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Complete Single Collection 95 - 05
Ken Hirai
Complete Single Collection 95 - 05
Genre: International Music


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All Artists: Ken Hirai
Title: Complete Single Collection 95 - 05
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Sony
Release Date: 11/29/2005
Album Type: Import
Genre: International Music
Style: Far East & Asia
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaCD Credits: 3

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CD Reviews

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Cabir Davis | 05/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There is a reason Ken Hirai has been my personal idol for years now, and this double CD is ample proof of why that is. For starters, I don't understand a word of Japanese (well, maybe I understand about 30-40 words after living with J-Pop for about a decade), but my long standing relationship with Hirai - his music and persona, is something that often surprises me. I am generally more of a Tori Amos / Fiona Apple listener, so for me to get into something so far removed from my demographic was one thing, but to identify with the singer-songwriter as well as empathize with him was another entirely.

This double CD collects all of Ken's single releases in Japan, and adds to that. Ken is known as a Robin Thicke/Maxwell amalgamation in Japan (he's also sung with Babyface and John Legend) and the best way I can describe his music is to say that it's a mixture of Jazz and R&B. Its very old-school, but sounds very neo-soul as well. In fact, neo-soul would be the genre I would file this album under.

Hirai is best known for the single "Hitomi Wo Tojite" (Close my Eyes), which ranks even today as one of the best selling CD singles in Japan. This lovely ballad is something you will find yourself hitting the repeat button for, time and again. Its one of those timeless classics that can only get better with age, and even if you don't speak the language, you'll find yourself strangely remembering the lyrics. The song is a masterpiece, no doubt, but there are other gems here worth checking out. Of primary interest is "Precious Junk", his debut single when he was but a fresh faced 23 year old model. The song screams cheese - but even with that factor thrown in, its better than most of the stuff that was busy clogging US airwaves in the early 1990s. Many of the songs on the first CD from the 90s era have the same synthesized feel to it - much of it is redeemed by some excellent choruses, but the age of the recordings show.

Its only in the late `90s that Hirai found his niche - and both the albums "The Changing Same" and "Gaining through Losing" are well represented here. Fan favorite "Life is" is also included, with some of his more stereotypical 2000s work. I particularly liked that they chose to include songs here that did not chart very well, yet still remained musically unrivalled. In fact, much of this material sounds superior to Justin Timberlake and Lenny Kravitz, to whom Hirai is often compared in the Japanese media. And which Hirai compilation would not be complete without his hit rendition of "Grandfather's Clock"? This was a single whose popularity surprised both Ken and his record label, and it went on to become a landmark moment in his musical career.

This two disc set also introduces us to a new track - "Pop Star". Now, you either love it or hate it, but this single marks a significant departure from his earlier work, in that it is a very Stock Aiken Waterman sounding pop song, complete with kitsch video. However, it works. When he was younger, Ken tried hard to cultivate a more serious, Adult Contemporary feel to his image, and his first foray into totally popular music and melodies is a welcome relief.

I must say though, that 2006-2007 has been an amazing season for Ken, musically. This two disc set only covers the years 1995-2005. In 2007, Ken released a single entitled "Aika (Elegy)", which to me remains the greatest ballad ever written and recorded in ANY language (yes, its THAT good). Shockingly though, this peaked low in the Top 10 of the Japanese music chart, and was quickly forgotten. If you can ever get your hands on this single, purchase it immediately - it's a rarity and a must-have recording. To me, it was confirmation that Ken only gets better with age, and I cannot strongly enough recommend this CD single.

However, you might want to shop around before buying this 2-Disc set of "Utabaka" (as the single collection is officially named). The actual Japanese release had this 2-Disc set alongwith a third disc - a DVD with all of Hirai's videos ever made. Now that is out of print, but available at some retailers if you look hard enough. I would suggest that only if you don't find that, do you pick this up. Either way, this is a masterpiece from Japan's greatest R&B Star of all time, and deserves a place in your collection without question.

Five Stars. Highly Recommended.