Saturday, September 8, 2007

Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion Single Review!

The second single for the upcoming album honeycreeper has now been released, and it's an expectedly strong introduction to the album.

Track listing:
1. "Oriental Diamond" (lyrics: Yosui Inoue/music and production: Tamio Okuda)
2. "Kuchibiru Motion" (lyrics/music and production: Kazuya Yoshii)
3. "Neji Potion" (lyrics: Ami Onuki/music: Nargo [Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra])

Two of the three songs involve long-time Puffy collaborators, with the third coming from a well-respected Japanese rock musician. This single's got J-rock and Puffy pedigree written all over it, in a way that their previous single ("boom boom beat") didn't. And it's got the sound to match.

Tamio Okuda was, of course, Puffy's main songwriter and producer through all of those early years, when they were such a national pop culture phenomenon in Japan. He's since gone on both to produce new young artists like Kimura Kaela as well as returning to his own music. But lately, at least, he's been contributing about one song per album to Puffy's recent releases, and whenever he does, it's about as close to the "old" Puffy sound as you're gonna get. "Oriental Diamond" is no exception - in fact, it sounds like a pretty natural progression from the straight-ahead, somewhat simple rock tunes of early Puffy albums like AmiYumi and JET to this, a more layered and melodic but still straightforward rock song.

Okuda's recent songs for Puffy have also had an almost majestic quality to them that was not usually present on his earlier productions. "Oriental Diamond", like Splurge's "Moguralike", begins with a simple single-chord strummed riff and builds from that to a crescendo that actually gave me goosebumps the first tim
e I heard the song through a proper set of headphones. That's one thing about all of these songs - they really don't come across through a lo-fi source like YouTube.

"Kuchibiru Motion" shares the limelight as the single's second A-side. And in style, it's a bit different - I have to say it didn't grab me immediately in the way that most great Puffy songs do. It's a less-accessible song, with more of a driving beat to it and less of a melodic chorus (and no real crescendo). The music video, released about a week before the single, also showed a much different side to Puffy than we're used to seeing - not a bad thing, but unexpected. I will say I think the song actually works better on its own, without the visuals. You're a bit less, uh... distracted, I guess. And you feel it more; this is one of those songs you need to feel to really get it. It's the kind of song you listen to while out on a mountain highway somewhere with your convertible top down, radio turned up full blast, driving much too fast for the road.

The third track, "Neji Potion", is a ska track that's in the same vein as all of Puffy's collaborations with the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and its various members. This track will not be on honeycreeper, so it's really the main incentive for buying the single if you don't care about having the other two songs a bit early. I do think it's maybe a little similar to "Hazamu Rizumu" (as some others have said), but then that's why it's called a "B-side" after all. It's an up-tempo song with a nice melody and a satisfying chorus, but it feels like a bit of a retread, and it's not a strong enough song to make the album. Still, the horn section's a little strange in this song, in a way that's hard to describe - like rejects from some demented oompa-loompa band. That actually makes the song a little bit more interesting and endearing.

Generally, this is a really impressive single in terms of composition and production, but there are a couple trends popping up in Puffy's latest work that I'm finding a little worrying as time goes on. The first is the reversal of the advertiser/musician relationship. Previously, Puffy would record an album, and if an advertiser liked a song on it for one of their products, they'd ask for permission to use it. It at least preserved some sort of illusion of artistic integrity in the process. Now, though, advertisers are comissioning Puffy in advance to record songs for their ad campaigns. Both "Oriental Diamond" and "Kuchibiru Motion" were recorded for specific ad campaigns - the former for ANA's "Fly! Panda" Japan-China promotion, the latter for Lavshuca/Kanebo cosmetics. These songs are essentially commercial jingles, however good they may be.

The second and admittedly much more nitpicky issue is the way the girls are actually singing some of their recent songs. Over the years, Puffy has developed a reputation in Japan for "happy" music, even though it's not always true, and in fact some of their most popular songs are actually a little dark. But they seem to be intentionally playing to expectations on some of their recent songs in a way they never used to do, singing in a kind of "mousey" voice that's nothing like the way I know they really sound. That's definitely true of at least "Neji Potion", and I hear it a bit in the others as well. (Go back and compare the singing on an early song like "Tokusuru Karada" to any of these.) It could be their new producers coaching them a certain way, or it could just be their own current preference, but they're definitely singing a little differently than they used to. Of course, I doubt most people will notice, and of those that do, there's probably a good number of fans in Japan who actually prefer this newer singing style.

I have to say also that I neither speak nor really understand Japanese very well without a whole lot of effort, and I haven't put that effort in for this single. So I can't tell you if there are any deeper meanings to these songs than what's on the surface; I wish I could. But getting back to the positive, regardless of their origins and regardless of any nitpicks with the girls' singing style, these are still some straight-up great rock songs.

Despite my issues with YouTube's compression of the audio in these songs, and my comments about "Kuchibiru Motion" notwithstanding, here are the two music videos from this single to give the uninitiated a taste of the songs themselves as well as to make this post complete:

Oriental Diamond


Kuchibiru Motion

3 comments:

  1. Hi hi!

    I guess you can count me as one those repeat visitors from Singapore. I've actively collecting PUFFY albums and singles since I got introduced to Nice. Just to put things in perspective, after Nice, I actually had a harder time appreciating Spike and the earlier albums (although I do love them now). So I guess my preference is actually more for Andy Sturmer's power-pop approach than Tamio Okuda's more naturalistic style.

    Just as Splurge sounded more progressive than Nice, I believe honeycreeper will continue PUFFY's move to a hybrid sound derived from Andy's and Okuda's input over the years, but leavened by the girls' growing maturity and injection of new musical DNA.

    Back to the singles... Actually, I really like boom boom beat more than Oriental Diamond! I bet it has to do with how Anders & Helgren have been channeling Andy's high energy grooves into the 2 main songs, PLUS the always-welcome 'retro thingy' in 'Kimi ga Suki'.

    Conversely, Oriental Diamond's opening chords sounded too similar to Moguralike... and made me think 'someone' has been a bit lazy! Kuchibiru Motion works better with its immediate sexy mood, helped no dobt by the video. As for Neji Potion... I like the way the melody works out in a not-so-obvious way compared to the simplistic bouncy tune of Hazumu Rhythm. And no, they are not alike at all to my ears.

    Anyway, thanks for the great reviews and insights!

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  2. Hey Kelvin,

    I totally get where you're coming from even though we don't really agree on the single, because I also became a fan in the Andy Sturmer era and it took me a while to warm up to the Tamio Okuda stuff too. I still might actually prefer the Andy stuff, but after immersing myself in the older albums for a few years now, I've really come around to Tamio Okuda's compositions and production. And I understand why a lot of Japanese fans consider that the "real" Puffy. Andy's stuff was a lot more punk and just a lot more "western" sounding.

    I agree about the "hybrid" style that they seem to be heading into. I'm still not sure if I like that or not. Splurge actually ended up sounding pretty cohesive, but the songs on the two singles they've released for honeycreeper so far have all been very different, and not consistent in quality (whichever songs you like better than the others, I think it would be almost impossible to like them all equally given how different they are).

    I mean, Spike was another album that had many different styles on it, and it took me a while to warm up to that one too, but now I think it's just brilliant. I love how sort of experimental and eclectic it is, mixing straight up pop with noisy punk, lounge and trippy disco music. So maybe honeycreeper will be similar. We'll see.

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  3. I don't believe Puffy was actually trying a "new image" in the Kuchibiru Motion PV --- Puffy, in all its years of existence as a band, has never resorted to sexualizing itself. I don't see that as the case here. In fact, you could say Puffy just acted like that in the video as a way of poking fun at glamorizing/sexualizing aspect of many female acts nowadays.

    That's one pivotal reason why I dig Puffy. They don't sell their image with sexuality.

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