Rule / Sparkle

Rule / Sparkle was Ayumi Hamasaki’s 45th single. It was released on February 25, 2009 and reached no. 1 on the Oricon Charts with 95,309 copies sold. The first title track was used as the theme song for the live action film Dragonball Evolution. The latter title track was used in advertisements for the Honda Zest Spark. This single was released in 3 versions, a CD+DVD edition, as well as two different CD Only editions, each featuring remixes of either Days or GREEN. The artist for the manga of Dragonball, Toriyama Akira, was commissioned by AVEX to draw Ayumi as Goku on the CD’s of the single as a first press bonus. This is the final single prior to her 10th studio album Next Level.

Rule / Sparkle - Ayumi Hamasaki

Tracks:
1. Rule (Original mix)
2. Sparkle (Original mix)
3. Days (8-bits of tears YMCK remix) *
3. GREEN (CMJK Spring Storm mix) **
4. Days (Acoustic Orchestra version) *
4. GREEN (Acoustic Orchestra version)**
5. Rule (80kidz’s “No More Rule” mix)
6. Rule (Remo-con “tech dance” remix)
7. Rule (Original mix -Instrumental-)
8. Sparkle (Original mix -Instrumental-)
*CD Only Version B
**CD Only Version C

Review:
Let’s face it, we all knew Ayu was heading towards rock with her last few albums. Really her last few albums have contained some heavier rock oriented songs, although there’s still a hint of pop. But really Rule is just a sample of what Ayu is capable of. It’s an aggressive rock song that’s a fast paced, powerhouse of raw aggression and anger. Well it might not be all that angry, but the music is heavy in the rock department with the electric guitar riffs and percussion. One of the most unexpected things about this song were the vocals, which were obviously distorted to some extent during the verses, but towards the end you could easily hear Ayu’s beautiful vocals and the rock elements ceased before they picked up again. The chorus was an explosive work of art that is ear candy to put it lightly. It has the right amount of power in the vocals, along with the heavy rock sound. I personally loved the bridge, mostly because the rock elements were softer and you could hear some awesome background vocals from Ayu. And I was happy that it moved a breakneck speeds, I mean it was much faster than her usual stuff. I didn’t think I’d love this song, but it turns out that it’s actually pretty infectious as well as memorable.

I never thought I’d ever hear Ayu come out with a song like Sparkle. This is one of her songs that uses electronic elements as well as the occasional techno / synth beats. I guess what threw me off the most was the opening, which was heavy on the synth and electronic distortions. After that though the music became pretty dark and a little ominous with the synth riffs and techno beats. Ayu’s vocals were actually pretty soft and petite during the first parts of the verses, but come the second part and the chorus, it’s actually a lot better. In terms of shear power it’s a heck of a lot better, you can hear the difference easily as her vocals aren’t overwhelmed by the music like during the verses. And the chorus was by far the most memorable part of this song as it was stoic and infectious, the synth and techno elements really shined through all of it. And amazingly enough the last chorus was remarkably catchy with the first line being distorted.

Now it’s time for the remixes, which make and break this single. On the first CD Only edition you get the remixes of Days. This song was originally a heartfelt ballad that was semi-heavy on the rock elements. Well the 8-bits of tears YMCK remix removes all those rock elements and replaces them with arcade game sounds. I really don’t consider the music in this song music, it’s basically just a variety of sounds from video games, many beeps and distortions in the vocals. It honestly makes me think of old arcade games with those big screens like pinball or Donkey Kong. I just can’t take this remix seriously.

Should you purchase the second CD Only version you’ll get the CMJK Spring Storm mix of GREEN. This remix actually reminds me a little of Ami’s Reincarnation at times with the synth / techno elements and the keyboard chords at times, but that’s a minor detail. The music is mostly just a variety of techno beats and various electronic distortions. The vocals are distorted to the limit, at times it gets annoying. I really hated that you had to wait for more than two minutes just to hear the chorus. But it was pretty strong and vibrant, so it wasn’t all that bad.

On to the acoustic versions of the songs. Well should you purchase the CD with Days you won’t be disappointed. The Acoustic Orchestra version is just as magical and heartwarming as the original. The main difference is in the music, instead of being rock, it’s classical. The strings replace the guitar, and the piano’s still present. It’s more solemn and lovely than the original, it’s amazing what an orchestra can do.

I really wasn’t expecting all that much from the Acoustic Orchestra version of GREEN. Although this version just blew me away. Like the original, this new version still had that same oriental flare, even with the strings. I guess the arrangement was just that good. Perhaps they used some more oriental instruments, perhaps they didn’t. Either way this remix is magical and nostalgic in a sense, it’s like hearing music from back in ancient China.

No matter what version you bought you’re going to get the 80kidz’s “No More Rule” mix of Rule. Seriously, the techno and electronic elements are beyond annoying. This remix is rather disappointing, especially with all the obnoxiously loud beats. And the “Rule, Rule….” in the background got annoying fast. This remix just kills the song.

I’m going to say that the same thing goes for the Remo-con “tech dance” remix. It’s the longest track as over 6 minutes and I honestly hated every single second of it. It’s a faster paced version of Rule with annoying house music and a variety of problem. It certainly lives up to the name, it’s a tech dance song, but not a good one at that. Perhaps if the vocals weren’t so sporadic or soft it’d be better.

Overall Review: Rule / Sparkle was rock passion & techno ambiance. Although I love most of Ayu’s releases, this has got to be one of her greatest singles in a long time. It’s nice to see that she’s not just sticking with her safety and that she’s exploring more genres, like electronica and techno. In a music sense she’s gotten a lot better in my opinion. I also loved how in Sparkle she tackled some different lyrics, this time it wasn’t all about love or sadness, it was more like trying things out, and somewhat funny mentioning cute boys, etc. Rule is definitely going to become a signature song, similar to Mirrorcle World hopefully. I would have loved to see a PV for Sparkle, but Rule’s PV was good enough for both. The remixes weren’t all that pleasant, the only worthwhile tracks were the Acoustic Orchestra Versions. Aside from the remixes, this single was spectacular. I just think it’s a little sad though that they’re trying to sell more singles by adding remixes on certain editions. This single is just Ayu taking another step into the music world, this time it’s heavy rock and techno. It’ll be interesting to hear her new material on Next Level.

Final Grade: 94A+

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  1. […] aggressive synth-techno Sparkle makes it’s mark on the album. This was perhaps Ayu’s first techno /electronic song. […]



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