Review: ONE OK ROCK’s Ambitions

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Konnichassu!

First post for the year and well, I think we can all safely say this is ONE OK ROCK season for many fans worldwide (and to most of my readers) since this is the same month ONE OK ROCK is releasing their eight full-length album “Ambitions” for both Japanese and International markets. Since I already reviewed the previous albums for #ONEOKROCKLiveinManila last year, I opted to work on this specific review while I’m internalizing both versions a few hours after it was released on digital format.

In an interview last December by Kerrang! Magazine, Taka remarked that the newest album “Ambitions” will have three major themes: Hope, Ambition and Singing together. He cited that they are at the stage where they are edging closer to their ambition to rock the world and offer something new. He also shared that the color of the album, Yellow, is the sign of hope and each of the new songs are anthemic in nature.

Yellow was also the main color for the band’s worldwide project “#world_ambitions” – launched on January 1st – which connects fans of the band worldwide with the hashtag and show photos with the color yellow, the sign of hope and ambition.

Similar to their seventh full-length album “35xxxv”, “Ambitions” has two versions: the Japanese version and the International version.

The Japanese version – with Japanese lyrics – is under A-Sketch and produced by the band’s friends Dan Lancaster and Colin Brittain, with special collaborations with Avril Lavigne, 5 Seconds of Summer and believe it or not, Aimer and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. This version was released on January 11, with a limited edition pack which comes with a DVD featuring the Studio Jam Session for “We Are” and “Bombs Away”. An acoustic version of “Taking Off” was also released.

The tracklist of the Japanese version are as follows:
1. “Ambitions” (Introduction)
2. “Bombs Away”
3. “Taking Off” – First single from the album. OST track for “Museum” starring Shun Oguri.
4. “We Are” – featured in NHK 18sai Fest on broadcast on January 9.
5. “20/20” *Japanese version only track
6. “Always Coming Back” – Featured in NTT Docomo’s commercial series “Kanjou no Subete/Nakama”
7. “Bedroom Warfare” – Second single from the album
8. “Lost in Tonight” *Japanese version only track
9. “I Was King” – third single out of the album
10. “Listen” (featuring Avril Lavigne) – *Japanese version only track
11. “One Way Ticket”
12. “Bon Voyage”
13. “Start Again”
14. “Take What You Want” (featuring 5 Seconds of Summer)

The International version – full English lyrics – is also produced by Dan Lancaster and Colin Brittain and under Fueled by Ramen and Warner Music America. This version includes a duet with Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low and two exclusive tracks: “American Girls” and “Hard to Love”. The album was released on January 13, 2017 with Fueled by Ramen offering a special Ambitions pack which comes with a shirt. Amazon UK has also opened a special pre-order which allows fans to get a signed copy of the international version.

The tracklist of the US/International album are as follows:
1. “Ambitions” (Introduction)
2. “Bombs Away”
3. “Taking Off”
4. “We Are”
5. “Jaded” (featuring Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low)
6. “Hard to Love” – First previewed at 5 Seconds of Summer’s Sounds Live Feels Live World Tour – North America Leg
7. “Bedroom Warfare”
8. “American Girls” – *International version only
9. “I Was King”
10. “Listen” – Taka solo
11. “One Way Ticket”
12. “Bon Voyage”
13. “Start Again”
14. “Take What You Want” (featuring 5 Seconds of Summer)

When the first singles were released from both versions, I was reluctant to give a full feedback as I haven’t heard the entire album yet when they were released. When I heard “Taking Off” in the Nagisaen live, I thought, “Ok… there’s a bit of a whiff of the previous album and slightly poppish-rock in it that still works.” The MV though… leaves much to be desired since the focus wasn’t on the band, but mostly on this Alien theme which was also featured in “Last Dance.” I agreed with some comments the Nagisaen teaser using “Taking Off” as the background music was way better as the MV for the song.

“Always coming back” then came in next and I was like “This reminds me so much of Wherever You Are as the melody and theme is similar in nature.” “Bedroom Warfare” then shocked not just myself but also the rest of the world considering the MV’s approach was quite different (a dance sequence similar to The Way Back) and the song was quite catchy. “I was King”, I didn’t get the visualizer MVs released for both series and I heard comments saying even Taka didn’t get the visualizer for the Japanese version. The song was… so-so for me and it wasn’t enough to give me that inclination to say “Ambitions” is worth the check.

However, when I saw the NHK version of “We Are” and the official videos for the song in both versions, I said “WOW! Definitely a big step up from 35XXXV” and it was indeed an anthem much like Answer is Near, Deeper Deeper and Kanzen Kankaku Dreamer but in a different theme scheme. The fan vocals were also 100% cool – imagine doing that in the live! I think the new phrase coined when this single was released is that fans of ONE OK ROCK are the “colors in the dark” for ONE OK ROCK. The inspiration of the band to keep moving forward in this dark and cracky field we call international market.

I waited in anticipation for the full albums – which I ordered in iTunes JP and PH (Still cannot comprehend the fact its waaay cheaper in the PH store) and i finally got them on the same day.

If looking at the words of Taka in that Kerrang interview, yes, the themes he cited were indeed in the album. This may not be accurate but this is how I see it:

Hope: Hard to Love, Always Coming Back, Listen, We Are, Bon Voyage, 20/20, Start Again
Ambition: Bombs Away, American Girls (Taka’s ambition… LOL), Taking Off
Singing together: We Are (DEFINITELY!), Take What You Want, Jaded (yes, there’s a part there which is for the fans)

Aside from the earlier released songs, I was looking forward to hearing several tracks from this new album. First is the Japanese-exclusive duet between Taka and Avril Lavigne for “Listen”. When I heard that news sometime last year, I was very intrigued as to how it will sound like. Would it be super lively rock? Would it be mellow rock? Upon hearing a teaser of it and the full version, I like the mellow yet rockish tune that suits Taka and Avril. Aimer’s backup vocals also gave me the shivers for this song. The music does match the idea of hope if I’m asked. The solo version in the international version was also… dreamy. Sigh… I blame my secretary/Torupin’s-you-know-what for telling me it was a dreamy solo. Influenced my review!

I was also looking forward to “One Way Ticket” when I saw that it was Linkin Park’s very own Mike Shinoda who assisted on that very song. Although I would have loved a duet between him and Taka, the song was quite something from the intro to the song itself. It didn’t sound too pop in my end. It was a little blend of R&B, techno and rock. I do feel like Taka is serenading the listener with this song much like the hidden track and opening up about a past love.

“Take What you Want” was another notable song I wanted to hear because I did hear comments about 5SOS over the last few months, especially their recent victory as the worst band in the year from a specific group. There were even concerns as to why 5SOS was considered for the collab. I honestly am not as familiar with 5S0S music but i did hear their duet for Amnesia in the live and that was not bad. When I heard the song, it immediately reminded me of Decision (Deluxe Version, duet with Tyler Carter from ISSUES) which I loved so much from the tempo to the transitions. Taka’s long screamo? What can this chibi not do when it comes to his voice? Classical? Opera? WHAT?!? Must record moment when he does that in the live!

Finally, “Jaded” featuring Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low was another point of interest. Theme wise, I love it. The intro bit though did remind me of a certain song I heard from an independent artist, but only on the intro melody. Alex’s voice is also dreamy! Aside from “We Are”, this song will be another anthem for the album considering that long backup lines in the middle of it. It was also a way cooler collaboration than “Paper Planes”, which I still do not get too well… so weird it was.

Some friends of mine did comment on “American Girls” and for me… haha, I actually just shook my head when I heard it and laughed. It oozes Taka’s love for the US – he had mentioned several times he likes the US – and it was quite catchy.

Considering this entire commentary regarding the album, my verdict in entirety? They are getting there close to their ambitions, but they are not there just yet. The rest of the songs I didn’t mention had a slight whiff of the old Jinsei Kakete Boku Wa – which I retain as their best album by far – and 35XXXV. Some songs – notably “Lost in Tonight” and “Bombs Away” – did remind me of Linkin Park’s tracks from “Meteora” and “Hybrid Theory” in terms of the guitar rifts and the drum beats. They also got the rhythm in with “Ambitions” which is similar to Jinsei, but there should be a balance with the “seemingly pop like songs” with the “new OOR rock”. And more Japanese lyrics for the JP version. I think that’s one sticking point for some Japanese fans nowadays because the lyrics are mostly in English rather than the usual equal Japanese and English blend.

The Japanese version had the most pull for me (most notably for We Are), but the international version had its own beautiful appeal. However, one cannot go wrong with the emotions in both versions though! From the beats to Taka’s voice, you can hear ONE OK ROCK wants everyone to know what they think and what they feel. They also want to show that yes, there will be fans who will not like their new music and leave the fandom, but they will keep standing up for their devoted fans and offer the best of ONE OK ROCK. *seemingly reminded on how Last Dance struck my heart when I heard that for soundcheck last year*

With the lives already slated next week in the US, I think I would be giving a different tune once I see their live equivalents. If you guys ask me which songs I’m looking forward to hearing in a live -may it be here in Manila or in another country – I’d be ticking down We Are, Always coming back (it was deadly in Nagisaen), Listen (both versions works), One Way Ticket, Take What you Want, Hard to Love and Jaded. I proposed something cool in the local fan group and I think we are on to something when the Asia Tour includes the country. Fingers crossed!

Next week, if things go according to plan, I will be reviewing some more ONE OK ROCK-related merch for your viewing pleasure. And yes… I did order the hard copies of this album for both JP and International version. You’ll see them once I got them!

siggy2

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