To say that NEXT LEVEL surprised me is an understatement. Given that I had been less than impressed with the singles leading up to its release, plus the fact that I really didn’t care for the cover art, I fully expected it to be the first Ayu album I didn’t like.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I not only enjoyed the album, I loved it. NEXT LEVEL went far beyond my expectations: I never thought it would be good, let alone great. Not only does it have the best use of interludes in Ayu’s discography to date, seamless transitioning from one part of the album from the next, it really does go to the next level for Ayu. The songs on the album aren’t the ones we’re used to but rather a different approach from any she had used before. The album tracks are all fantastic, and the range from the singles works surprisingly well. The Chinese flavor of “GREEN” fits right in with the beat of “rollin’,” despite what one would expect. All in all, the 80’s vibe completely works for the album, turning an experiment into a smashing success.
The fact that NEXT LEVEL blew me away as much as it did makes it a success in my eyes, but it does have one significant downside. Much like GUILTY, NEXT LEVEL is bogged down by the slower tracks in the second half, particularly “Days.” It’s rescued by “Curtain call,” which sends the album out on a high note, but it keeps me from liking the album as much as I would otherwise.