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First Review by Kai

One word could sum up this album.. "beautiful". Ayu has a great voice that has got much stronger over the years. One of the things that struck me on discovering Ayu was the subtle differences in her songs, for example the single "Endless Sorrow" hasn't made it too an album, I am... had the ~gone with the wind ver.~.

Thats what makes this album quite special, other than the 1st track RAINBOW (new track!!) they are all songs we have grown to love over the years... but different.. mostly.

RAINBOW starts with some gentle acoustic guitar and piano and some haunting keyboard then some great subtle vocal elements are added. Some classic Ayu gentle verses ensue with the keyboard and drums gently building throughout the song. There is quite a crescendo built up by the end and some english lyrics that dont detract from the song, ("No rain, can't get no Rainbow" is the extent and they are backing only!!). Next up is "appears", I defy anyone to not see the beauty in this "HAL's progress" mix of the song, it's almost verging on an acoustic version. It is a great re-working and in my opinion I actually prefer this, its more mellow and seems to be warmer which makes the vocals seem more comfortable than the more energetic version from LOVEppears.

Next up is Key, unfortunately we are still only given the ~eternal tie ver.~, still a beautiful song though, especially if you get to see Ayu perform it live, she puts a lot of emotion into it and you can feel that while listening. YOU "northern breeze", I have always loved this song, it feels like the lyrics and singing are from the heart and this version is no exception, very chilled out with some very nice pan pipes softening the whole feel of the song, it works very well indeed. TO BE "2003 ReBirth Mix", to be honest it doesn't seem a lot different to the original, you can tell it's been updated but there hasn't been anything significantly changed to make it stand out.

HANABI, Dearest, Voyage and Dolls are all exactly the same versions found on their home albums, would have been nice to see a different version of Dearest on here, but cant have everything I guess!! Between those though is M "HAL's Progress", subtle strings, crisp piano with some great keyboards, the guitars have been dropped completely, some may not appreciate this but I think it makes for a very interesting and touching version of a great song without ruining it.

SEASONS "2003 ReBirth Mix" as the title of the mix suggests falls into the same trap as TO BE, although I think there is a more noticable difference in this one. A Song for XX "030213 Session #2" initially sounds like it is going to be the same mellow version that Ayu performed in her 2002 Arena tour, but when it gets to the chorus its a very different story, the initial mellowness melts away to some serious guitar work and great power voclas from Ayu. The way the verse's are put together I wouldn't have been surprised to find this mix with a ~gone with the wind ver.~ extention to it, it wouldn't have fitted the chorus though as that is well against the wind!!

Finally we are treated to Who... "Across the Universe" mix which gives a very acoustic impression initially but has some strange industrial style elements throughout, none of it takes anything away from the great vocal angle this song has always had. There is a short song after Who... not sure what the title is but it does say words and music : Yumi Arai. Its a very gentle tune with an almost nursery rhyme innocence about it, a very nice finish to a great album.

All in all, I would definately recommend this to any Ayu fan (providing you like her more mellow stuff too!!) it has enough variations to make it a worthwhile purchase even if you do have her other albums. For imagination and the variations demonstrated here I have to give A BALLADS a resounding 10/10.

Rating: 10/10

Second Review by sxeven

Ayumi Hamasaki’s newest release is called 'A Ballads' and it contains, you guessed it, a number of Ayu’s best ballads. The CD itself comes in a nice slipcase and the already worldfamous artwork, with two Ayu’s embracing eachother (which some found to be quite controversial!), is actually beautiful and suits the music on this CD perfectly. So what’s the music like?

The CD starts out with the one and only new Ayu-song to be found on 'A Ballads': 'Rainbow'. It has turned out to be a great song. The laid-back intro consists of some mellow guitarplaying, soothing piano and sweet ambient effects, combined with Ayu’s wonderful voice. The songs builds up in a great way, and goes from, as said, laid-back in the beginning to very powerful in the end. The vocals are perfect, and the one English sentence that has been weaved through the lyrics (‘No rain, can’t get the rainbow’) is not irritating at all.

After ‘Rainbow’ comes a new mix of ‘Appears’, named ‘Appears, HAL’s progress’. The difference with the original is that the dance beat has been taken out and has been replaced with a different beat to make this song a ballad. Some sound effects have been taken out as well and have been replaced by orchestral sounds, making this version more soothing than the original. It may sound a bit strange at first, but this version is possibly even better than the version found on ‘LOVEppears’.

Next up is ‘Key’ ~eternal tie version~. This is exact the same version as the one found on ‘Duty’, so it’s still as great as it has always been! Song number four on this CD, ‘YOU’, has been completely changed though. This ‘Northern Breeze’ version has more of a beat than the original version, and some changes have been made in the instrumental set-up as well. It has turned out to be beautiful version, and is a great addition to the original.

After ‘You’ we get to hear the ‘2003 ReBirth Mix’ of ‘TO BE’. It has not been remixed like some other tracks on this album, but it has definitely been remastered because the sound is a lot brighter than it was in the original version. Next song is ‘HANABI’, which was on Rainbow. It’s not an old song, which is probably the reason that it has not been remixed at all. Still, it’s a great song, but you probably knew that already after hearing it on either ‘Rainbow’ or the ‘H’ single.

Next track is ‘M, HAL’s progress’. This remix is somewhat similar to the remix of Appears, the second track on this CD and also a ‘HAL’s progress’ version. The original ‘M’ was a really upbeat song, but the original beat has been removed and has been replaced by some soothing percussion, which results in the vocals being accentuated. As with ‘Appears’, a lot of the instruments have been either replaced by other sounds or removed completely. The result is a great version of ‘M’, but it might take some time to get used to it!

‘M’ is followed by regular versions of ‘Dearest’ and ‘Dolls’, both lovely songs but not changed. Track number ten: ‘SEASONS, 2003 ReBirth Mix’. It has been mixed in a way similar to ‘TO BE’. It doesn’t sound totally different, but it has definitely been remastered and the drum sound is completely different. Still a good song though, a classic! Next is ‘Voyage’, which is exactly the same as the one found on ‘Rainbow’. Next track is ‘A Song For XX, 030213 Session #2’. The change with the original version is quite significant; we hear some loud guitars during the chorus! The vocals are great too, really powerful! This version of ‘A Song For XX’ is really great, although it is a bit misplaced on this ‘A Ballads’ CD, because of those distorted guitars.

Last original Ayu track on ‘A Ballads’ is ‘Who..., Across the Universe’. This version is even a bit heavier than the original. The percussion is louder, and some sounds and instruments have been added. It has turned out to be less of a ‘Ballad’ than the original though, which is quite strange; it’d been a better choice to put the original on this CD. Still, it’s nice to hear a different version. The actual last track is ‘Sotsugyou Syashin’, which is a cover. It’s a really laidback song, even in comparison to the other tracks. The vocals are good, but the song as a whole is actually not really special.

All in all this album is awesome. The songs have been chosen well, and all remixes actually add something to the original versions. The fact that two new tracks have been included is a good thing too and makes ‘A Ballads’ worth buying.

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