Let’s take care of the bottom line, first — Hanadairo is a welcome return from Hajime Chitose, and it’s an album just as good as the first two she released at the turn of the decade.
That said, the creative contribution of Ueda Gen is sorely missed (at least by me.)
Ueda was the main songwriting contributor on Hainumikaze and Nomad Soul. He crafted that other-worldly mix of traditional music and pop that suited Hajime’s singular voice, mixing in dub and other musical styles while doing so.
As a result, Hajime set herself further apart from pop stars chirping over a techno beat. The music was appealing and just this side of bizarre.
On Hanadairo, Ueda contributes only three songs. The rest of the album is handled by an army of other writers, and the resulting album leans more to a mainstream pop sound.
On first listen, it’s not exactly impressive. The emotional depth of the first two albums seems shallowed out on Hanadairo, and the new songs don’t seem to showcase Hajime’s impressive abilities as well as her previous work.
But after adjusting to the new direction in the album’s sound, it feels more extroverted, even rocking. "Zenchuu" starts off with an acoustic guitar, but by the end, a full band comes in complete with rock guitars and solid backbeat.
The title track is a joyous number with a slight reggae reference and a big chorus, while "Amurita" features production work by rock duo COIL. "Hotarukusa no Yoru", on the other hand, is stripped down to guitar, bass and drums.
When the songwriting does turn mainstream, it does so in a big way.
A number of pre-release singles from the album were used as anime theme songs, and they sound like it. Matsutoya Yumi’s "Haru no Katami" comes close to sounding traditional but it can’t shake off the pop conventions. "Ao no Requiem" and "Kataritsugi Koto" have "ending theme" written all over it.
The introspective performances for which Hajime is reknowned pop up occassionaly on Hanadairo. "Yomigi to Shirazu" is essentially a full chorus of her as Bulgarian women’s choir, and "Reimei" is reminiscent of "37.6" on Hainumikaze.
In short, Hanadairo offers a lot of different material, making for an album that’s not as clearly focused as her previous work. But it also showcases Hajime in new settings, which push her performances to another level.
It’s nice to hear from Hajime Chitose again, after such a long absence. Hanadairo isn’t the comeback a listener might expect, but it’s still welcome anyway.