Utada Hikaru is probably one of the best known Japanese pop stars because of her work on the video game series Kingdom Hearts. Her second English album, This is the One, displays a clear direction in her music. Unlike her first album Exodus which was experimental and had several genres of music, This is the One is a full R&B/Pop affair. The music has a very accessible, mainstream sound to it, but still maintains Utada’s Japanese-Pop influences. Utada combines her beautiful voice and original lyrics with melodic hip-hop/R&B arrangements.
The lyrics in every song represent pain in the new millennium: music is longer on a CD, memories rush from MP3s, photos are replaced with JPEG files, and the use of the term “Photoshop” easily creates images of erasing the imperfections in Utada’s life. Her lyrics this time around are painful and longing, but still mix interesting popular culture references. Utada isn’t the first person to make pop culture laced songs, but there is a believable nature to her whole album.
To compliment the lyrics, Utada’s airy voice is strategically used in each song. In “Apple and Cinnamon” the pain of her lyrics combines with haunting echoes and crackly falsetto. Her voice is always the focal point of each track and it isn’t overpowered by the arrangements around her.
Utada strayed away from acoustic guitars and heavy electronic sounds that could be heard in Exodus. The beats chosen for This is the One have a standard R&B fanfare, but little elements added to each song breaks it away from stereotypical Ciara or Ne-Yo track. “Taking My Money Back” combines the piano and electronica riffs, but is still easily defined as an R&B track.
The first single “Come Back to Me” opens the album. The song introduces the musical and lyrical elements of the album. The song represents that everyman heartbreak that continues through the whole album. The best song of the album has to be “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI.” Utada maintains her Asian roots with the string arrangement, but also shows blends boy/girl interactions with a very catchy bridge. Also notable is the up-tempo “Dirty Desire” has a very catchy chorus and dance-friendly harkening to a song like Akon’s “Dangerous.” Overall, the album is arranged correctly; the message is clear and concise.
Utada made a smart decision with the physical release of the CD: she included the songs “Simple and Clean” and “Sanctuary” from the Kingdom Hearts series. Both songs showcase a strong musical style that isn’t necessarily in the R&B flare that This is the One provides. They also help connect any video game player who hasn’t necessarily listened to any of her Japanese albums or even knew that she had another English album. The downfall to the album is that it feels short, only having ten original tracks. To make up for the lack of numbers each song is high quality and "Simple and Clean" and "Sanctuary" are happy additions.
This is the One is a solid album where every track paints a picture of heartbreak and pain. Each song has different arrangements and tempos, but smoothly transition between each other. The album feels like reading Utada’s private diaries but the emotions can connect easily with the audience. The album is short, sweet, and a very strong showing.