Thursday, May 26, 2011

Album Review: 59

59 marks the combined ages of Ami and Yumi at the mini album's release which was was a year after Nice and two years before Splurge. I do not believe 59 had particularly good sales as it peaked at 62 on the Japanese charts. This may be reflective of the ebb that Puffy seemed to be in at the time and 59 feels like something of a placeholder in Puffy's catalog consisting of left over material from Nice.

I have had my copy of 59 for quite a while. While on the trip home from Singapore I had a solid layover at Narita and hit the music/electronics/magazine shop between customs and my gate. I had stopped in before on other trips, but usually to check things out, my interest in Japanese music was very minimal before. I knew Puffy had this mini album out and decided to buy it if I saw it. They did, so I did.

59 marks the last time Andy Sturmer had a significant role on a Puffy album, but also the first time Tamio Okuda had nothing to do with an album. Ami and Yumi do affair amount of writing for the lyrics, which I think touches on their growth as song writers. I think in some ways having two albums produced by Sturmer was a detriment to Puffy, though I deeply suspect most of 59 was songs left on the shelf from Nice which was Sturmer’s baby start to finish and made for an easy release.

Here is the track list for 59:

Teen Titans Theme (lyrics & music: Andy Sturmer)
Sunrise (lyrics: Puffy, music: Andy Sturmer)
Joining a Fan Club (lyrics & music: Andy Sturmer, Roger Manning)
Kokoroni Hanao (lyrics: Puffy, Music: Andy Sturmer)
Kazemakase Futaritabi (lyrics: Puffy, music: Greg Camp & Andy Sturmer)
Forever (lyrics: Andy Sturmer, Puffy, music: Andy Sturmer)
So Long Zero (lyrics & music: Andy Sturmer)
Teen Titans Theme (Japanese Version) (lyrics: Puffy, music: Andy Sturmer)

I will cover the bookends of the CD in one go. According to Peace, Pop, Puffy the Teen Titans Theme is slightly different than other versions. Upon a closer listen, it does sound slightly less guitar heavy. Teen Titans Theme is not one of my favorite songs Puffy songs, so I never picked up on as this as I never seek out this song. Of the two versions I prefer the Japanese, which I feel Ami and Yumi better deliver. That said both tracks are at the bottom of the album for songs I liked.

Sunrise... I know my cohort Jeff is not a fan of Sunrise, but I have always liked it. It is fast and has a lot going on with instruments. The overall sound borders on being over engineered and I deeply suspect Sturmer threw keyboards at it to fix Sunrise. After hearing live snippets of Sunrise, I think this is a song Ami and Yumi could sing without being over processed but that said what is on the album I like. It is fast and has the unique vocals that Ami and Yumi deliver.

If you have heard the original version of Joining a Fan Club by Jellyfish (which I believe is slightly different) and recall what I think about Jellyfish’s musical stylings… You might think I hate this song. I will not go so far as to say I like it, but it is listenable and a better effort than the original. What has always impressed me about Puffy is their ability to take covers and make them their own. Sometimes the results are iffy (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds being a better example) but the delivery is at worst interesting.

What I find interesting with Kokoroni Hanao is that Sturmer lets Ami and Yumi deliver vocals that are not exactly in tune and touch back more to prior albums where I think they were a little more lax with the technical details of singing. This is not a bad thing as I genuinely like this Kokoroni Hanao. If feels and sounds like a Puffy song. There are some synthesizer effects way in the background that do not really ad much to the song, I think they could have been replaced with faint guitars or taken away all together. This is a very minor thing howver and this sneaks in as my favorite song on 59 and Kokoroni Hanao winds up being one of my favorite Puffy songs.

Kazemakase Futaritabi starts off really slow and engineered… but then it starts picking up steam as more vocals and instruments are added in then it is rolling quite nicely and Ami and Yumi deliver some very nice vocals in the process. There is an experimental feel to the track but it came together and is my second favorite track on 59.

Forever is a romantic girl group throwback track and it has problems. Ami and Yumi’s vocals sound off both in regards to pitch and volume and it never quite feels right. Where Sturmer’s usual productions feel very engineered, the instruments on this track feel unfinished and the overall the sound on the track feels muted like a demo tracks a group lays out in pre-production.

So Long Zero uses the same instrumental track as Friends Forever and Invisible Tomorrow. Like Forever this feels like a take that was shelved in production as Ami and Yumi’s vocals sound a touch unpolished. I suspect they picked the best two out of three for Nice and shelved this version. Ami does, however, play the guitar solo on this track. I like the track, but that said it feels incomplete.

To me 59 feels more like a place holding release and filled with material that did not fit with Puffy previous album, Nice. What I said about that album holds for 59. Generally I like the work Sturmer has done with Ami and Yumi, but I feel he is at his best when it is a track or two and not entire albums, particularly back to back ones. There are a couple of genuine gems of songs on 59, specifically Kokoroni Hanao and Kazemakase Futaritabi. The rest is middling to below what I would expect on a Puffy album, be it a full release or mini album.

Over All Scores:
Singing: B
Instruments: B-
Production: C

P.S. I just reread Jeff's review he did a long while back, read that as well. That was one of the first blogs here I commented on.

(h/t to Peace Pop Puffy for album facts and being awesome)

Friday, May 20, 2011

tbb's Sendai and Hibiya Show Reports

Darwin Sendai show – May 8th

The show started at 6pm with the doors opening at 5, but I got there a little earlier as the pre-sale of goods started at 3.30pm. The goods were being sold on a small space after the first flight of stairs down to the venue. I bought 2 of the tour shirts and then headed back out to the shopping arcade where the venue was located. By 5 o’clock they started to call out the numbers of the people who could enter the venue (there were 3 ticket lines 1-100, 100-200 and 200-300 (there was no one in the 200-300 lines and probably about 150 or so altogether around that time). The venue itself is only about 2 years old so although very small it was quite clean and had a pretty cool setup too.

I’m pretty sure the last time Puffy played in Sendai was for the 10th anniversary tour and that show was at Zepp Sendai (one of the many Zepp livehouses scattered across the country), just as well they played at Darwin as it would have been quite an empty show otherwise (Zepp holds around 2000 or so). There was quite a mix of fans at the show from teenage girls (which I found a little surprising as I didn’t think Puffy appealed to that demographic anymore) to some mid-twenties rockers, to middle age men who looked as though they’d come straight from work (suits and all) and of course a few die-hard otaku-lookin fans, and me! The only foreigner at the show (and as far as I saw, the only one in Sendai, which isn’t surprising given the circumstances).

The venue was about 80% full by the time the show started and I would say it reached about 90% capacity by the end. The show started with a familiar sounding dramatic orchestral piece accompanied by a video that is supposed to look like a backstage camera of Ami, Yumi and the band getting ready to get on stage. Each year of Puffy’s career was then played on the screen, each accompanied by a photo from that year.

After that, Asia no Junshin! Ami and Yumi both wore the “What can we do?” tour benefit shirts, with fluffy animal shoes. I gotta mention how great they looked too, if I didn’t know their ages I wouldn’t have guessed over 25, even Ami whose age has started to show a bit lately looked amazing. The set list for the show is the same as the one that’s been posted except for “Bring it on!” which was omitted, which is understandable as in Sendai’s case, I guess its already been brought.

I'm terrible at remember details from movies and concerts but here are some of the things I do remember clearly:

My Country Road was absolutely amazing, both Ami and Yumi doing their own simplified versions of the harmonica parts.

The new song Sweet Drops is very cutesy and well…..sweet, maybe a little too sweet, all I remember is that they say “sweet drops” and “I just wanna make you happy"

Wake Up, Make Up, was quite a comical performance as playback was used and the bands members danced and attempted the rapping verses, while wearing their own ghetto outfits. Puffy also did their usual random, dorky dance moves.

The audience went wild for Puffy’s older classics, while the newer ones were received more quietly.

The medley was done in the same way as the Gintakei Drive Medley, all the songs being fused together. Here are some of the parts I remember:

Electric Beach Fever (main song, like how Jet Police was repeated in Gintakei Medley)
Stray Cats Fever
Umi Eto
Fish On
R.G.W (opener)
Puffy no Tourmen
Bye Bye
GUITAR PARTS – Urei, Kobojin, Ghost Puffy
Kore ga Watashi no Ikiru Minchi
Puffy de Rumba
Banzai (one line)
Nichiyobi no Musume

Overall it was a great show and it was nice to see Puffy in such an intimate setting, I was about 5 meters or so from Yumi and Ami, a good introduction to a Puffy live before the big show the next weekend in Hibiya. After the show I waited outside at the exit of the venue with a few of the other fans waiting for Puffy to exit. Although it was only brief we saw Ami (big sunglasses and all) walk to the van with the rest of the band, while Yumi (who was hooded and holding her hood over her face) hopped into a taxi. So it was a little underwhelming but at least Ami waved which was nice.

Hibiya Show - May 14th

The Hibiya show opened at 5 for the fans to enter the venue. I got to the venue around 4.00 as I heard Puffy music playing while walking to the Ginza, Hibiya, Imperial Palace intersection, so it was traveling some distance. Once I got to the venue there was already quite a big line, for goods, and it turned out the Puffy music I heard playing was the sound of Ami and Yumi rehearsing. Once entering the venue I got some of the tour goods then went to the CD tent and got some of the regular edition CD's I don't have. Since I spent over $30 there I got an autographed "Thank You" poster.

The open air venue was quite nice as your surrounded by the ridiculously green trees of the park and the sky, not to mention the fact that its an amphitheater so most seats are pretty good and you dont have to worry about someone blocking your view of the stage. By the time Puffy came on stage the venue was full and the same intro played as the other shows, except there were 3 screens in this show.

What I remember from the show:

The set list for the show was the same except Ai no Shirushi was added after the encore before playing Darekaga. Ani and Bose from SCHADARAPARR came on for the rap parts of Wake Up, Make Up which was again a really enjoyable and fun performance.

Sweet Drops has grown on me and its actually a pretty catchy tune, too bad I'm going to have to wait a while before I can hear it again.

Puffy talked about Japanese actress Maya Miki and did impersonations of her voice throughout the MC parts of the show (she also got a mention at the Sendai show too)

The best performances were once again My Country Road, Violet, Red Swing, Yokubou and Electric Beach Fever.

Overall I was blown away by the Hibiya show, I really didn't want it to end, Ami and Yumi were absolutely amazing. Definitely looking forward to the WOWOW broadcast in a months time, hopefully it makes its way onto the net and if not I'm sure there will be a DVD release of this concert sometime at the end of the year (hopefully in full, and not spread across single releases).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Compare and Contrast: Hataraku Otoko

Hataraku Otoko is one of my favorite Puffy covers. It is rocking Puffy wrapped around a core of Tamio Okuda. It is also one of the least faithful covers I have ever heard (though DEVO's cover of the Hendrix classic Are You Experienced is right up there).

Where I thought the original Unicorn version of Hataraku Otoko is from a point in time in rock music I have a lot of problems with, much of which you have heard me apply to Andy Sturmer's old band Jelly Fish. It is more liad back and maybe playful... but it rubs me the wrong way. That is not taking anything away from Tamio Okuda or Unicorn. Tamio is as close to a living legend as one can get in the Japanese music scene, but sometimes even a vastly talented artist can deliver a clunker. Just ask me how I feel about Puffy's Wake Up, Make Up.

Puffy's version disassembles the song and rebuilds it to something I can listen to over and over... The only resemblance it has is with the original promotional video which uses some of the same shots.

So I was skimming YouTube and came across a very recent version of Hataraku Otoko by Unicorn and a the version Puffy did slightly further back at their Shibuya AX concert. It was interesting to see how both Unicorn and Puffy tackled the song. I'll let you watch then sort it out in comments.