Wednesday, March 25, 2009

PUFFY AMIYUMI X PUFFY Album Review

After more than a year since their last original album and the apparent (though never announced) cancellation of the US honeycreeper release, it was honestly a little disappointing when PUFFY announced that their next album would be a cover album in the same vein as The Hit Parade. Worse, it would be mostly filled with tracks most fans have heard before, and probably already own.

Luckily that disappointment has been tempered a bit now that the band has reiterated that an original album is still coming, and in time for a July tour of Japan. That makes it a lot easier to take PUFFY AMIYUMI X PUFFY for what it now seems to be: a little side project designed to both collect a lot of their more obscure tracks in one place, and probably to collect a little bit of extra money for the band too.

Here's the track list, this time with info on where PUFFY's version of each track originally appeared:

1. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper - We Love Cyndi tribute album (2008)
2. 日曜日よりの使者 (Nichiyoubi yori no Shisha) - The High-Lows - new recording
3. BASKET CASE - Green Day - Japanese Splurge bonus track (2006)
4. フロンティアのパイオニア (Frontier no Pioneer) - Shi-taka version - Tamio Okuda - "All Because of You" single b-side (2008)
5. JOINING A FAN CLUB - Jellyfish - 59 album (2004)
6. 天使のウィンク (Tenshi no Winku) - Seiko Matsuda - Jewel Songs tribute album(2006)
7. Lucy in the sky with Diamonds - The Beatles - Happy Birthday, John tribute album (2005)
8. 人間はもう終わりだ! (Ningen ha Mou Owari da!) - MAGOKORO BROTHERS - Magokoro Covers tribute album (2004)
9. Radio Tokyo - Marvelous 3 - Splurge album (2006)
10. 健康 (Kenkou) - Tamio Okuda - Tamio Okuda Covers tribute album (2007)
11. Not Listening - Snuff - YOWAVINALAAAAFINCHA? - A Tribute to Snuff album (2008)
12. 東京花火 (Tokyo Hanabi) - NEW ROTE'KA - A.I. Company - Tribute to New Rote'Ka (2004)
13. CAN-NANA-FEVER (環七フィーバー) - Guitar Wolf - I Love Guitar Wolf Very Much EP (2005)
14. ひと夏の経験 (Hito Natsu no Keiken) - Momoe Yamaguchi - Thank You For... tribute album (2004)
15. Don't Bring Me Down - E.L.O. - "Hataraku Otoko" single b-side (2006)
16. 雪が降る街 (Yuki ga Furu Machi) - Unicorn - "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi" single b-side (1996)

17. [BONUS TRACKS] Hi Hi Spanish (スペイン語ver.)
18. [BONUS TRACKS] Hi Hi Portuguese (ポルトガル語ver.)
19. [BONUS TRACKS] HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU


There's no really coherent way to review an album of cover tracks recorded over the span of thirteen years for different purposes. It's not a coherent album. I'd planned to go track by track, but with 19 tracks, that'd be an epic post. So to be brief, I'll just separate the wheat from the chaff:

WHEAT
フロンティアのパイオニア (Frontier no Pioneer) - Shi-taka version
Lucy in the sky with Diamonds
健康 (Kenkou)
Don't Bring Me Down

CHAFF
Everything else, for one reason or another.

Not to say all the other songs are bad. Just that maybe they're already pretty well-worn and staples in any PUFFY fan's collection ("Joining a Fan Club", "Radio Tokyo"), or the version on this album isn't the best available ("Basket Case", which is better live on Hit & Fun), or yeah, at times the execution isn't what it could be ("Not Listening"). Some songs themselves really just aren't very good, which is obviously not PUFFY's fault, but just a failing of Japanese pop music in general (though they probably didn't need to choose those songs to cover).

In fact, "Frontier no Pioneer" is only on my wheat list because the original's drum machine has been re-recorded with live drums - it's not like it's some obscure track that needed to be on this compilation for anyone to find it. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is also on the bubble. I had expected it to be a train wreck - you just don't remake that song! - but it's really pretty faithful, if a little stiff.

Take those songs out of the mix and there are really only two tracks worth buying this album for, unless you're just a PUFFY completist (though if you were, you'd have all these songs already!). The Andy Sturmer-produced "Don't Bring Me Down" is such a good rendition that I'd put it on a mix CD for anybody I was trying to introduce to PUFFY. Of course, those of you who have the "Hataraku Otoko" single already have it. I'm not sure if the irony of recording that song is lost on them or not (with the obvious similarity to "Asia no Junshin", the song that launched their careers), but they seem to sing it earnestly. And "Kenkou", despite (or maybe because of) its horns and laid-back feel, sounds like a Tamio Okuda-penned PUFFY song from the old days.

The CD itself is a little low-rent compared with most PUFFY releases. The girls didn't even bother scheduling a photo shoot. There are liner notes and lyrics for all the songs, which is nice, and some neat artwork (one panel of which is a bit ecchi). But it's a foldout insert in a cheap American style jewel case, and again, there are no photos.

I have to say, though, that I didn't really expect more than this. In fact, on balance I think this album is better than The Hit Parade, their other cover album and one of my least favorite PUFFY releases. If you'd never heard any of these songs before, then you'd probably get hooked on about half the album. My only real problem is just that I already own most of the best songs, so for me and a lot of PUFFY fans, it's probably just not completely essential.

Final Grades

Music: B- (judging solely on quality, not ubiquity)
Performance: B
Production: B

9 comments:

  1. I think The Hit Parade is way better than this... because it's actually an album they had worked on
    this one is just another compilation...

    and what about the bonus tracks? I mean...

    "18. [BONUS TRACKS] Hi Hi Portuguese (ポルトガル語ver.)
    19. [BONUS TRACKS] HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU"

    the Portuguse version sucks (a lot), I think Yumi thought Portuguese is the same as Spanish õ_o the accent is totaly spanish

    and I still don't get the Happy Birthday To You... it's like WTF??? have they gone mad? XD

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  2. Well, what IS going on with that Happy Birthday to You bonus track? (Puffy gone mad? Atually, that might be interesting.)

    Somebody please put me out of my misery here. I've made two fruitless trips to the Post Office already this week.

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  3. The liner notes don't explain much. They did the song for a commercial, but that doesn't really explain why it's on the album.

    I was hoping at least for some kind of interpretation, some kind of jokey way of singing it, or some Marilyn Monroe type thing, but no, they sing it totally straight and with a completely Japanese pronunciation that's pretty distracting.

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  4. Was the commercial for a product celebrating a special anniversary, I wonder? (Like Oriental Diamond was used for the 20th anniversary of ANA airlines.)

    But, yes... why is it on this album? The bonus tracks do break the whole covers concept. Although I suppose Happy Birthday could be considered a cover (I wonder who made the first recording?) Wikipedia, btw, has an interesting entry for Happy Birthday To You that discusses its controversial legal status.

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  5. My package finally arrived from CD Japan. Shoot me... I love this album.

    Well, okay, maybe that's a little strong, but I did enjoy it a lot more than I expected to (having heard most of the songs already). Puffy Amiyumi x Puffy does a good job of presenting this motley assortment of tracks in the best light, I think. It isn't easy. But listening to albums paying tribute to artists you don't know, mostly featuring the contributions of other artists you don't know, probably isn't the best way to encounter a new Puffy song (especially one that isn't exactly a "typical" Puffy performance). Almost every song here seemed more enjoyable to me in this new context. (I could always have made up my own compilations, of course, if I hadn't become so lazy lately, but I'd rather hear a pro's take on sequencing and so on.)

    I'm absolutely in agreement on the "wheat", Jeff. Your four listed songs are terrific. I'd almost forgotten about "Frontier no Pioneer", but this is a soaring, magnificent record, isn't it? Maybe the drums were a big improvement (or maybe it was hearing song clips in those funny Kagome fruit juice CMs), but I was knocked out. And those horns give "Kenkou" a wonderful Allen Toussaint groove (the rippling piano fills add to the suggestion of New Orleans R&B).

    I still like Petty Booka's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" better, but there's enough variety in the other songs here to find something to appreciate in nearly every track. For example, I hadn't noticed the Bach intro to "Hito Natsu no Keiken" before (or is it Bach filtered through The Band's Garth Hudson?)

    Btw, in case anyone else is thinking of doing this, I've made a careful comparison of "Joining a Fan Club", "Radio Tokyo" and "Basket Case" to the versions released previously ("Joining a Fan Club" is the enhanced mix from the Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi compilations). All three seem to be mixed much better here. I couldn't find any actual evidence of clipping in the earlier versions, but there were many sections where the waveform looked pretty flat on top. The new mixes are more natural-sounding, with a better dynamic range. Other than that, though, the only difference I spotted was that "Radio Tokyo" has a slightly extended fade-out.

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  6. Yeah, really my only problem with it as an album is just that I own 50% of the songs on it already, and almost all the best ones. It's really only my fault that I don't own the Hataraku Otoko single, which would give me two of the others.

    I think it would be a good album for a casual fan who only buys the occasional Puffy release, and pretty much never buys singles, and that's the kind of fan who probably likes them because they do a lot of cover songs anyway. Usually these sorts of compilations are for completists, though, and very few of these tracks are really obscure. (I even have the original recording of Yuki ga Furu Machi from 1996.)

    So obviously everything I said was biased towards my own perspective as a pretty hardcore fan. But it's one of those albums where someone else could easily have a different reaction. (That's true of everything, but I mean, some albums really are just awful or great, and a person would be a blasphemer to deny it!)

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  7. It seems just a little unfortunate that this roll-up of old tribute songs was released almost simultaneously with a new one (which is, understandably, not included, but it still might annoy some people). Have you heard the Judy and Mary 15th Anniversary Tribute Album yet, Jeff? I remember you liking the live performance of "Nantettatte Idol", with Ena. Mottö reminds me a little of that song (or Lolita No. 18 in general, maybe). I think you'll like it!

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  8. I got my copy yesterday (yeah yeah I am late)...

    After a cursory listeing I do like the album. I am with Jeff on the fact I already own 50% of the songs on the album... but that aside I do like the album and do not feel ripped off.

    I really did not care for Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds overmuch. It is not a bad cover, but I am not the biggest fan of the original either.

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