ALBUM REVIEW: Mika Nakashima – “Best” (2005)

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Genres: J-Pop, International, Adult Contemporary, Easy Listening, Jazz, Rock, New Age

Tracklist

1. Amazing Grace (’05)

2. Stars (New Vocal ’05)

3. Crescent Moon

4. Will (Original Version)

5. Resistance (Original Version)

6. Aishiteru (Original Version)

7. Love Addict

8. Find the Way

9. Yuki no Hana

10. Seven

11. Oborozukiyo~Inori (with Taro Hakase)

12. Legend (Main Version)

13. Sakurairo Maukoro

14. Glamorous Sky (with Hyde)

Best is Mika Nakashima’s 6th album and her very first Greatest Hits album. Released on December 7, 2005, it topped the Oricon 200 and has since sold 1,204,996 copies – thus making it Mika’s second most popular album after Love being the first.

Best most definitely proves that Mika is one of the best artists ever to step into the music industry, distinguishing herself from other J-music artists thanks to her classy, elegant brand of pop music which would eventually incorporate softer commercial J-music elements. Its 14 songs include 13 singles, which registered the highest chart positions on the Oricon Singles Chart and at the same time sold the most copies, and a re-recording of “Amazing Grace.”

“Amazing Grace (’05)” is a rearrangement of the first song from Mika’s True album; this new version focuses solely on a jazzy piano arrangement. Mika’s English pronunciation doesn’t show too many signs of improvement on this version, but her performance is rather touching on this version. While still not up to par with other renditions I’ve heard of this hymn, Mika’s efforts deserve some merit nevertheless. (NOTE: This song was never commercially released as a single, but this version was made as a radio-only promo single for Suntory’s Freixnet Champagne brand. Suntory is a Japanese alcoholic beverage company, and opera singer Andrea Bocelli did one ad for Suntory Beer with his single, “Canto della Terra,” in the background.)

“Stars (New Vocal ’05)” has completely different lead and background vocals from the original 2001 version and the 2002 Album Version on True. The arrangement is exactly the same but Mika’s vocals sound so much better this time around. Possibly the best version of the song she did to date. Well done, Mika!

“Crescent Moon” is still a fantastic song. Some people may think that it might have seemed useless to place it after “Stars,” but since the whole intention of the album was to showcase Mika’s highest-charting and at the same time best-selling singles, it was a smart move on Sony Music Associated Records’ behalf to do so. After all, the single did sell all of its 100,000 copies when it came out, and as I mentioned in my review of Mika’s True album, the Latin percussion and violins show why it has a greater hint of sophistication than almost any disco tune ever made.

“Will,” Mika’s 5th single, is shown here in its original 5:23-long version, not the 5:30-long Album Version from True. The piano, strings, and other acoustic features of the song bring a whole new concept to the genre of “easy listening.” It’s everything you can expect from what we call a “power ballad,” but with a much greater arrangement and a touching aftermath that’s guaranteed to leave plenty of sentiment with listeners after it’s ended.

“Resistance” follows, but in its original Album Version from the EP of the same name. The Mary J. Blige/Brandy influence is still there, but then so is the stylish sophistication brought on by the horns. Meanwhile, Mika brings the song’s subject of angels in love to life amidst the prominent heavy electric bass and the hip-hop beat.

“Aishiteru” (I Love You) begins with a lighter piano solo than the Album Version on Love (the version here is the Original Version), and the strings come into play, showcasing the romantic, elegant mood of the song throughout. Billed as a “St. Valentine EP for the Lovers” (the single was released in January 2003), Mika’s soft, sentimental singing is the highlight of this ballad, whose bass beats sound almost exactly like that from the late Notorious B.I.G.’s “Can’t You See,” with Total! My favorite part of the song is the end chorus, which goes “Do it. Joy to love. Love me. Let it snow…”

The next three tracks appear here in their unaltered versions just as they did on the Love album. “Love Addict” goes by faster than its 7 minutes and 15 seconds may imply, largely due to its sophisticated club jazz arrangement and the overall mood of its syncopated rhythm. “Find the Way” continues to hit me deep thanks to its elegant and poignant string-and-piano arrangement; and “Yuki no Hana” does the same thing…only deeper.

“Seven,” taken from Music, is a real energy drink all in one. The way the song begins with blaring horns and a funky piano-drum sound with a George Benson appeal and stays that way until the end of the song, blows everything by Ricky Martin, J. Lo, Shakira, etc. out of the water!

“Oborozukiyo~Inori,” performed with Taro Hakase on violin, follows on from the previous song with its luxurious techno-based arrangement, drawing on traditional Japanese folk music. The koto, the guitars, and Taro’s violin solos – when paired with Mika’s simple yet delicate singing – create an atmosphere of beauty and elegance that very few other artists emerging since the mid-1990s have done.

“Legend” appears next as the Main Version, not the Original Version. Its techno sound might not be the best way to follow on from “Oborozukiyo~Inori,” but it’s a wonderfully performed enigmatic track with bittersweet vocals from Mika.

“Sakurairo Maukoro” didn’t make this album for no reason. Despite being the second most popular single from Music only to “Seven” chart-wise, it became the best-selling single from that album, and the proof is in the pudding. The piano gracefully opens the song, and Mika sings in her trademark serene manner while the piano and strings gracefully provide romance and style to the theme of the cherry blossom, one of Japan’s symbolic flowers.

Then, finally, we have “Glamorous Sky,” which was the theme for Ms. Nakashima’s second motion picture appearance, Nana, in which she played her first lead role: that of the title character. Her film debut came with Worst by Chance in 2003, but she played the co-star. Nana brought her even more fans than she already had, but it was this song that transformed her personality as an Ingénue into a versatile diva in much the same vein that Sarah Brightman is. “Glamorous Sky” was Mika’s only #1 hit to date, but it soars brilliantly with thoughtful lyrics from Hyde (of L’arc~en~Ciel – he would later sing the song in full English), a simplistic uptempo punk sound, and ambient electric guitars. All the while, Mika flows into the song immediately, and the background arrangement doesn’t seem to swamp her voice.

This album’s follow-up, The End (her soundtrack album for the Nana franchise), would include songs that sometimes sounded terrific, sometimes put too much demand on Mika’s voice, and everything in between, but except for some minor flaws, this compilation is a highly demonstrative showcase of talent coming from an artist whose taste in musical style, fashion, and attitude make her better than most of the pop stars, who instead of making catchy dance tunes that leave a lasting impression do nothing but sell out, so to speak. Mika Nakashima is one of those artists who stand on their own.

Pros: Wonderful compilation!

Cons: None, but “Amazing Grace (’05)” should have been replaced with a bonus track or a B-side or even a new song, of which none appear here. This is the factor for which No More Rules would make up four years later.

Bottom Line: Worth the buy for Mika fans and those newcomers who want a taste of what Mika has to offer. At least Sony Music didn’t do the stupid task of putting Radio Edits or remixes of Mika’s songs on here.

Final Grade: A.

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