Good Things Come in Threes: Three Women and their Pianos – Angela Aki (Home)
This is the second part of the second article in my series “Good Things Come in Threes”. In the previous article, I looked at
- Fayray, a Japanese singer and pianist brought up and raised in the US before finding major success in her home country, Japan with the album Hourglass.
The third article looks at
- Angela Ai, an American Born Chinese, raised in Columbus, Ohio who is and an actress, on Broadway, a singer and a talented pianist.
Angela Aki, Home
Angela Aki’s upbringing might be considered a mirror image of Fayray’s:Born to a Japanese father and Italian mother in Shikoku, Japan, she emigrated with her family to to the US, Hawaii at the age of 15. Later she moved to Washington DC where she attended and subsequently graduated from the George Washington University with a double major in Politics and Music.
More than anything else, Angela Aki is renowned for her no-holds-barred, powerful voice: with full control over its entire, wide range, who like many Asian pop singers has been influenced heavily by the queen of Canto-pop Wong Faye.
To a much greater extent than Fayray, piano or keyboard take the lead on her ballad laden debut album, Home. And although many songs have a string accompaniment, with minimal percussion and electronica.
The album starts Kiss Me Goodbye, the most well known single on the album, made famous for being the theme song to Final Fantasy XII.
“Kiss Me Goodbye”, although being popular and catchy enough to put it number 1 on the album doesn’t really show Aki’s voice off in its best light, and she drew criticism from some quarters for “shouting rather than singing.”
Certainly there are moments when all you hear is the power and nothing else, but it is still a fine Wong-esq pop song.
Incidentally, she performed a cover of Wong Faye’s Eyes on Me, the theme song to Final Fantasy VIII.
“Love is Over Now” is a more archetypal Aki affair and she is given much more room to explore the extents of her vocal talents which take centre stage in this, a far more emotional number.
“Kokoro no Senshi” has her shouting again for another powerful, bestselling single.
There’s no denying the impact of her orchestra backed pop and this, more than any other song on the album defines a young and energetic Angela Aki with a memorable number that stays with you long after the album has been put away.
“This Love” starts off suggesting a gentle ballad but progresses up the scale, much like Kokoro no Senshi into yet another shouty, full orchestral climax of the ridiculously catchy chorus.
Whereas most albums would be content with a 1, 2, 3 Punch. Aki outdoes them by adding her fourth single to the front loaded album. that made this album a 600,000 disc seller.
After the first four groundbreaking singles, “Music” the fifth song has a difficult job to feel anything other than a slight disappointment in its lack of distinctive hook and ends up as just a pop song.
Any feelings that the album may have lost steam however are blown out of the water by the dark, deep piano strings and heavy drum section that open “Uchuu,” the sixth song on the album. In terms of composition and orchestration alone, Uchuu is by far the tightest on the disc. It’s a one song opera, dark powerful and fearsome one moment transitioning to beautiful, drifting solitude the next with Aki taking on the role of the entire cast with her adept voice and pulling the whole ensemble together beautifully. It’s beautifully dramatic in the way songs by Queen tend to be and feels much fuller and longer than its sub five minute length would suggest.
Uchuu is probably the understated highlight of the whole disc.
“Onegai” comes as blessed respite after the heavy “Uchuu” and signals a pause for a breather before the start of the last half of the album as a slow, gentle piano solo ballad.
The last half is less remarkable than the first, which can’t really be helped considering how this album starts off.
“Rain” and “Kiseki” and “Hallelujah” return to Aki’s regular pattern of fully rounded and powerful chorus backed by strings and a band without ever loosing the piano from the front and centre, with the final song of the album, “Home” being a rather strong closing song to this pattern. There is a suggestion that she may have been struggling for inspiration at several points during the album with these four songs being very similar, pulling influences from late 90s domestic stars such as Onizuka Chihiro, Yaida Hitomi and others. Still, if you like one, you’ll probably like all four.
“Oogesa ni Aishiteiru” (“exaggerated love”) is stuck in amongst the above four songs at #10 on the album and takes a very different turn, ebbing and flowing at a gentle pace with Aki at the piano, where she belongs.
This song would do well as a showpiece for her voice and piano playing, displaying them both in their best light and would do as well on a stage in the East End or Broadway (were it sung in English) or backing up Tom Waits in one his more mournful moods. It is also slightly reminiscent of late 90’s Japanese group Hana*Hana’s acoustic numbers.
“Your Love Song” is a placid closing ballad in similar vein to “Oogesa ni Aishiteiru” above but is sung in English and makes a beautiful, restful close to the album.
Aki is a young powerful talent who hasn’t quite found her comfort zone, although perhaps its at the edge with songs like Uchuu, Your Love Song and Oogesa where she shines the most.
There are hints of brilliance on her album Home, but one gets the feeling that two or three songs could have been shaven off to lift the overall average.
Angela Aki – Home
- Kiss Me Good-Bye
- Love Is Over Now
- Kokoro no Senshi (心の戦士, “Kokoro no Senshi”? lit. “Soldier of the Heart”)
- This Love
- Uchū (宇宙, “Uchū”? lit. “Universe”)
- Onegai (お願い, “Onegai”? lit. “Wish”)
- Kiseki (奇跡, lit. “Miracle”?)
- Ōgesa ni ‘Aishiteru’ (大袈裟に「愛してる」, “Ōgesa ni ‘Aishiteru'”? lit. “Exaggerated ‘I Love You'”)
- Hallelujah (ハレルヤ, Hareruya?)
- Your Love Song