Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BRING IT! Album Review

Well it feels like I'm taking my own sweet time with this, so I'd better write something up.

First, track listing once again:

1. I Don't Wanna (Words & Music: Butch Walker & Avril Lavigne)
2. My Story (Words:PUFFY Music:Anders Hellgren & David Myhr)
  *Kanebo "Lavshuca" TV commercial song
3. Bye Bye (Words & Music: Masahiko Shimura)
4. My Hero! (Words & Music: Roger Joseph Manning Jr.)
5. Shuen no Onna (Words & Music: Sheena Ringo)
6. DOKI DOKI (Words & Music: Masahiko Shimura)
  *Morinaga Milk Eskimo "MOW" commercial song
7. Twilight Shooting Star! (Words & Music: Sawao Yamanaka)
8. Hare Onna (Words & Music: Kazuyoshi Saito)
9. All Because Of You (Words & Music: Butch Walker & Avril Lavigne)
10. Anata to Watashi (Words: PUFFY Music: Yuta Saito)
11. Hiyori Hime (Words & Music: Sheena Ringo)
  *Animation "Genji Sennenki" opening theme song
12. Bring it on   (Words: Ami Onuki Music: Takeshi Hosomi)
"Bring it back !"
  Wedding Bell (Words & Music: Yoshiaki Furuta)
  *FujiTV drama "Konkastsu" theme song

This is PUFFY's first album in a year and nine months - a seriously long time for them. Worth the wait?

I'd say yes. But (there's always a "but") this still isn't the PUFFY of old, which is probably pretty much gone forever at this point. There are at least some nods to the past on this album, though, which were sorely lacking from their last full-length release honeycreeper. These throwbacks are not always successful - sometimes it feels like the two of them are grasping for something that's no longer within their reach - but occasionally they hit it just right, and for at least a brief moment it feels like 1999 again.

Which isn't to say that there's nothing to like about the new-style PUFFY on this album. As with honeycreeper, there's a lot of hard rock and some of it's just as catchy as anything else they've ever released. There's also some jazz, some punk, and some light rock - complete with horn sections. This album's got variety, and that's something we really haven't heard from them on an original album in in a while now.

I'm gonna surprise some of you now: I love "I Don't Wanna". Yes, even though it's written by Avril Lavigne, and even sounds like her singing. You know, something happened to me on our last Japan trip. As we were walking through the Algonquins offices (Algonquins is Japan's largest punk clothing brand for girls), picking out clothes to sell, they were playing Avril Lavigne on the office stereo. And it made total sense. Three of us, all in our late thirties and two of us guys, walking through an office building in Tokyo looking at punk clothes for girls and listening to Avril Lavigne. It was kind of absurd but completely perfect. I got it.

That doesn't mean I'd ever listen to her here. She fits in perfectly with Japanese culture, where street cred is basically meaningless and cute is everything. So I understand the Japanese fascination with her. And that makes it a lot easier to listen to PUFFY singing her songs.

I still don't like "All Because of You" - a bad song's still a bad song, and that's still a soulless piece of tripe that just sucks the life out of me whenever I hear it. But "I Don't Wanna" is fun. It makes me want to sing along, and it did from the first time I heard it.

Other highlights for me: the previously-released "My Story", Kazuyoshi Saito's "Hare Onna", and the cover of "Wedding Bell", which, surprisingly, sounds like vintage PUFFY to me. This is the one "retro" song on the album that doesn't sound like consciously reaching back, but which I could actually picture on one of their early albums. The way they sing it makes all the difference - it's neither that screeching hard rock style they've had lately, nor is it the self-consciously cutesy mousey voicing they sometimes do when trying to sound like they used to. They really just sound... younger. Without even trying. And the song is fun! I miss the fun of the older PUFFY albums after the more serious Splurge and the occasionally outright dour honeycreeper.

I'm also trying to convince myself that I like Sheena Ringo's (that's how she spells it here!) jazzy "Shuen no Onna", and I think that I do, but it's gotta seep in a little bit. This is another song that at least invokes the old PUFFY, though it doesn't have quite the same feel. Sheena's other track "Hiyori Hime" has already been reviewed here, and my thoughts on it haven't changed much.

As with honeycreeper, there's one track near the end of the album that sounds like PUFFY repeating themselves. In this case, it's "Anata to Watashi", which sounds like a poor-man's "Talalan" combined with another song that I know I know but can't place. Same rhythm, same vocal style, same horns. It's such an obvious similarity that I know someone else will chime in.

The rest of the album I could probably live without. I know, seems like almost half the album, and it's true that I find myself skipping a lot of songs. "My Hero" comes close to being good (and it's from Andy Sturmer's old bandmate, which is interesting), but it's just too simple and basic of a tune, and too repetitive. "Bye Bye" is just nothing at all, it never really gets started. "DOKI DOKI" and "Twilight Shooting Star!" were both reviewed previously and I didn't much like them then. And "Bring it On!" is another punk track, but this one doesn't sound very convincing. And the production of it is grating and shrill.

I would not say this is PUFFY's best album. But I appreciate certain things about it maybe more than I actually like the songs themselves. I like the fact, first of all, that there's only one cover on this album and it's a bonus track. I also like the fact that they're trying to get out of this hard rock rut that they were in for a little while - there are definitely a lot of different styles here. In that way, it is more like the older albums than the more recent ones. The problem is the music just isn't as good, and that comes from working with all these disparate songwriters who don't always know their working styles that well and who aren't experienced in getting the best out of them. It's always hit or miss. (They got a little lucky with Splurge, which clicked as well as any album like this could.)

I think they're probably between a rock and a hard place, and doing the best they can right now. On the one hand, they really can't go back to who they used to be - they don't have the same personnel, so it wouldn't work even if they tried. On the other hand, they can't go too far in a new direction or their fans will get restless, as I think started to happen with honeycreeper. At the same time, their budgets can't be what they used to be. The best they can really do is work with all these different people, many of whom I'm guessing are doing it out of friendship, try to give the fans at least a little of what they expect and hope some magic happens sometimes.

The special edition of the CD comes with a near full-length DVD of their live performance from the "GO WEST" tour in 2005, shot at the Fillmore in San Francisco. I have to say that on a purely selfish level, I'm a little disappointed that they didn't instead include the New York show from the "GO EAST" tour that same year, which I know they also filmed (we were warned before going in) and which, I can say without hesitation, was a better show. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that Yumi was making non-stop eye contact with me all through the show! See my first-ever post about PUFFY, which originally appeared on my old non-PUFFY blog, here.) Ami herself said on her blog that that was the best show they'd ever had - and no, she doesn't say that to all the cities!

This DVD reminds me in some ways of "Rolling Debut Revue", which probably sounds harsh to those of you who've seen that, but I don't really mean it to be. They do seem a little bit out of it, though, and disconnected from the crowd. No doubt they were a little nervous, as I don't believe they'd been back to the US at this point since "Rolling Debut Revue". I would have actually preferred to get the rest of the Shibuya AX show that was included with the previous three singles - it was a better show (at least on DVD) than the concert at the Fillmore.

Actually, having said all that, watching this show makes me a little wistful. It wasn't the same show or technically even the same tour as when I saw them the first time, but it was only a few months in between, the set list and stage setup was the same, and of course it was the same year. It takes me back, even if I do claim that my show was better. I was never more into them than I was at this point, I don't think they were ever better than they were at this point, and I wish that I could have just frozen that moment in time.

(screenshots of the DVD coming soon.)

Final Grades
------------

CD
Music: B-
Production: B-
Performance: B+

DVD
Music: A (still love the set list)
Production: B- (it's pretty lo-fi by today's standards)
Performance: B-

15 comments:

  1. It's weird. I loved "Anata to Watashi" at first because I thought it sounded like a Jellyfish song, but now that you mentioned it it does sound a LOT like "Talalan", and now it's bothering me! Maybe i'm just crazy. Not to say I don't like the song anymore.

    And I think the girls repeat themselves one more time here. Is it just me, or does "TSS" sound (not coincidentally) like a more playful "complaint" from their last album? Maybe it's just the choruses.

    But yeah, I do think this album could do without "DOKI DOKI" and "ABOY". And despite its inconsistency, I'd easily take this album over honeycreeper.

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  2. I like "Anata to Watashi" okay, but I instantly heard the similarity and I've never been able to shake it. It probably sounds *more* like the other song that I remember but can't quite place, though - do you know what I might be thinking of? Something else from their early albums.

    I didn't really notice the similarity between "Twilight Shooting Star" and "Complaint", although "Complaint" is one of my least favorite Puffy songs so I can't even really think of how it goes. I didn't remember it having much of a tune. At least TSS has some discernible melody.

    I'm not sure which album I'd take between honeycreeper and this. On the one hand, this has the *feel* of a "real" Puffy album in that it's kind of freewheeling and eclectic, which honeycreeper doesn't (to me). But I do really like some of the individual songs on honeycreeper. It'd be a tough call. "Kimi to Autobike" is one of my favorite songs just in general, even though it's very different for them.

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  3. I will post my commentary when I get a full isten to the CD... But I would strongyl disagree about Honeycreeper, I thought that CD worked well. But I have been happy with the more rock oriented sound coming out of Ami and Yumi.

    All Because of You... that is garbage. Agreed.

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  4. I have to agree with you Jeff that "I don't Wanna" is great even if it is an Avril song. The mix is just right too. Better than most of the other tracks. "Wedding Bells" is another favorite but overall I like the whole album. I've listened to it 3 or 4 times and each time I like it more. It sounds like a Puffy album to me. Maybe not quite like Spike or Nice but more like the newer Puffy, which is fine by me. I really liked Honeycreeper and I listen to that more than the others since its release.

    I would also like to comment on the DVD quality because it is pretty bad. The video is grainy and seems to be filmed with cheap hand-helds. Plus the format is 4:3 letterbox (no anamorphic widescreen). The track list is good but I wish the in-between dialogues weren't cut. This DVD is especially disappointing after seeing the excellent DVD shows that came with the recent singles.

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  5. I gave the cd a cursoty listening... It really feels like it is all over the map, which can be a good thing when it clicks. Jet, Fever Fever and Splurge are all good examples of this.

    Puffy was not what they once were, that is not a bad thing per se... but this album certianly does not redefine them either. maybe they are trying to reach back to 1999, but in my experience few groups ever reproduce an old sound.

    What I liked in Splurge and Honetcreeper was a the rock direction that is evident in those cd's and I would have been more content with another CD along those lines.

    Jeff commenting about maybe their song writers,e tc on Brint it! not really understanding Puffy seems spot on. Barring All Because of You and Anata to Watashi, the songs are okay, but there is something that feels a little forced in the song line up... I need to listen more to see how this holds.

    Wedding Bells is a better song than I gave it credit for on first listen.

    My wife's comments on the cd cover put it better than I could say, they are trying to look young and hip and are failing.

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  6. @ Jeff: The Jellyfish track I'm thinking of is "Sebrina, Paste, and Plato" from their Spilt Milk album. The choruses sound similar. And "Anata to Watashi" also sounds reminiscent of "Taiyou" from the girls' Fever*Fever album. Maybe it's the chord progression in the verses?

    @ darkurthe: I thought Honeycreeper was a great album. But it doesn't quite scream PUFFY to me; it almost sounds like a side project. It's more cohesive than Bring It! was, though, and a lot of the tracks were great.

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  7. The mix is just right too. Better than most of the other tracks. "Wedding Bells" is another favorite but overall I like the whole album. I've listened to it 3 or 4 times and each time I like it more.

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  8. After 3 loops, I find myself surprised that Bring It! is actually quite listenable (aside from ABOY). I really dig Bye Bye for its catchy unhurried pace. Not bad at all.

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  9. @ Stewart: It remains one of my favorite, but I am quickly coming to the conclusion how I percieve their albums may simply be different. To me it is a solid Puffy album... I really should just start up my own Puffy blog and not bogart this great site with my theory on blocks of albums..

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  10. I was actually waiting for some lame album haha XD

    but really did like it :)
    I even thought ABOY less horrible while listening to the whole album hehe

    however, when I listened I Don't Wanna for the first time I thought it was fun, but now it seems way too boring and too repetivive

    well... Bring it! could be much better if instead of IDW and ABOY, there was Dareka ga...

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  11. I think that's a very good observation about songs sometimes sounding better in the context of a full album, although in my case it's "Doki Doki" and "Twilight Shooting Star!" that I'm suddenly finding more enjoyable (ABOY continues to annoy me). The same thing happened with some of the covers on the last album.

    I haven't posted any review comments on Bring It! yet, mainly because this is proving to be such a hard album to judge fairly. I know, because it's a new Puffy album, it's probably going to get more time in the player than just about anything else for the next year or so, and I'll eventually love much of it (as with Honeycreeper). I'll probably regret this, but let me try to write down some of my current impressions...

    "Hare Onna" and "Anata to Watashi" are the songs I tend to repeat two or three times before going on. Both capture the old Puffy sound very nicely. Sheena Ringo's two songs add welcome variety, as does the "Wedding Bell" cover (cute, but it does sound like what it is... a TV theme song).

    The more I listen to "My Story" the more the melody seems formulaic and tuneless (I have the same reaction to recent Disney music, compared to the early stuff). The notes follow each other logically enough but it's not very memorable. "My Hero!" reminds me of recent Shonen Knife, and I wish very much that that was a more positive statement. "Bye Bye" just comes and goes without leaving much of an impression. "I Don't Wanna" seems fairly slight as well, although it's catchy enough. It just doesn't sound much like Puffy to me. Same goes for "Bring It On" (and anyway, inspirational songs aren't really what I look for from Puffy... just that fact that Ami and Yumi exist and have been able to make good music for thirteen years suggests to me that the world must be, fundamentally, a pretty good place).

    Btw, I can definitely see the resemblance between "TSS" and "Complaint", although I probably wouldn't have picked up on it on my own. But I'm not having any luck yet with "Anata to Watashi" (beyond "Talalan").

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  12. I have to say this album is definitely worth the wait, tho' I havent been really following Puffy all the way. I think they did a great job in this album. Anata to Watashi & Bye Bye are actually my favourite of them all.

    As darkurthe suggested, they might try to reach back in 1999. Yet I found a sense of familiarity. It's very hard to put the feeling in words, but this album sounds refreshing, just like the way i liked them when i first listened to them when i was still a teen.

    Probably it's less rock-sound ... and more Puffy-like... :)

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  13. I'm kind of surprised of your dislike of Avril Lavigne. I feel like Puffy and Avril could cover countless songs from each other and sound almost exactly the same. Avril Lavigne has a lot of great songs. Also, I love the track placement of having Doki Doki and Twilight Shooting Star! right next to each other on the CD, I love those songs! I also really like the chugging guitar sound used throughout the album.

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  14. Oh, and I love My Hero! and Bring It On lyrically as well. I think they have a lot of stand out tracks on this album, even if it isn't as strong as a whole as some of their other albums.

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  15. And Dareka Ga really adds to the album, I think it should've been included in all versions of the album.

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