Japanese R&B and pop singer Ken Hirai likes to take things slowly. His seventh album, Fakin' Pop, is his first studio offering since his 2004 bestseller SENTIMENTALovers. But for his loyal fans, the music is always worth the wait. Born in 1972, the singer-songwriter is now one of the top selling Japanese artists of all time, thanks to his soulful and mesmerising voice, his unconventional looks and of course his music - a clever mix of soul, R&B, gospel, pop, jazz and swing. The first four years of his music career, which began in the early 1990s, were far from extraordinary. His debut single Precious Junk was used as the theme song for a TV drama. But it was unremarkable, adhering to average J-pop standards and lacked the personal and original style that marks a great singer-songwriter. But unlike most pop stars who are eager to follow the trends or exploit their initial fame, Hirai had the patience to develop his own voice and sound. Releasing only one single a year in 1997 and 1998 and musically bypassing 1999, Hirai burst on to the Asian music scene in 2000 with his hit single LAKuEN, which topped the charts in Japan and overseas. Since then, Hirai has stood out from the crowd, proving he is in a league of his own. Single after single and album after album, he demonstrates that he's a musician with a golden touch. In 2002, he even turned a traditional nursery rhyme, My Grandfather's Clock, into one of the biggest pop hits of the year against everyone's expectation. And it's not just the Japanese who recognise his unique talents. Hirai performed in March 2002 with producer-cum-singer Babyface who said if Hirai sang in English, he would hit the big time in America. He also performed on the popular music programme MTV Unplugged in New York as well as at Stevie Wonder's Japan concert in 2003 where he sang You Are the Sunshine of My Life with the star. His new album includes Pop Star, the 2005 single that is still one of his biggest hits yet, and the ballad Canvas, a laidback melody on which Hirai's unforced vocals complemented by gentle strings and piano. Another highlight is You're Won.der.ful, an upbeat, cheery number with an irresistible melody, the kind of pop song you can't help but dance and sing along to. Fakin' Pop is not a groundbreaking collection, but it's a well-crafted work of a musician at the top of his game, which is good enough for fans eagerly awaiting anything Hirai produces. The album may lack creativity, but Hirai's knack for catchy melodies more than makes up for it.