When Hatakeyama Miyuki covered “Dream a Little Dream of Me” on her debut solo album, she established her credibility as an interpreter.
The idea of an entire cover album by her sounded like a great idea. Releasing that album barely six months after said solo debut wasn’t.
Thanks once again to Japan’s frenzied work pace, what could have been a solid collection of interpretations instead sounds half-baked. That’s not to say Fragile, Hatakayama’s cover album, isn’t all bad.
In fact, Hatakeyama makes an admirable effort to zero in on the heart of her choices, stripping away a lot of the original arrangements down to a bare minimum.
The original version of Colin Verncomb’s “Wonderful Life” started out as a typical over-produced 80s jazz pop song, but Hatakeyama reveals a sturdy, beautiful tune through a Carole King-like piano accompaniment and her wonderful voice.
“Every Breath You Take” is a karaoke staple, but Little Creatures, who back Hatakayama on this track, preserves Sting’s distinctive bass work. When Miyuki sings the bridge of the song — “Since your gone, I’ve been lost without a trace” — it’s as great as a listener might expect.
The inclusion of current it-girl Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” may appear to be calculated, but arranger Aoyagi Takuji does a better job of highlighting Jones’ country tinge than Jones does herself.
Hatakeyama doesn’t have the greatest English diction, but the burnished quality of her voice charges her performances with real emotion. It’s easy to overlook her pronunciation when she makes these songs her own.
Still, the best moments on Fragile are when Hatakeyama sings in her own language. “Ame no Gai wo” and “Natsu no Omoide” aren’t even typical J-pop fare — they sound much more Japanese than Hatakeyama’s own original songs.
Unfortunately, the missteps on Fragile cancel out its achievements.
Hatakeyama’s overly breathy interpretation of “The Shadow of Your Smile” meanders. The same goes for “I Love You, Porgy”.
The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” is an incredibly easy song to mess up — see Guns N’ Roses’ version on the soundtrack to Interview With a Vampire — and the bossa nova guitar work on Hatakeyama’s version doesn’t plain work.
(The drum ‘n’ bass beat in the middle of the song, though, hints at an interpretation that could have worked.)
The reverb on “The Water Is Wide” could have been cut back a bit, but Hatakeayama’s a capella performance calls to mind Sinéad O’Connor at her best.
It would have also been nice if Hatakeyama included more Japanese-language tracks on Fragile. Her performance of “Every Breath You Take” is still great, but Sting doesn’t really need the extra income — it could have made room for something homemade.
Hatakeyama’s choice of covers is nonetheless a diverse, interesting batch, but the weak spots on the album don’t do that diversity justice. If she spent a few more months refining these interpretations, Fragile would have left a better impression.