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 CONTINUED >>


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I hold in my hand...

...a copy of PUFFY AMIYUMI X PUFFY.

Unfortunately I left my phone at home so no photos right now. You'll have to take my word for it.

Full review coming in a day or two. The packaging is a little disappointing; it's got one of those really cheap jewel cases like American CD's come in, and believe it or not there are no photos of the girls. There's some cool artwork, and lyrics (which is nice considering these are all covers), but no photos at all. Definitely has the feel of a quick cash-in. CONTINUED >>


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Honeycreeper "scrapped tracks"?

This is more of a question than anything else. Because I don't know the answer to this, and obviously somebody out there does.

In trying to verify something I was about to write in another post, I happened to check wikipedia for the track listing to Honeycreeper. (It's been a while since I listened to it, and it was easier to find than my own post on the subject!) I noticed that a user named Crazyandy18 added the following section on November 5, 2008:

Scrapped Tracks

* "My Story (Later released as a single) - 3:42
* "All Because Of You (Later released as a single) - 2:31
* "Kuchibiru Motion (Considered as a single, but never had its official release) - 4:06
* "Furontia No Paionia/Frontier No Pioneer" (Later used as a B-Side on "All Because Of You") - 3:50
* "Twilight Shooting Star" (Later used as a B-Side for "My Story") - 2:43
* "Neji Potion" (Later featured on "Oriental Diamond/Kuchibiru Motion" physical release) - 4:02
* "Shooting Stars" (Featured on Japanese edition of "Boom Boom Beat") - 3:22
* "Clearance" (Leaked on the Internet two weeks before "Honeycreeper" official release) - 4:22
* "Nothing There" (Only an intrumental and a demo by another male singer) - 3:10
* "Moon/Sun" (Set to be release, cancelled) - 4:01
* "Forget How My Voice Sounds" (Instrumental version leaked, unknown real name, a fan name was given) - 4:57



No sources are given. This is actually a no-no on wikipedia. Unsourced information should really be deleted (and clearly some of it is wrong, as ABOY was recorded later and Kuchibiru Motion most definitely was released), but this is interesting enough to leave up for now and try to verify. So I'm looking for verification. I'd also like to hear some of these songs, a few of which I didn't know existed.

I do check various "underground" sites for Puffy stuff periodically, but I've never seen or heard these songs that were allegedly "leaked on the internet". Have any of you?

And maybe more to the point, are one of you guys Crazyandy18?

UPDATE: I deleted the ones that were obviously wrong and added citation requests to the rest. I'm still holding out some hope that these "leaked tracks" actually exist. CONTINUED >>


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Puffy Tour 2009: "Bring it"?!

The official PUFFY blog announced two things today:

1) an original album is "coming out soon" (yay)

2) 2009 tour to go along with it!

Dates:

July 11 (Sat) FUKUOKA IMZ Hall
July 12 (Sun) HIROSHIMA Club Quattro
July 14 (Tue) OSAKA Namba Hatch
July 15 (Wed) NAGOYA Diamond Hall
July 17 (Fri) FUKUI Hibiki Hall
July 19 (Sun) SHIBUYA C.C. Lemon Hall
July 23 (Thur) NAGANO Tomi City Cultural Hall Sun Terrace Hall

The tour dates imply that this original album will be very soon after the release of the forthcoming cover album. And hopefully releasing the two so close together means that this new album will be all original, which I was honestly not expecting at this point. This announcement is actually really good news, the more I think about it.

If you read the blog, they titled the post "PUFFY Tour 2009 Bring It" - I'm hoping that's just the name of the post, and not the name of the tour.

By the way, yet again I am going to miss them by about five days. This is the third time this has happened. Last time I missed them by less than 48 hours. I've been planning a trip to Japan for late July/early August, and unfortunately I can't move it up, I can only move it back. Argh! CONTINUED >>


Monday, March 16, 2009

Fruits of labor

This is more site-related than Puffy-related, but I said earlier that most of my free time was being taken up by a nebulous unnamed "project", which wasn't leaving me much time to write things here.

Well, if you read my other blog then you already know about this, but for the rest of you:


That's my and my wife's little web store. It's now up and taking orders. We don't have a lot of stuff yet, but we're going to build it. This is just the beginning.

Anyway, I may or may not have more time to devote here from now on. The major development work is over, but the maintenance, additions and improvements have just begun. This is like a second job. It's fun, though. A lot more fun than my "real" job. CONTINUED >>


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hiyori Hime Single Review

Well, finally - I've managed to work around my region 2 DVD playing issues temporarily, though not without some inconvenience. So I can now bring you my review of PUFFY's latest single, written and produced by the iconic Shiina Ringo.

The CD
Track listing:
1. Hiyori Hime
2. DOKI DOKI
3. My Story (variation by agraph)

Here it is in a nutshell: the mix is wrong. I realize I'm starting to sound like a broken record with this - I've had the same reaction to several of their recent singles. It may seem strange to damn a song because of the mix, but it's like a film that's poorly edited or a meal that's badly seasoned. It's not something a lot of people consciously think about, but it can ruin a song.

I've listened to "Hiyori Hime" a bunch of times now, and I really don't think it's badly composed or even badly performed. It doesn't sound like a prototypical PUFFY song, but with Shiina Ringo writing and producing, I doubt many people expected it to. It sounds like it could be a legitimate Shiina Ringo track on one of her own albums, if you imagine her voice and a different mix.

But it just sounds weak, in a way that Shiina Ringo's own songs don't - at least not her solo stuff, and not the songs I've heard. I don't think she's at fault here even given her producer credit. Her songs are often constructed in such a way that there's barely a thread holding them together, but they do hold. In "Hiyori Hime", that thread is missing, and it's not only Shiina Ringo's voice. The guitars are buried and thin in tone, there is no analog overdrive, no rawness, no nastiness. And that's what a song like this needs. (And yeah, part of it may be the vocals too - I'm not sure their vocal style really fits.)

I think the first time I brought up the mix on a PUFFY release was in my review of "Kuchibiru Motion", which I thought was a little too vocal-heavy and also a little weak. The DVD that ships with the limited edition "Hiyori Hime" CD has the first live performance I've seen of "Kuchibiru Motion", and it is much harder in exactly the way that I had thought the recorded version should be. Somebody somewhere in PUFFY-ville these days seems to be neutering their singles, probably in a misguided attempt at mass market appeal. (I say misguided because such cold calculation rarely works outside of straight pop music.) If you start with the premise that a rock band is in its natural state in a live setting (and I think anybody who has seen PUFFY live would agree with this), then these songs are just not being mixed properly in the studio given how much better they sound played live.

I'm probably at risk of sounding like I'm just taking them too seriously. But when I have a problem with anything they do, it's almost always because I think they - meaning the girls and really all of the musicians they've ever worked with - are a lot more talented than they're given credit for by their record label and management. Part of this is no doubt Japan's patriarchal society, although Shiina Ringo managed to overcome that to some degree. But PUFFY are not a disposable pop band, as 13 years of longevity should have proven by now. They should be taken seriously, and they still often aren't. And I'm annoyed when I feel like that's the case even within their own organization. It's a disservice to both the girls and their fans.

Ah, as for the B-sides... they're both just kind of ridiculous. I understand that "DOKI DOKI" is meant to be cute, and again at the risk of sounding like a guy without any sense of humor, I just don't think this is really where they are right now musically. Their voices have both matured from those early years when a song like this might have been a better fit. It comes off sounding more like children's music than kitsch, which is probably more what it would have sounded like 10 years ago (think "V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N").

The remix of "My Story" really doesn't even bear much mention. This is one of those "remixes" where it's like the instrumentals were written for a completely different song, then put together with a melody in hopes of achieving a "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" moment. Didn't happen here.

The PV for Hiyori Hime once more - love the video, but judge for yourself about the song.



The DVD
Track listing:
1. Kuchibiru Motion
2. Hataraku Otoko
3. Jet Police
4. Asia no Junshin

This is more like it. I'm still addicted to PUFFY live. Honestly, I was never a bigger fan of theirs than I was right after seeing them in person in 2005. (And the longer they stay away, the more I unfortunately forget that feeling.) Their records, while usually really good, just can't compare to their live performances. On stage is where they belong. They are performers.

This is volume 3 of the 2007 show at Shibuya AX, the previous two of course being included with the "All Because of You" and "My Story" limited edition singles. The four songs they perform are not really my favorites - two newish ones that I'm not a huge fan of on the CD's, including one cover, and two old songs that are necessary staples of any of their concerts but which I've just seen countless times already. Still, I can't help but crack a smile as soon as they launch into "Kuchibiru Motion", and it doesn't leave my face until the end of the encore.

As I mentioned, "Kuchibiru Motion" is actually more than passable live. I like it. The heavier guitars make all the difference. "Hataraku Otoko" also sounds better here than I've ever heard them sing it. This is one of those songs where I've suspected auto-tune use on the studio recording, because they can never quite hold those notes in the chorus properly when singing it live. But they do here.

"Jet Police" is of course always their opportunity to switch sides and give the audience a tiny bit of solo love at their shows. It's always fun to watch, and especially here as they bump into each other.

And as is customary now, they close the show with "Asia no Junshin" (while wearing their tour shirts), which they've performed so many times over the years now that it's down to a science. When I saw them in 2005, the entire building was jumping during the chorus of this song, even without much of the audience knowing its history in PUFFY lore. I can only imagine what it must be like being in a Japanese crowd.

I'll say one thing too: their band on this tour absolutely rocks. It was a new band for them, and not a permanent one, but these guys are balls out. I'm not sure anymore who they played with on the "All Because of Live" tour in 2008, but this is honestly no step down from the band they had through most of their history, and I hope they play with them again.

I do hope we get the gaps filled in at some point and get the other songs we're missing from this show on another DVD (list at that link). Even if they released it as a separate purchase, I'd buy the whole thing again.

Final grades:

CD
Music: C+
Performance: B
Production: D

DVD
Music: B+
Performance: A
Production: A






CONTINUED >>


Thursday, March 5, 2009

PUFFY AMIYUMIxPUFFY Album cover revealed


Interesting and not bad, I say, though I wish it wasn't a simple mirror image. A slight variation to show it's actually two people would have been nice.

Still, sort of at least invokes their old art style from the Rodney Alan Greenblat days - it looks Puffy-like, to me, in a way that a lot of their recent covers haven't. This sort of rough hand-drawn thing suits them.

This artist's name is HONGOLIAN-san, and he does the artwork for Ken Yokoyama's record label Pizza of Death. (I have a couple of his t-shirts.)

What do you think?

UPDATE: Since you guys asked, I may as well add the album track list:

1. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
2. 日曜日よりの使者 (Nichiyoubi yori no Shisha) - The High-Lows
3. BASKET CASE - Green Day
4. フロンティアのパイオニア (Frontier no Pioneer) - Shi-taka version - Tamio Okuda
5. JOINING A FAN CLUB - Jellyfish
6. 天使のウィンク (Tenshi no Winku) - Seiko Matsuda
7. Lucy in the sky with Diamonds - The Beatles
8. 人間はもう終わりだ! (Ningen ha Mou Owari da!) - MAGOKORO BROTHERS
9. Radio Tokyo - Marvelous 3
10. 健康 (Kenkou) - Tamio Okuda
11. Not Listening - Snuff
12. 東京花火 (Tokyo Hanabi) - NEW ROTE'KA
13. CAN-NANA-FEVER (環七フィーバー) - Guitar Wolf
14. ひと夏の経験 (Hito Natsu no Keiken) - Momoe Yakaguchi
15. Don't Bring Me Down - E.L.O.
16. 雪が降る街 (Yuki ga Furu Machi) - Unicorn

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

I always find it funny when albums have "bonus tracks" on their original first-pressing release. It's kind of like a movie having a "special guest star". (Either you're in the movie or you're not.) CONTINUED >>


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Finally...

The EMS man came yesterday to deliver my copy of "Hiyori Hime" - and unfortunately I wasn't home, so I had to trudge down to the post office and pick it up today. But, bad news! My new ThinkPad, which is now officially the worst computer I have ever owned, apparently has the one DVD drive in the world that cannot be region cracked in any known way. So, it's basically a paperweight to me, because I never use my computer DVD drive for anything but watching foreign DVD's. Seriously, I don't like to indict entire nations but this is the last time I buy a computer designed and built in China. It's shit like this, on top of all my other problems with this thing and my Acer before it, that ruins reputations. Anybody want to buy a lightly used ThinkPad?

So the full review will have to wait until at least tomorrow, when I can use my problem-free desktop, which was designed and built by me. I can build computers better than Lenovo.

What I can say is that I don't remember the packaging for the last few CD's being as nice as this:



I don't think they came in a slip case, even the limited versions. The jewel case itself also feels chunkier; it's that thick, smooth plastic kind with the slightly rounded corners that first-press full-length Japanese CD's sometimes come with but singles rarely do. I'll have to check again, but I'm pretty sure this is a step up from their recent packaging.

I'm still not sure if I like the single itself; that decision will wait until tomorrow. I'm leaning, though, towards saying that I don't. CONTINUED >>



 
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