Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Looking Back on 59: an Album Review


Let's all take a minute to think about the 59 album. It is a strange little piece of shiny plastic and aluminum, coming as it did at a weird time in Puffy's lives and careers. I've always wanted to know the full story behind its production. There was a lot going on in Puffy-ville, as Ami had just delivered her baby girl and "Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi" was being readied for US launch. But Yumi was also coming off a divorce that hadn't played well in the tabloids, and the band's previous album Nice. had not sold well at home. They had earlier taken about six months off so Ami could do the whole mothering thing full time - real life had temporarily interrupted their careers.

They called 59 a "mini album", which almost sounds like an apology. As in "sorry, we couldn't record a full album, but here's what we could manage."

Here's the track listing:

1. Teen Titans Theme
2. Sunrise
3. Joining a Fan Club
4. Kokoro ni hana wo
5. Kaze makase futari tabi
6. Forever
7. So Long Zero
8. Teen Titans Theme (Japanese version)

It is probably Puffy's worst album, but it's also under-appreciated. Japanese fans spurned it, and some of their less hardcore western fans may not even know it exists. It never had a US release, despite the fact that their previous two albums did. Instead, we got the soundtrack to the "Hi Hi" TV show, so the release of 59 got lost in that hoopla in the west. The "Hi Hi" soundtrack itself has four out of the six original songs from 59 anyway (depending on what you count), so Americans might not think they're missing much.

But they are! For one thing, this album has the Japanese version of "Teen Titans", which for some reason is actually tolerable to me whereas the English version really isn't. (This might cut both ways; my wife can't even listen to the Japanese version, she says the lyrics are so dumb.) It also has a somewhat different mix of "Joining a Fan Club" than we got on the "Hi Hi" soundtrack - though it's debatable which is better. (The US version is a little heavier.)

But the two real stars of the album are "Kokoro ni Hana wo" and "Kaze makase futari tabi", the former being a pretty straightforward but incredibly catchy rock song and the latter an electro sort of loungey bit of goofiness with some heavy guitars mixed in, which wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Spike album. And I still rank that album as my favorite Puffy release.

It is imperative that you hear - no, that you own - these two songs if you call yourself a Puffy fan. Both of these songs are as good as anything Ami and Yumi have ever recorded. You can visit CDJapan and listen to song samples there.

The rest of the album is not nearly as strong, being filled out by three animation theme songs ("Sunrise" and two versions of "Teen Titans"), a cover ("Joining a Fan Club"), a completely unnecessary second English remake of "Invisible Tomorrow" ("So Long Zero"), and the retro-inspired "Forever". Overall, it's a little sloppy sounding and it lacks any sort of distinguishable identity of its own. It seems an attempt to return to the eclectic era of Spike but, except when noted above, without nearly the same results. The problem is probably just that most of these songs aren't that memorable, or they sound like songs Puffy have recorded before (or they actually are). You can tell that even producer Andy Sturmer knew something was wrong given his copious use of fill synthesizers - it's pervasive throughout 59, and annoyingly noticeable. Unfortunately, this was the last full album he'd work with Puffy on.

Great artwork, though (excuse the crease - it's a poster foldout):


You can't really blame anyone involved for any of 59's shortcomings given all that was going on at the time, and I'm just grateful for the two essential but tragically unheralded tracks sandwiched in the middle of the album. Sometimes there are more important things in life than work.

Oh, two of my favorite Puffy videos are also from this album, even if the songs aren't my favorites - see below.

Couple technical notes. 59 went out of print almost immediately after its release, but it was re-released sometime in 2006. Whether it's still in print now, I don't know - but you can still order it from CDJapan. The original release was one of Sony's experiments with copy-protected CD's (you may have read the wikipedia article on this album, which I mostly wrote). I'm not sure if the re-release had the controls lifted, but I believe that it did.

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



Sunrise


Joining a Fan Club

8 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jeff, for this look back at one of Puffy's more problematic, but still very worthwhile efforts. I've been listening to this a lot recently, as it happens.

    Although I agree with your "best" picks, I probably like *just about* everything here. The two great videos may be influencing my enjoyment of their associated songs somewhat, but "Sunrise" actually strikes me as a very good Puffy song in and of itself, with wonderful harmonies and hooks. However, it may help that I'm not *also* associating it with "SD Gundam Force", which I've never seen. Really, the two "Teen Titans" themes are the only tracks I sorta cringe through (some of the time), but even those are kinda fun in a Secret Agent Man-meets-surf music sort of way. And, yes, I also like the Japanese version better... maybe because the silly lyrics don't intrude quite as much (loved your wife's insights on that), but also because Ami and Yumi always sound better to me when they're singing in Japanese, their natural idiom. (What's your favorite Puffy song in English... anybody?)

    "59" took a little while for me to re-discover, but I have been enjoying it a lot ever since... even though I've actually made the situation worse for myself by tacking on two of the songs from "Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi": the theme song (oh no, not another one!) and "Friends Forever". Including both "So Long Zero" and "Friends Forever" works for me, though. There's such a great contrast between the hilariously bitchy "kiss off" song "Zero" and the sappy, stars-in-their-eyes "kiss up" of "Friends". I love it. It's at once funny and endearing. And the backing track is such a monster that I probably wouldn't mind hearing two or three additional variations. In a better world this could have been a double-sided hit 45.

    So, maybe, adding the two bonus tracks actually does make this "mini album" a better listening experience after all!

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  2. Yes, the re-release of "59" is just a standard CD, as is the re-released "Sunrise" single (not that you can get that anymore anyway).

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  3. Jeff,

    Thanks for doing a review on 59. I acquired this CD recently (and was pretty excited to see it in the Japanese bookstore, given how rare it is).

    "Kaze makase futari tabi" is a quirky little gem, and likely my favorite song from the album. I didn't even know the name until you posted it here (thanks for that). I'd also have to put "Forever" on my favorite picks from this album. It's upbeat and fun.

    So Long Zero strikes me as odd. How many versions of this same song are there, with completely different lyrics? At least 3? (Friends Forever, Invisible Tomorrow, So Long Zero). I've just never heard of that before.

    Keep up the good work! Awesome blog, I like to visit as often as I can.

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  4. Yeah, there are three versions of that song... a little overkill, don't you think? I understand an English and a Japanese version, but "So Long Zero" - the third version, chronologically - just seems a bit pointless. It would have made some sense if they'd gone back and done a rough translation of the Japanese lyrics for a new recording, since "Friends Forever" is completely different subject matter than "Invisible Tomorrow", and they recorded it specifically for the "Scooby Doo" soundtrack. So I could see if they wanted to just re-record the track on their own terms.

    And maybe that's really what "So Long Zero" is, but I just have a hard time believing it given those lyrics, which again are nothing like the Japanese.

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  5. I liked 59, not loved... it is a hard cd to love. I picked it up when in transot from Singapore to the states, not totally gouged in Narita. Anyways it probably is more of interest to the Puffy completist than the casual fan as most of the tracks or iderations of tracks... can be found elsewhere.

    And by appearances I may be the only one who liked Sunrise...

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  6. Hi Jeff!

    It's sad that such good songs are in an album so rejected by the fans (Koko ni Hana O, Forever and Kaze makase futari tabi)

    and I want to ask, is it Siouxsie Sioux on Ami's shirt at Joining a Fanclub video??
    Because it really looks like Siouxsie o__o

    — Umimo

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  7. DarkUrthe:
    I like "Sunrise", but less so the more I hear it. It was one of the first songs of theirs that I heard, and the more of their other stuff that I heard, the less good I thought "Sunrise" was. It doesn't really sound like Puffy to me; any era of Puffy. It's one of those outliers, like "All Because of You" in that way ("Sunrise" is better, though).

    PUFFY Revolution & etc:
    I don't think that's Siouxsie Sioux. I doubt it's anybody. Both of their shirts seem to be sort of similar to real bands but not. Ami's looks more like an Emily Strange shirt than Siouxsie to me, although it's not quite Emily Strange either (the highlight on the hair is a little bit different). But it does sort of look like Siouxsie, I agree.

    Yumi's shirt looks like half of a Ministry shirt (the bottom half) with a set of goofy glasses on top. She had gone to a Ministry concert about six months before, so she may have brought something back that they used as a base for her shirt. Their album "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste" has a cover that is a skull x-ray like her shirt, and I know they've used that design on their own shirts. (You can see part of one here: http://i125.photobucket.com/albums/p64/bloodplague/Hpim0933.jpg)

    I think they intentionally created t-shirts meant to look kind of like real bands but without causing any legal headaches. And of course they had to be pink and blue tie-dye... I've never seen a Siouxsie or Ministry shirt in those colors before. So I'm sure they're their own creations.

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  8. Sorry, Yumi's shirt is not blue tie-dye - it's like a jail costume (with a blue shirt underneath). Anyway, I still haven't seen either of those designs elsewhere :)

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