Monday, July 23, 2007

boom boom beat Single Mini-Review

Another day, another PUFFY single. After 11 years, they're still churning these things out like they're running an assembly line. I have never reviewed a single before, but this is as good a place as any to start. It'll be short and sweet this time.

Here's the single's track listing:

1. boom boom beat (music: Anders Hellgren & David Myhr / lyrics: PUFFY)
2. Ohedo Nagareboshi IV (music: Anders Hellgren & David Myhr / lyrics: Pierre Taki)
3. Kimi ga Suki (music: Linus of Hollywood / lyrics: Yumi Yoshimura)

The first two tracks are both considered "A" sides. Track 1 is a hard rock track currently appearing in a TV commercial for "Mode", while track 2 leans towards ska and is serving as the theme to the Japanese anime "Ohedo Rocket" - at least the third anime theme song they've done. Track 3 is more straight-ahead rock, though Yumi sings it in her softer girlie-girl voice.

The big question is obviously just how good these new songs are, and how well they compare to their past work - especially given that the composers are a bit new to them. To me, they all sound just a bit "off" in some way, though that's not to say they're bad. They're just... different... but not in a way that's completely unfamiliar.

In fact, I'd almost say this is PUFFY trying a little too hard to sound like PUFFY. Anyone who's heard Splurge knows that it was a little darker than most of their stuff, and a little less "youthful" sounding overall. They'd been moving in that direction for a while, and it felt genuine - like that was just where they are at this stage of their lives. This single, at least, swings the pendulum back. All three songs sound as if they were purposely crafted to fulfill their fans' expectations - they're a little too calculated, and not quite organic. They're also quite upbeat and young sounding. That's not necessarily negative, depending on what you're looking for. Some of their fans do eat this kind of stuff up.

In fact, "boom boom beat" itself, at least, may be ironic - unfortunately I can only understand the English lyrics. But it may be intentional self parody - the last line is "you all want to see us act happily... not reality." Could the entire song be commenting on exactly what I described in the previous paragraph? (By the way, girls, I want to see reality.)

PUFFY have had two main producers and songwriters throughout their career: Tamio Okuda and Andy Sturmer. Each sounded different from the other, but both felt entirely authentic when channeled through Ami and Yumi. (Similarly, most of the guest songwriters on Splurge made that album a successful experiment in branching out.) Anders Hellgren, David Myhr and Linus of Hollywood haven't quite gotten there - it feels like they've written songs in the third person here.

All three songs have grown on me a bit, though, and they all have the little nuances that most great PUFFY songs have and that you only hear with repeated listenings. "boom boom beat" is harder than it sounds initially, and with a darker bridge; "Ohedo Nagareboshi IV" is more melodic and fun. "Kimi ga Suki" does have at least a little bit of that "retro" sound that's probably my favorite thing they do. It's probably worth pointing out that Ami and Yumi are writing more of their own lyrics now, and Ami claims in her blog that the "boom boom beat" lyrics were "11 years in the making". So as I mentioned earlier, there may be something more to the song lyrically than most westerners can appreciate.

One bit of coolness is that former Lolita No. 18 guitarist Enazo is now playing with them again - not sure if she's now their full-time guitarist, but she just recently appeared with PUFFY on NHK's "Music Japan" to play "boom boom beat".

Here's the video for the song if you're interested - I posted it before, but I'll put it here for completeness' sake. It still doesn't really do much for me, honestly - though it does harken back a bit to the old days, when their videos were very low budget and often consisted of the two of them jumping around a room like this. And they're back to matching outfits, which is another convention they'd sort of gotten away from recently. I gotta confess I might be starting to think they're getting a little too old for this sort of look and feel... though I'm pretty confident they'll surprise me with the new album. They always do. And if this song truly is self deprecating irony, then more power to them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spike Daisakusen DVD Review

So in the downtime between new releases, I thought it'd be fun to take a look back at some of PUFFY's earlier music and concert videos from the perspective of where they are today. I'm going to try to concentrate on stuff that's less commonly available in the west, so you can make a judgment yourself on whether or not you think it's worth tracking down.

Spike Daisakusen was released in 2001 - hard to believe it's been 6 years already! - and was, as the name implies, a video chronicle of their Japanese Spike tour.

I consider Spike itself something of a transition album, coming as it did shortly after their regular producer Tamio Okuda announced to the girls that he'd no longer be so regular anymore and that they should begin to take hold of the reins of their own careers. There's a lot more of their own personalities on the album, making for an eclectic mix of college rock, lounge, trippy post-modern disco and punk. It's probably their least accessible album from a pop music standpoint, and paradoxically one of their most popular among PUFFY's cult of fans in the west - most of whom seemed to find them to begin with by looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Japanese pop music fans felt differently, though, and with the diminished influence of Tamio Okuda came the beginning of the end of PUFFY as pop culture fad, but a new beginning for PUFFY as a legitimate, long-term, standalone band. The transition would be neither quick nor easy.

All of this comes out in Spike Daisakusen, which feels no less transitional and different from their previous tour videos than the album itself. There's an endearing sloppiness to the entire production that feels really raw, and that same feeling carries through in the performances both by PUFFY themselves and their guests.

Don't get me wrong, they sound great - just more in the way the Ramones sounded great when they played live rather than, say, the slickness of Green Day. Guest musicians abound, from the main man Tamio Okuda (putting in a short appearance on saxophone just to show he's still around) to Mr. Big lead guitarist Paul Gilbert to the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

Probably the highlight of the musical guests is Lolita #18 guitarist Enazo, who helps out on a high-energy punk rendition of Kyoko Koizumi's 1991 pop anthem "Nantettatte Idol" - a song you will no doubt never hear PUFFY play again. (Yes, she's in mid-air in the shot below.)

And that's a theme of this DVD. The song selection I would describe as "quirky" - there are at least three songs on this DVD that I'd never heard before even with a complete PUFFY album discography. The other two are "Owaranai Uta" - originally sung by the Blue Hearts - and "Yuki ga Furumachi", a b-side to the "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi" single. If you want to hear something really strange, while that b-side is included on this DVD, "Kore ga Watashi no Ikirumichi" itself - still their best-selling single and most-played song ever - is not.

Here's the full English/romanized track listing, aped shamelessly from the Spike Daisakusen page on the Peace. Pop. Puffy. site:

1. Boogie-Woogie No. 5
2. Asia no Junshin
3. Su-i Su-i
4. Sui Sui
5. Destruction Pancake
6. Owaranai Uta
7. Aoi Ringo
8. Nantettatte Idol
9. Puffy no Rule
10. Jet Ketsatsu
11. Umi eto
12. Shibuya Kokaido Digest
13. Sumire
14. Circuit no Musume
15. Yuki ga Furumachi
16. SPECIAL SPIKE Back Stage Shooting
17. Boogie-Woogie No. 5 (Special Version)

You'll notice both versions of Su-i Su-i/Sui Sui are included, and the latter includes one of the most amazing sequences you'll ever see on a professionally-produced concert DVD. Back in 2001, Ami and Yumi both played guitar occasionally in concert, and Ami actually played the solo in this song. On this night, she broke at least one string - probably two - throwing her entire guitar out of tune and ruining the solo. (It's common for guitars sporting tremolo systems to go out of tune when strings break - the tension on the tremolo changes, just as if you were pushing the tremolo bar down.) She continued to try to play, obviously confused and flustered, before missing the next line of the song after the solo.

The looks she gives both Yumi and her roadies are priceless.

I think it's great that they left this on the DVD - they're not afraid of people seeing their mistakes.

There are a lot of things on this DVD that you'll probably never see again, from the string-breaking sequence to the amazing "Destruction Pancake" played and sung by Ami solo, to Yumi strumming acoustic guitar alone with no backup band, to Ami playing drums(!)

In fact, you can speculate that a lot of what you see on this DVD was nixed in later tours by their management or record label, because neither of the girls plays guitar (or drums, for that matter) live anymore, and they mostly stick to their true pop hits in their set lists. This tour seemed intended to prove that Ami and Yumi could be all-around musicians and not just vocalists. I'd call it a success, and wish they'd kept it up in later tours. Obviously someone in their inner circle saw things differently. I guess we'll just need to content ourselves with harmonica solos on future tours.

The DVD itself, as I mentioned, is as raw as the performance. The editing is almost amateurish, with many jarring cuts between songs, some weird jump cuts between different performances in mid-song, and a very strange "digest" sequence from an entirely different show towards the end of the disc. Now, they actually played a true medley on their TOUR! PUFFY! TOUR! 10 DVD, but the digest on this disc is all in the editing - with cuts that seem to occur more-or-less at random points in each song. The travesty of it is that many of these songs, again, are songs you'll never hear PUFFY play live today (Yumi singing solo on "This is a Song of Sweet Sweet Season When Cherry Garcia Blossoms Bloom"??? Hello??), and they obviously played them all the way through on this tour - why chop them up like this in the edit?

That's Yumi singing about Cherry Garcia Blossoms - one of my favorite songs. And... that hair!

There's a backstage section at the end that's a nice bonus, where the girls show you around their dressing area, the stage itself and the lighting and mixing board out in the auditorium. (During this sequence, a graphic overlay amusingly refers to the song "Distraction Pancake".) Probably not much that non-Japanese speakers will get out of this, but their personalities still come through. Still, I'd probably have rather had some extra full songs instead.

Here's Ami showing off her guitar - a Fender Jag-Stang made exclusively for the Japanese market. She makes a point to show that this guitar was "designed by Kurt Cobain" (well, it's mostly true):

And Yumi playing the three chords she's required to play during the show backstage on her acoustic:

The DVD is mastered as a 4:3 non-anamorphic disc, and the picture quality is only fair. Not nearly to the same standards as the excellent TOUR! PUFFY! TOUR! 10, which is anamorphic and appears to have been an HD transfer. No such luck here, but then it was six years ago. Still, you'll want to manage your expectations of the disc's technical aspects. It is also a region 2 DVD, so you need either a region 2 or region-free player to play it.

Since Spike, PUFFY have reinvented themselves several times over, and at this point have settled into a lengthy career as pop/rock veterans, especially by Japanese standards. Watching Spike Daisakusen is a reminder of a time when they seemed a bit less sure of where they were going, but also seemed not to care. The feeling of reckless abandon and experimentation in their performance, combined with the unusual track list, makes this disc maybe not the best choice for new fans, but a must for more hardcore fans looking for something with a little less pop polish than their current incarnation will allow.

I bought my copy from YesAsia - though I may have gotten the last one. You can also purchase it at Amazon, though you may need to buy it used. Good luck!

Monday, July 9, 2007

PUFFY Update #2

Well, I can see that this is gonna turn into a regular thing. But I can't ignore my stats, so I've gotta give you guys what you want...

First, of all the people who find my blog searching for puffy-related stuff, the most common search term by far is "cameland english lyrics" or some variation of that. I don't have them, but here you go:

I'm warning you, they're deep. Their Japanese lyrics often are, whether PUFFY themselves wrote them or not.

Changing gears completely, here's the brand new video for PUFFY's latest single "boom boom beat":

Not my favorite song of theirs, honestly. A little too generic pop for my tastes. It's missing that punk sensibility that their past few proper albums have had, along with really any of their own personality.