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:
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:
フロンティアのパイオニア (Frontier no Pioneer) - Shi-taka version
Lucy in the sky with Diamonds
Don't Bring Me Down
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.
Music: B- (judging solely on quality, not ubiquity)