CMJK 1:32
9. "Identity"   Yuta Nakano Yuta Nakano 4:19
10. "Rule"   Miki Watanabe HΛL 4:06
11. "Love 'n' Hate"   Yuta Nakano Yuta Nakano 3:51
12. "Pieces of Seven" (instrumental) HΛL HΛL 2:31
13. "Days"   Kunio Tago HΛL 5:03
14. "Curtain Call"   Kazuhiro Hara Yuta Nakano 3:44
Premium Countdown 2008–2009 Live CD
No. Title Length
1. "Green"   4:52
2. "Will"   6:29
3. "End of the World"   4:43
4. "Heartplace"   7:03
5. "And Then"   2:25
6. "Naturally"   3:31
7. "Powder Snow"   4:39
8. "Hope or Pain"   4:27
9. "Over"   5:10
10. "Scar"   7:01
11. "Signal"   2:25
12. "Hana"   1:49
13. "Too Late"   4:10
14. "Everywhere Nowhere"   3:40
15. "Days"   5:05
16. "For My Dear..."   4:41
DVD
No. Title Length
1. "Days (Video Clip)"   5:20
2. "Green (Video Clip)"   5:32
3. "Rule (Video Clip)"   4:27
4. "Sparkle (Video Clip)"   4:44
5. "Next Level (Video Clip)"   4:31
6. "Curtain Call (Video Clip)"   3:48
7. "Days (Making Clip)"   3:54
8. "Green (Making Clip)"   3:59
9. "Rule (Making Clip)"   3:17
10. "Sparkle (Making Clip)"   3:29
11. "Next Level (Making Clip)"   4:37
12. "Curtain Call (Making Clip)"   3:12

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Catalogue Number
Japan March 25, 2009 (2009-03-25) 2CD+DVD
  • Initial pressing limited edition
AVCD-23856/B
CD+DVD AVCD-23858/B
CD AVCD-23859
USB
  • Initial pressing limited edition
  • Second press limited edition
AVZD-23860
Taiwan March 27, 2009 (2009-03-27)
Hong Kong April 3, 2009 (2009-04-03)
China March 25, 2010 (2010-03-25) 2CD+DVD
CD
South Korea March 27, 2009 (2009-03-27)

Charts and certifications[edit]

Singles[edit]

Date Title Peak position Weeks Sales
December 17, 2008 "Days/Green" 1 14 weeks 190,891
February 25, 2009 "Rule/Sparkle" 1 9 weeks 130,816

Physical sales and rank[edit]