Monday, October 1, 2007

HONEYCREEPER Album Review

Now entering their second decade on Japan's music scene, the ever-prolific PUFFY release their eighth album of all-original material (their 15th overall) only a year after the well-received Splurge. Like Splurge, it differs from their earlier releases in featuring an army of guest songwriters and producers - a dangerous proposition when trying to create a cohesive whole. It worked last year - can lightning strike twice?

The answer is a definite yes, although the result is maybe not quite as exciting the second time around. While Splurge was something entirely new for them, PUFFY have now proven that it almost doesn't even matter who's working for them behind the scenes. They're fully capable of pulling it all together and making an album that's more than the simple sum of its parts. honeycreeper is not the grand "10th anniversary" experiment in musical extravagance that Splurge was; it is (maybe no less importantly) just the latest PUFFY album.

The list of songwriters and producers for honeycreeper includes the likes of long-time PUFFY mentor Tamio Okuda along with lyricist Yosui Inoue, Marvelous 3's Butch Walker (who also helped out on Splurge), the pillows' frontman Yamanaka Sawao, Linus of Hollywood, Anders Hellgren, David Myhr, Yoshii Kazuya and more. It's a nice mix of western and Japanese influences and a list that's brimming with Japan rock street cred, even among the western songwriters. Linus of Hollywood, for one, has also worked with Kimura Kaela, Japan's current top rock star.

Here's the full track listing:

1. Oriental Diamond - Lyrics and Music: Yosui Inoue/Tamio Okuda
2. Ain’t Gonna Cut It - Lyrics and Music: Butch Walker/Robert Schwartzman
3. Kimi to O-tobai - Lyrics and Music: Chiba Yusuke
4. Kuchibiru Motion - Lyrics and Music: Yoshii Kazuya
5. Hayai Kurima - Lyrics and Music: Mashima Masatoshi
6. Sayonara Summer - Lyrics and Music: Yamanaka Sawao
7. boom boom beat - Lyrics: PUFFY Music: Anders Hellgren & David Myhr
8. Youkai PUFFY - Lyrics: Kudou Kankurou Music: Taku Tomizawa
9. Closet Full Of Love - Lyrics and Music: Butch Walker/Kara DioGuardi
10. Hasanjiyauze - Lyrics and Music : Mashima Masatoshi
11. complaint - Lyrics: PUFFY Music: Yamanaka Sawao
12. Ohedo Nagareboshi IV - Lyrics: Pierre Taki Music: Anders Hellgren & David Myhr
13. Island - Lyrics and Music: Chiba Yusuke

honeycreeper begins with Okuda's contribution, the second single from the album ("boom boom beat" was the first) that I previously reviewed here. It's a nice way to begin, giving PUFFY's longtime fans a bit of the old PUFFY sound, but I touched a bit in my earlier review on my beef with the now-rampant overt commercialization of PUFFY's music (really a problem with today's Japanese pop music generally). Their music has always been used to sell products, and I don't have a problem with that, but it's getting a little out of hand here - fully five songs were apparently commissioned for TV ads or theme songs even before the album's release, including "Oriental Diamond". This is actually used as a selling point for the CD in Japan. Hey, for all I know, this is keeping PUFFY in business these days, so maybe I shouldn't complain.

Still, these five songs are all good songs - even if they are a bit "safe". Four of them - "Oriental Diamond", "Kuchibiru Motion", "boom boom beat" and "Closet Full of Love" - are pretty straightforward rock songs, while "Ohedo Nagareboshi IV" is more of a ska track, a genre PUFFY's done before. None of these songs would sound out of place on any PUFFY album, but I do wonder what we might have gotten in their place without the sponsors attached.

The overall sound of the album is heavy rock, which is what PUFFY's settled into over the past few years. They used to be a bit harder to categorize. I confess that I miss the disco tracks of their early albums, or the straight-up pop songs, or the rhumbas, bossa novas and lounge music, or the retro rock, or the goofy breaks like "Robot Proto-Type Version 0.2" (from Fever Fever), or the experimental weirdness of an album like Spike. I also miss the solo songs by Ami and Yumi individually, which used to be a staple of every album and returned on Splurge (with great success), but are once again absent here. Hey, I'm all for team unity, but it's nice to hear the girls on their own once in a while. On honeycreeper, they may as well have glued their vocal chords together - there's barely so much as an alternating verse to be found.

The album does ebb and flow nicely, with even my previous non-faves "boom boom beat" and "Kuchibiru Motion" fitting well in context. These are not songs that I think work on their own, but they serve as a counterpoint to the songs that surround them and make for a nice, not too jarring tempo and tone change. Like a lot of albums, honeycreeper is somewhat front-loaded - its best songs are mostly at or near the beginning, with the songwriting quality dropping off noticeably after track 9 ("Closet Full of Love"). That's not to say there's nothing to like in the latter stages of the album, just that I don't find the last four songs quite as satisfying. "Island", for example, is in the style of an Irish folk song and is one of the few tracks that really feels new on the album, but it drones on far too long and the girls squeal over the soft music when they should be pulling back. "Hasanjiyauze", by contrast, is much too close in both composition and tone to PUFFY's own earlier "Sui Sui" from Spike. PUFFY are starting to repeat themselves a bit.

Highlights for me include "Oriental Diamond" and "Kimi to O-tobai", even if the latter does have a chorus that's uncomfortably close to Japanese new wave band BOΦWY's "Cloudy Heart". I also really like the two Butch Walker tracks, "Aint Gonna Cut It" and "Closet Full of Love". One thing that's impressed me about Butch Walker's PUFFY contributions (on both honeycreeper and Splurge) is that he does not dumb down his English lyrics, which I've always suspected their western songwriters of doing in the past. Walker doesn't write "cute" lyrics for PUFFY - he writes hard-hitting lyrics he might feel comfortable singing himself, including lines about drugs and death. That's helped bring a welcome maturity to their English-language songs that was always lacking in the pre-Splurge days - and it better matches their Japanese lyrics, which run the gamut from light fare about going to the beach to heavier subjects like the death of close friends. Musically, though he partnered with other songwriters for the tunes, Walker's two songs also have Elvis Costello-like melodies that seem to come out of nowhere and finish where you least expect - they're really satisfying. If anything, I wish his songs on honeycreeper were longer - they both end just as they're starting to feel comfortable.

PUFFY themselves apparently count "Youkai PUFFY" as their favorite track on the album, and it is something of a novelty song - a skit-based track beginning with 3 minutes of spoken dialogue. The whole thing is apparently one big joke meant to sound like a b-grade horror story, and much of it unfortunately gets lost in translation for non-native Japanese speakers - though the fun they had with it is obvious. The song itself is, like the rest of the album, straightforward rock, though the kitchiness in the lyrics and performance continues throughout. It actually all comes off reminding me of early Meatloaf, for better or worse. Still, PUFFY do manage to invent a new mantra for their fans with the chorus: "PUFFY the monster go go!"

A lot has been made about PUFFY's "new" look and sound over the past year or two. It's true that they're definitely dressing lately in a style that I can only describe as "hippie glam", taking elements from both the 60's and 70's. That's reflected on the honeycreeper album cover. But in terms of sound, I don't really hear a "new" PUFFY here - I hear the same old PUFFY we all know and love, in fact maybe a slow return to the somewhat raw rock form they had around the time of JET and Fever Fever but without as much experimentation or eclecticism. Whether that's a good or bad thing is definitely debatable, but the point is long-time fans shouldn't be scared off by any talk of drastic change. PUFFY have always reinvented themselves every few years (I will say I probably prefer the Andy Sturmer era above all else, both in terms of music and style), but their current incarnation is really not so different from the last. In fact, I'd say there's been less progression between Splurge and honeycreeper than between any other two PUFFY albums. Again, whether this is a positive is up to the individual listener.

What we have here is a fully-matured PUFFY that's apparently decided what they do best and are now churning out that kind of music with machine-like precision. The quality of their output is undiminished - honeycreeper is nothing if not consistently good. But there are no big surprises here. I miss their earlier unpredictability, their confidence in tackling genres other than rock, their random little excursions into wackiness as they tried to define themselves as undefinable, and unique. "Youkai PUFFY" notwithstanding, they are less that now, although they are still a great rock band.

Final Grades
Music: B+
Performance: B+
Production: B

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment and let me know.

By the way, for those of you coming in through Google searches that may not read this blog religiously, early sales of the CD were accompanied by a free t-shirt and sticker in both Japan and through certain mail order retailers in the US. Here's the packaging:


The t-shirt is "medium" and so mine will never be leaving the package - it's just another collectors' item.

Lastly, here I'm reposting all of the current videos from the album to give those same visitors a taste of the album's music (bearing my opinion on "Kuchibiru Motion" and "boom boom beat" in mind - I think they're two of the album's weaker individual tracks):

Oriental Diamond


Kuchibiru Motion


boom boom beat




5 comments:

  1. I'll be un-happy if they give up their 'genre-hopping' ways. But, as I said before, no one likes groups that do that............ except me, of course. Ske, Beatle-Who-style power pop, disco, etc. These are the stlyes that endeared Puffy to me. I'll still buy it. Watching "boom boom beat" right now. Love it!

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  2. Yeah I kinda feel like the genre-hopping is pretty much done. And that's a shame. My theory is that the multiple producers they're using now make their music actually less varied, because now they can pick and choose the songs they want to do and specifically request certain kinds of songs from certain people. And I have a feeling the hard rock thing is actually just what they're personally into, so those are the kinds of songs and songwriters they're choosing. Back when they had Tamio Okuda producing and writing most of their music, they pretty much just recorded whatever he wrote, and he was writing songs specifically to make the charts. It seems like they care less about that now than just doing what they like, and they seem to like the hard rock.

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  3. For the most part I agree with your review... honeycreeper is definitely a grungier record. Just as I found the poppier tracks from the singles more to my liking, I also found myself gravitating to the more melodic portions of the album.

    I'm glad you id'd Sawao Yamanaka... I was wondering why I liked Sayonara Summer so much! I sort of discover Puffy about the same time I got into The Pillows (because of the FLCL anime). Never did try to find out more about the band but their pop-laced rock was a great companion on my PUFFY binges.

    As for Yokai Puffy... No way I can go thru it again even if I can get the joke, lol. So I put a marker at 3:10 on my own rip and carry on from there.

    Overall, honeycreeper is still a keeper, with enough hooks for those who didn't buy the 2 singles.

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  4. no way, i like yokai puffy as it features members of group tamashii. there was a joke about "yon sama" at the beginning but honestly that was about as much as i got. basically the skit is pretty much the same kind of thing you'd get on a group tamashii album.

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  5. Huh. I've noticed PUFFY repeating themselves for a while now. Akai Buranko sounds like a punked up version of Stray Cats Fever. And just about 98% of their songs following the same arrangement.

    I agree with most of what you said about honeycreeper.

    I wonder what they sound like live now that they've entered this more grunge rock sound? I wish they'd play on the East coast; but it's fair I guess; for SPLURGE, they didn't do a West coast tour.

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