Only a week away from their first ever London gig, and I’ve finally caught up with J-Pop girl trio Perfume’s studio albums. I’m going in a weird order though, starting with 2009’s amazing “Triangle“, then 2011’s solid “JPN“. They’ve had a bit of a messy career to follow over a few labels, but this is their first proper studio album.
There are a bunch of singles before now that were compiled in the “Complete Best” album, but I’ll get to them another time – perhaps before the gig if I get to listen to them enough.
So how was “Game”? Still pretty listenable, but I feel like it didn’t quite have that magic ingredient they got for “Triangle”. Some of it is a bit samey and doesn’t really grab me. Then again, there are a few hot little numbers in there. Shall we DELVE? Yes, let’s…
07 Polyrhythm – Wikipedia tells me this is one of only three songs from this album to be released as singles. It’s polished and upbeat, a real summer track. I gather this was a bit of a breakthrough song for them, though I’m not quite getting it. Their voices are a bit TOO filtered, it takes all their personality out. But the beats are big and there’s plenty of energy. A decent opening track, even if it is a bit anonymous.
08 Plastic Smile – Now this sounds a bit more familiar, reminds me of some of the “Triangle” tracks. A cheeky, fun beepy melody lies underneath it all, it just gives it a bit of character. But again the voices sound very robotic, I’m not sure I’m quite into that. OK the cyber-girl look of the band is part of the appeal, but if the vocals could pass as computer-generated, there’s something wrong. I enjoy this more than”Polyrhythm” though, it’s just more tuneful, even if the synths do most of the legwork.
09 Game – Oh NOW this is more like it. Dirty, distorted synths kick this off, bringing back memories of “Edge” from “Triangle”, perhaps the turning point for me and Perfume. It doesn’t quite hit those heights, but that sleazy bassline really does it for me. The girls even sound like girls, that’s progress. OK the vocal demands are pretty secondary to the action but they take more of a role in this one. There’s not massive variation throughout the song, which holds it back a bit, but I reckon this could be a half-decent replacement for “Edge” in a gig – not that I’d ever choose this over “Edge”.
07 Macaroni – Slowing it down, “Macaroni” is a fairly chilled-out bit of lounge pop (I just made that up I think). This does give us our first real chance to hear them singing though, to an degree. It feels auto-tuned to within an inch of its life, but there’s a nice little melody behind it. I did always prefer their uptempos, but it’s a nice change still.
10 Chocolate Disco – This is one of their songs I heard the first time I knew about them. Besides the cute nonsense title, this is Perfume starting to show their true colours. That synth riff that opens the song is gorgeous, the chorus is adorable, it just hits all my buttons. Finally something I can really get on board with!
08 Ceramic Girl – After that high, we’re back to fairly disposable uptempo pop with super-filtered vocals. It even comes with another fairly bizarre title – I wonder if the translated lyrics give context to that title? Apparently not. Pleasant enough but doesn’t quite stand up as one of the greats. Like the chorus though!
06 Baby Cruising Love – What!? I dread to think what that’s supposed to mean, let’s just say it’s lost in translation. This really falls a bit flat for me. The production is quite nice, but it just feels like more of the same. Their vocals are just devoid of emotion – maybe the computer didn’t have emotions installed. It’s all a bit generic and safe, it just washes over me.
07 Secret Secret – That early fade-out at the start always catches me out. We stay uptempo but the production gives this one a bit more life. The vocals are still pretty locked-down but there’s a nicer melody to it. That chorus is actually pretty cute, it’s grown on me since I started with this album a little while ago. Doesn’t change my world or anything, but it’s pretty good.
07 Take me Take me – I might not know what baby-cruising love is, but this song is a bit more direct. As the second-longest song, clocking in over 5 minutes, there’s not a lot of substance to this one sadly. More loungey dance-pop, it’s all a bit basic. The lyrics pretty much parrot the song title over and over. It’s oddly hypnotic, especially the “oooh” harmonies in the choruses. Maybe less is more? Still not really a brilliant moment.
06 Twinkle Snow Powdery Snow – This hits the ground running, throwing all sorts of production effects in there. I quite like the big mess of it all, even though we aren’t really dealing with much different to the rest of the album. A little more personality in the mix, but there aren’t really any hooks in there for me. Do they just play this sort of thing in Japanese spin-classes? It’s good cardio but that’s about it.
08 Puppy Love – A bit odd to hear a bass guitar and drums kick this off – or at least synthesised versions of them – it gives the song a bit of distinction from the rest of the pack. That chorus really quite lovely, finally hitting my J-pop G-spot, it sounds like a theme from an anime or something.
08 Butterfly – Let’s close things off with a nice ballad … oh wait, of course not! Rainforest noises are followed by a dreamy little synthy scale straight out of Puzzle Bobble. Their filtered vocals really do go over the top now, they barely sound like voices at all in some places… sigh. At least I know they did better in later albums. It’s a weird structure to a song, those spacey scales come back at various points, making the song sound a bit like a bonus stage from a computer game. The bit tribal drums are a bit of a curveball too, with the overall effect being a bit over the top but quite exciting to listen to.
Eh… so I really wanted to love this album. After all, it is Perfume’s biggest selling album still, and the one that launched them to the heights of one of Japan’s biggest girlbands. It just didn’t do it for me so much, and the problem largely lay with the heavily filtered vocals. Perhaps they aren’t the best singers, but those endless auto-harmonies just sounded so flat and boring. It was only the songs where the reins were looser and they got to actually sing a bit that the album really came alive.
Fortunately I’ve seen the future, and they produced two superb albums after this – hopefully a few more still to come. It hasn’t lessened my excitement at being able to see them next week though!
Keepers for the iPod: Plastic Smile, Game, Chocolate Disco, Ceramic Girl, Butterly