Tuesday, March 4, 2008

PUFFY Album Ranking!

I've been mulling this one over for a while. How to rank PUFFY's albums, and is it even worth doing? In a way, it doesn't feel quite right - all of their albums are worth owning, and all have at least a few essential songs. Their range in quality is (mostly) a narrow band at the upper end of the scale.

But I need something to write about and you need something to read. And believe it or not, new fans of PUFFY do stumble across my blog every once in a while. They need guidance! This list is partially for them, and partially for the rest of you to argue about amongst yourselves. Please note that this is not based on sales data. I think sales are pretty meaningless in any creative field. It's a ranking in order of quality. The order is not definitive; just one western fan's subjective opinion (though probably one of the few American fans with a complete CD collection). You're free to disagree.

I've purposely only included albums of "original" material, though what I mean is, of course, original for PUFFY. That excludes "best of" albums and remixes, but allows for cover songs and of course, any of the multitude of songs written for them by others.

By the way, the album titles are linked to PUFFY's official discography page for that album, just in case you wanted to hear song samples for anything you don't have.

Without further ado... PUFFY album ranking!

1. SPIKE
2000

I've already written about why I think this is PUFFY's best album, but long story short, SPIKE is simply the culmination of everything that ever made PUFFY great. For one thing, it's as eclectic as they've ever been, with styles ranging from punk to garage to lounge to disco. Both of the girls have amazing solo songs on the album: Ami's "Destruction Pancake" and Yumi's "This is the Song of Sweet Sweet Season When Cherry Garcia Blossoms Bloom". There's a nice balance between "old" and "new" PUFFY - this was the cusp of their changeover from Tamio Okuda as long-time producer to Andy Sturmer, and both share roughly equal time on the album. It's both the last we'll ever hear of the original strange and fun and diverse PUFFY, and the first we hear of the more modern, harder PUFFY. It's an album you can listen to beginning to end and never fail to be (pleasantly) surprised.

But it all works, both separately as individual songs and as an album. Better yet, it only gets better with age.

Best songs: Boogie Woogie #5, Destruction Pancake, Sui Sui, Swimming Pool, Green Apple, This is the Song of Sweet Sweet Season When Cherry Garcia Blossoms Bloom, Umi Eto/Into the Beach, Puffy's Rule


2. Splurge
2006

This was a tough one, and I go back and forth between Splurge, Fever Fever and Nice in this position. I'd even reversed them completely for this post originally. But Splurge just has a little more variety than either of those other two, as PUFFY embraced a new model of employing multiple "guest" producers and songwriters for their 10th anniversary album, making for a nice mix of styles only a little less diverse than SPIKE. The overall sound is harder, and darker, but still undoubtedly PUFFY - and the return of the solo songs after a two album absence was definitely welcome. PUFFY even invoke their earlier years a bit with the retro-inspired "Missing You Baby" and "Etude", which sound as if they've been lifted straight out of the early 1960's. About all that's missing from this album is a disco track - though it seemed pretty clear by this point that they'd moved on from the electronic pop songs that they'd occasionally dabbled with right up through 2003's Nice.

It's also saying something that what I consider their second-best album came a full decade after their debut, and nine albums into their career. They're still as strong as ever.

Best songs: Call Me What You Like (if you like rock n roll), Nice Buddy, Radio Tokyo, Mole-Like, Etude, Sunday in the Park, Cameland, Security Blanket, Beginnings/Hajimari no Uta


3. Fever Fever
1999

The best of the early years. Oh, some will say JET outdoes Fever Fever, and even I'll admit that Fever Fever's a little more traditional in sound, but I love its almost laid-back Beatles-esque compositions and performance. And there's still plenty of wackiness, from the short interludes like "Robot Prototype Version 0.2" to Yumi's solo ode to Osaka "Nannari to Naru Deshou", which she sings in a thick Osaka-ben. The album was produced by lifelong journeyman musician and industry stalwart Masanori Sasaji, who may be more of a natural producer than either Tamio Okuda or Andy Sturmer. They were still basically dabbling at the time. (Tamio Okuda has even said that it was seeing Tsunku's production of Morning Musume that inspired him to produce - he thought if Tsunku could do it, why not him?) Okuda did produce several songs on the album - including the classics "Yume no Tameni" and "Nichiyoubi no Musume" - and Sturmer produced PUFFY's last top ten hit in "Talalan". But the overall album was Sasaji's, and probably for that reason it's the most cohesive of their early works.

Hell, there was a time (and not too long ago!) when I called this my favorite PUFFY album.

Best songs: Stray Cats Fever, Yume no Tameni, Nannari to Naru Deshou, Kirei na Namida ga Tarinai yo, Taiyou, Puffy de Rumba, Koi no RAIN, Ai no SHEIPU, Talalan


4. Nice.
2003

While I've known about PUFFY since at least 1998, this was honestly the album that really sucked me in. They finally hooked me with Nice. So why isn't it #1? Well, think of it like a gateway drug. It's an album full of radio-friendly pop punk tunes that appeal almost aggressively and specifically to American tastes, having been fully produced and written by Andy Sturmer. It's easy on the untrained ear and probably would still be the album I recommend first for new fans of the band - especially here. I literally wore this CD out, and the songs are so catchy that I can even sing along to most of them in Japanese. (And I don't speak Japanese!) But unlike SPIKE or Fever Fever, which take time and effort to fully appreciate, Nice leaves everything on the table on the first listen.

Points off also for the lack of solo songs, the first ever PUFFY album missing them. Boo!

Best songs: Planet Tokyo/Akai Buranko, Sayonara, Invisible Tomorrow, K2G, Urei, Tokyo Nights


5. honeycreeper
2007

Ami & Yumi, if you're reading this, don't feel bad seeing this at #5. Your standard has been set unrealistically high by your own past work, and not every new album can be the best yet. This being #5 on my list of the best PUFFY albums would still put it head and shoulders above almost everything else out there. I'll still be promoting the hell out of this thing once you finally release it here.

You've probably all read my review of honeycreeper; if you haven't, feel free to do so now. I like this album a lot, and I like how much harder and darker they've become as they've gotten older. Heck, they can't keep up that kid stuff forever. And they still have fun on some of the songs here - obviously "Youkai PUFFY" being the biggest example.

But this album's a little more predictable and a little more shrill than their best albums are. Pretty much every song is hard rock, and at times the girls seem to be screaming over the guitars to get their voices heard. The solo songs - a former PUFFY staple - are also once again lamentably absent. I don't ever expect them to stay the same from album to album, but I do think Splurge was a better template for what I'm looking for from the modern, more mature PUFFY.

Best songs: Oriental Diamond, Ain't Gonna Cut It, Kimi to O-tobai/You and the Motorbike, Sayonara Summer, Youkai PUFFY, Closet Full of Love


6. JET CD
1998

I hate to put this album down at #6. I want to love it as much as I love some of their best work, and as much as some others do. I know it's got probably more PUFFY classics than any other single album (including their top-selling single ever, "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi"). And it even follows the same template as SPIKE - it's all over the place in style.

But I think it only goes to show that eclectic albums like this are really hit-or-miss. It's difficult to make an album that has so many styles that all work well together. SPIKE got it right, maybe more by chance than anything, but I like to think there was more thought put to it than that. JET CD has always felt a little off-kilter to me - I can listen to all of the songs on it individually and I do love them, but I can't listen to the whole thing in one sitting. I just can't make it through. There's no common thread that ties everything together, as there somehow seems to be with SPIKE. JET CD feels like a random collection of hit singles thrown together on a disc.

I'll admit that I may have kind of a regional bias with this album. SPIKE's many genres all basically fall under what I'd have called "college music" ten years or so ago - and I went to college in New York. They're familiar genres to me and they all sound hip and credible in their own way - the genius was putting them all together. JET CD, though, with its rumbas, its uncomfortably close "homages" to famous western rock bands, and its pop ballads and whatnot, just doesn't have the same western street cred. But it's still got a lot of great individual songs. It's just that I'm ranking albums here.

Best songs: Jet Keisatsu/Jet Police, Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi/That's the Way It Is, Ai no Shirushi, Lemon Kid, Nehorina Hahorina, Circuit no Musume/Wild Girls on Circuit, Nagisa ni Matsuwaru Etc./Electric Beach Fever


7. amiyumi
1996

Their debut album - and despite it being in the lower third of this ranking, I'm still pretty amazed by it. Obviously, at this point it was more of a Tamio Okuda album with Ami & Yumi on vocals, but their talent was pretty undeniable. Their strength and confidence was evident right from the beginning of "Tokusuru Karada", a song that surprised the heck out of me the first time I heard it. It's hard and heavy! I'd already heard a lot of PUFFY before buying this album, and I was expecting something lighter and fluffier from their debut. But in fact, in my opinion the way they sing on this album actually sounds more mature than the way they sing on some of their later albums. They're not intentionally mickey-mousing.

A few points off for how short the album is, and it really only has a few great songs: "Tokusuru Karada", the huge hit "Asia no Junshin", and one of my favorite Yumi solo songs, the strange and almost surreal lounge track "Nagaikishitene", where she sounds nothing like she does on any other PUFFY album. That last song really hinted at some of the craziness to come.

Best songs: Asia no Junshin/True Asia, Tokusuru Karada, Nagaikishitene, Simple


8. The Hit Parade
2002

It would almost be charitable ranking this album any higher - it is a cover album, after all. Unless you're an outright tribute band, you've gotta have some major cajones to release an album of cover tunes - it's saying "we're so popular, we don't even need our own music." It's the kind of thing you can only do when you know your fans will buy anything you put out just to hear how you sing it.

The tunes on this album are going to be mostly unfamiliar to westerners - they're Japanese pop songs, some of which date to the early 1970's. Some tracks are more successful than others. "Hurricane" is a great song that's become a staple, and Yumi's version of "Hi-Teen Boogie" is fun as well. My wife laughs every time she hears them sing "Kakkoman Boogie", with its cute sounding chorus (especially the last line). But this album feels a lot more disposable than most that they've done.

Best songs: Hurricane, Hi-Teen Boogie, Kakkoman Boogie, Aishuu Deito (New York City Nights)


9. solosolo
1997

I've told you what I know of the story behind this album, but to recap: originally, this was going to be Ami's solo album before PUFFY even existed. Her half was written and recorded when she was being groomed as a solo artist by Sony Music. Time passed, and PUFFY formed and released their first album. Yumi then went in and recorded her own solo album to match Ami's, and both were released as a double album set.

It's interesting to me that this is not technically a PUFFY release. It is released under the name "Onuki Ami/Yoshimura Yumi", both an acknowledgment of the CD set's roots and the fact that no songs are sung together.

I've listened through both CD's probably half a dozen times, and there honestly aren't many songs that have grabbed me on this one. There's one big exception: Ami's "Tadaima". I don't know what it is about that song, but according to iTunes, I've played it 71 times. I've also grown to like Ami's "Honey" and Yumi's "V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N", which of course are both PUFFY classics. And I gotta say that Yumi's voice is pretty impressive on some of her tracks, even if the music is sometimes a little odd. She hits some notes (and holds them) that you never hear on any of their other albums. I think she holds back a bit from what she's really capable of so their vocals match better.

Best songs: Tadaima, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, Honey, Ai no AURA (ok, I like this one too)


10. 59
2004

This will probably always be kind of the "lost" PUFFY album. I wish I knew the story of its recording, because I'll bet it was a bit... tense. It's an Andy Sturmer-produced album (the last, probably not coincidentally), and it came just around the time Ami was having her baby. She didn't have a lot of time to put in on the album, and it seems like Sturmer really didn't either. He even recycles "Invisible Tomorrow" from Nice, which he'd already turned into "Friends Forever", one more time - creating easily the worst version of the song in "So Long Zero". It almost sounds unfinished production-wise, and the lyrics are... well, let's just say they're not PUFFY's best English lyrics.

59 is a short album - under 30 minutes - and is often called a "mini-album" by both PUFFY and their fans. In addition to the recycled "So Long Zero", it also contains two versions of the "Teen Titans" theme as well as "Sunrise", another anime theme song (though the latter's not bad). It does have one of my favorites, though: "Kokoro ni Hana wo", which is a song I really wish had been on any other album so it would have been heard by more people. 59 didn't get a lot of promotion and it was never released in the United States (even though their previous album Nice was), so there's one classic Sturmer PUFFY track that was unfortunately ignored. Do yourself a favor if you're in Japan and have easy access to this album: buy it for that one song. The following track, "Kazemakase Futaritabi", isn't half bad either and is probably the last we'll ever hear of PUFFY doing their kooky electro-lounge act. They just don't make light-hearted songs like this one anymore.

Best songs: Kokoro ni Hana wo, Kazemakase Futaritabi, Sunrise

That about wraps it up. I just want to say again that I think all PUFFY albums have something to offer, and I'd never have been satisfied without a full collection of at least these original albums. (I don't have a full collection including the "Best" collections and remixes - I'm missing a couple.) I also appreciate all the work that went into each one of these albums, not to mention the frenetic pace PUFFY's been maintaining in releasing basically an album per year. Makes you wonder what the hell our lazy-ass western bands are doing with all their time! Especially when few of them can manage to top the quality of any of these albums no matter how much time they take recording.

Feel free to leave a comment calling me out on my tastes, or for flat-out forgetting something... as I often do.

10 comments:

  1. Wait. Wait.

    Did you say that you had a complete LP collection???

    ffffffffffff

    I like your take on Puffy's album. You obviously have a wealth of musical history -- I just don't really care to nurture my knowledge of tunes out there. I'll stick to my small pickings of classic rock, some J-music, anime OPs, and videogame music.

    The final four listed are about right. 59 is quite forgettable, but it has its bits. solosolo is the most "summer-sounding" album, probably due to it's release in Puffy's infancy and "whimsy" feel. (Although, I chalk it up to getting this album in the summer of 2005.) And...

    and for me to elaborate any more on the rest of the albums would be beyond the scope of the mere comment box, because I really need to think this all out! (Possible post for a possible blog that will never see the light of day.) I will say this: your analysis of the albums cohesiveness as a whole really makes me think more than I did about it before. Only recently have I subtly picked up on a given album's "flow" and your picks do approximately fit in with mine. So while I'm not completely aware of it, I do come away from this post with a newfound appreciation which makes me look forward to my next Puffy listening wave so I can fully uncover this feeling for myself.



    ... because of my limited music tastes, I tend to burn out a band or album in one streak and then come back to it at a later time. I've had two Puffy waves and three Beatle waves.

    Unique content like this post make this blog all the more visiting.

    -Mode7

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  2. I should change that to "complete CD collection", I guess. I think I just got tired of writing "CD" and used "LP" generically, not meaning vinyl. Just meaning "long play".

    I go through waves with bands too, including Puffy. When they're not doing much publicly, it's harder to maintain my interest level. I'm no different than anyone else. Right now they're in the studio and otherwise keeping sort of a low profile; it's one of those in-between album periods. So I've mostly been listening to other stuff (I'm in a Foo Fighters phase right now), and it's been harder to find stuff to write about here.

    But as I wrote this, I was listening to the albums again and they're still just so good. I actually moved Fever Fever up a couple notches because it was one of those things where you hear an album you haven't heard for a while and you practically get giddy with how awesome it is, like you had almost forgotten. So now I'm back into them again.

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  3. Jeff, I found your previous postings in amazon.com customers reviews. The following has sales rank as well.

    http://www.amazon.com/Puffy-Amiyumi/artist/B000APMXKU/ref=ntt_mus_dp_pel/102-8421827-1424945

    I suppose, since then you went more to Spike and Fever Fever than to Nice (or Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi). I wonder why there is no Splurge on the list. Anyway it's quite interesting to read those customers reviews.

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  4. Yeah, that review I wrote about Nice there is old. Although I did say it's "one of their best" and not their best. At the time, though, I didn't have any of their import albums so I hadn't heard everything. I did have Spike, but the thing about Spike is that it takes a while to really appreciate it. That's what I said above too. I actually got Spike and Nice at the same time, and I listened almost exclusively to Nice for about 6 months. Then I slowly started switching over to Spike.

    Actually, that review there is kind of embarrassing at this point - though I guess it's not too bad. I think I actually took that album (Nice) a little too seriously! I sound like I'm reviewing a piece of literature there.

    Same with the Hi Hi review I wrote, although I also said there that I'd recommend "An Illustrated History" or "Nice" first. So I never really thought that was their best album, and it's a compilation anyway.

    The sales ranking they have doesn't seem to be right - Splurge isn't even on the list at all (it's not just low on the list, it's missing), and the much more expensive import version of Spike is ranked higher than the domestic version. I don't believe that. Most Americans don't care about owning imports when there's a domestic version for 75% less money.

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  5. I think lots of Puffy fans here in Japan find it difficult to tell which is the best Puffy album. Especially some core fans who often go to Puffy's live concert, actually love all the songs by Puffy and cannot pick just one best album.

    As for Honeycreeper, it takes a while for you to judge how good the album is compared to other ones. And probably if you asked AmiYumi, they would say the latest album (or the next album) is the best one for them.

    I myself have 4 candidates for the best album. However, honestly I need to listen to them more to make the ranking.

    1. The best seller album : Jet CD (or Fever Fever)
    2. The most diverse album : Spike
    3. The most melodious album : Nice.
    4. The most progressive album : Splurge

    By the way, I find their tour DVDs ( Jet Tour 1998, Tour ! Puffy ! Tour !, Puffy Spike Daisakusen, Tour ! Puffy ! Tour ! 10 Final ) could be more enjoyable than albums.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. As someone, who has only recently got into Puffy, I've rather been 'cramming'to listen to as much of their material so that I can begin to form an opinion over which is my favourite Puffy album.

    I'm grateful to you Jeff, for your reviews which act as excellent pointers. I would say that the albums currently getting a lot of rotation in my car on the way to work are Splurge and Fever Fever. The former because of its consistent feel and the latter becuase of its rawness and good vibes.

    I like the close virtually unblemished sound of Fever Fever. The good-natured chat in their native tongue while they are playing makes you feel you are the studio with Ami and Yumi and the band. Splurge on the other hand is all big production and it's the one that has me bellowing along to the anthemic choruses and hooks.

    I'm still getting into Honeycreeper, though I must confess to be very fond of the sheer sassiness in Lip Motion - I know it's not one of your faves :(

    Thank you for providing a great platform for fans to discuss the music

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  8. In my opinion,the best album are
    1st : Nice (best songs:Akai Buranko/Red Swing,Angel Of love,Invisible Tomorrow,Your Love is A drug,K2G,Shiawase,Tomodachi/Friends, and Urei

    2nd Jet CD:best songs: Jet Keisatsu/Jet Police, Kore Ga watashi no Ikiru Michi/That's the way it is,Ai no Shirushi/Sign of Love, De Rio, Circuit no Musume/Wild Girls on circuit,Nagisa ni Matsuwaru Etc/Electric beach fever, mother

    3rd Honeycreeper:best songs:Oriental Diamond,Kimi to Auto-bike,Kuchibiru Motion,Haiyai Kurama,boom boom beat,complaint,Oh Edo Nagareboshi

    4th:Spike:best songs: Boogie Woogie N° 5,Sumire, Mondo Muyo,Su-I Su-I, Pool Nite, Aoi Ringo/Green Apple,Sakura no Hanna Ga Saku Amai Amai Kisetsu no uta/This is th song ofsweet sweet season when cherry garcia Blossoms Bloom,Umi Eto/Into the beach, Puffy No rule,Juni Gatsu/December

    5th:Splurge:best songs:Nice Buddy,Tokyo I'm on my way,Shaw we dance,Koi no Etude/Etude,Sunday in The Park,Mogura-Like,security blanket,Hajimari no uta/beginnings,and Basket Case

    6th;Fever Fever:Stray Cats Fever,Yme no Tameni, Nichiyoubi no Musume,Kirei Na Namida O Tarinai Yo, Taiyou,Koi no Line,Ai no Shape,tararan, Dare Ga Sore wo

    7th:amiyumi:best songs:Toku Suru Karada,Usanagi Channel,Sakura Saku,simple,Nagaiki Shite Ne,Aia no Jushin

    8th:59:best songs:Joining A fan Club, Kokoro ni Hana Wo,Kazemakase Futari Tabi,Teen Titans Theme Japanese Version)

    9th solo solo:best songs:That's Sweet Smile, Be Someone Tonigth,Tadaima,Tsuyoki na Futari, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N,aI NO Aura

    10th PUFFY AMIYUMI x PUFFY: best songs: Nichiyoubi Yori no Shisha,Basket Case,Frontier no pionner (shiikata ver),Joining a Fan club,Not Listening, Tokyo Hanabi,
    11th The Hit Parade:best songs: Hurricane, Ai Ga Tomaranai,Aoi Namida

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  9. I like one thing on each album
    amiyumi:amiyumi have something different, perhaps Saku sakura or usanagi channel, has a way different from other songs and I like it

    solo solo:I like the solo solo because it is the voices solo of puffy, I wish they do another solo album, so that the ground tracks of land are not so good, I do not attract much attention

    Jet Cd:it has the best music of the band, That's the way it is,,and other very good, in my opinion this cd really deserved to stay in first place in Oricon

    Fever Fever:fever fever is another great album, it rocks those of 80 and 90

    Spike: I think in Spike on single melody in music boogie woogie and Sumire, I love this cd, so he is in 4th place and competing with the honeycreeper

    The hit parade: I like songs of 60s and 70s, has a melody very different, but similar at the same time


    Nice: The best album, the song really has class, songs that calm but lively songs, I feel something different, the songs remind me of Nice MY STORY, which in my opinion is the second best song of the band


    59: the style is very pop, I love that style, but so long zero ruins the album, and he is a mini-album, then that just same


    Hi Hi puffy AmiYumi: Again it is so Hi Hi and Friends Forever which are great songs, but so long sde zero, invisible tomorrow, and I prefer invisible friemds forever tomorrow


    Splurge: it has a style very busy, but very pop but has a bit of rock, this cd has a different style, always keeping the musical style of puffy


    Honeycreeper: The only defect is that this cd is an Island so bad, and that before starting youkai puffy is coiled into a conversation falling Ritimo very busy in the cd, the rest do not have that claim

    PUFFY AMIYUMI x PUFFY:You start I like the original songs puffy and not the covers, but the nichiyoubi Yori shisha remember in the 90s the band, and I even miss the melodies that made such success in Japan

    Bring It!: Not released yet but already has good things for talking, taking All Because Of You I do not like

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  10. with the reason that you talked about the 59, which spoils is zero so long and has two teen Titans, and especially because a small album, and is bad to hear the two teen Titans in a very short time for an other, but kokoro ni Hana wo really is in one of the best, the agitated style, and electronic, but it spoils more min which is the album is small, because if he fose more perhaps with the other tracks valesse just put the cd and short - it, because it is bad to put the 59 in the sound to hear a song of 4 minutes and after that you get it again
    I also wanted to know why the name is 59

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