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“Splurge” Review AND MORE!

You knew this was coming, right?

Since I posted my thoughts of the Puffy concert in Detroit last week, I figured I’d post my thoughts on the album that spawned said tour – Splurge, due out today in the U.S. on Tofu Records. You cannot escape the Puffy machine…at least when I’m posting, that is (which seems to be all the time lately). That said, I fully expect Chief Oddball to revoke my posting privileges very shortly because he’s probably sick of my constant posting (for the record, I’ve had posting privileges for nearly two years, yet before this past week I’d posted all of two times).

Anyway, the album. Well, I’m a big Puffy fan, so it’s hard for me to objectively rate these things. The fact that I know nothing about music is another hindrance. That said, this is one outstanding album. It rocks in all the right places, shifts gears here and there for some tremendous ballads, and even gives us a solo track apiece for Yumi (“Rakuda no Kuni”) and Ami (“Security Blanket”) once again (something that hasn’t happened since 2002’s The Hit Parade). That in particular is a welcome treat – in fact, Ami’s “Security Blanket” may very well be the best track on the entire album.

Depending on which version of this album you have – Japanese or American – you’ll get slightly different track listings. Each album has the same basic songs, though the U.S. version has a couple of songs with English lyrics instead of Japanese (i.e. “Shall We Dance?” is “Call Me What You Like (if you like rock-n-roll)” on the U.S. version, and “Onna Machine-gun” is “Go Baby Power Now” here in the States). Also, the first several tracks on the U.S. version appear in a slightly different order (the U.S. version leads off with “Call Me What You Like”, while the Japanese CD kicks off with “Radio Tokyo”, blah blah blah you probably don’t care).

As opposed to Puffy’s last album or two – which were essentially written and produced by U.S. rocker Andy Sturmer (the “Godfather of Puffy”) – Splurge’s songs feature a wide range of writers and producers. In a way, this harkens back to Spike, Puffy’s album from 2000 – though Splurge is far heavier sounding. To paraphrase Sloan’s Andrew Scott, tracks like “Security Blanket” and “Shall We Dance?”/”Call Me What You Like” kick so much arse that it’s painful to sit down afterward. That doesn’t mean it’s wall-to-wall R-O-C-K, though – there are plenty of terrific ballad-y songs present, from “Koi no Etude” to “Rakuda no Kuni” to the Phil-Spector-Wall-of-Sound-esque “missing you baby” (which is slightly reminiscent of Garbage’s “Can’t Cry These Tears”).

Among the contributers to the new album are Dexter Holland (who was famous once for being in the Offspring), Jon Spencer, and Butch Walker (who apparently has produced such notable artists as Pink, Lindsey Lohan and Avril Lavigne) – not coincidentally, most of the tracks with English lyrics come courtesy of these guys. However, the lone English lyric not written by any of the aforementioned producers – “Security Blanket”, with lyrics written by Ami herself (supposedly about her daughter) – has lyrics that are deeper and far more expressive than anything Walker, Spencer or Holland wrote. Also, old Puffy collaborators Sturmer and Okuda Tamio are in the mix, contributing their usual catchy rock goodness.

Not everything works, though — such as “Go Baby Power Now”/”Onna Machine-gun”, easily my least favorite track on the CD. To me, the song simply lacks the hooks and catchiness evident on the rest of the songs. Honestly, I think the album would have been better served had this particular track been left off in favor of “Sekkai no Hajikko”, an awesome, rocking track that’s so far only available on the Japanese “Tokyo I’m On My Way” single (perhaps ironically, another track from that single – the remix of “Friends Forever” – made it onto the U.S. release as a bonus track).

If you’re into lists or that sort of thing, I’d have to say my absolute favorite songs off the album are: Radio Tokyo, Koi no Etude (simply “Etude” on the U.S. release), Sunday in the Park, Rakuda no Kuni (“Cameland”), and Security Blanket…and probably Hajimari no Uta (“Beginnings”) and Nice Buddy as well. Actually, I’d list pretty much the entire album as “favorite songs” if I didn’t think it would look silly – seriously, this is one kick-ass album. YOU MUST BUY IT TODAY OR THE WORLD MAY POSSIBLY COME TO AN END.

Now, I’m sure you’re sitting there at your computer, reading this and saying, “But Pooch, you’re only some anonymous dude posting on an obscure webpage who knows next to nothing about music, yet I somehow trust your opinion and wish for you to guide me. Please tell me – which version of Splurge should I buy: Japanese or American?” Well, to help you out, I’ve compiled this handy list of pros for each version of Splurge:

Splurge (Japan version) Pros:

  • Better Bonus Track (even if it is a Green Day cover, I’ll still take it over the two standard remixes on the U.S. version)
  • More Japanese lyrics (if that’s a big deal to you)
  • Initial pressings came with Puffy 10th anniversary trading cards – however, if you order this CD now you’ll more than likely not get the cards

Splurge (U.S. version) Pros:

  • Cheaper (personally, I paid $18 for this one and ~$30 for the Japanese version)
  • More English lyrics (if that’s a big deal to you)
  • Comes in a normal sized jewel case! Seriously, for some reason the Japanese version I have comes in a really thick jewel case, and thus will not fit into any normal-sized single CD slot in any CD rack I own

So, for people living here in the U.S., just stick with the domestic version, which is more likely to be readily available to you (unless you really want the Japanese language versions of certain songs and “Basket Case”, or are just a completist in general).

Oh, and just because:

Con for both CDs:

  • There are remixed versions of “Nice Buddy” and “Hajimari no Uta” present — instead of the ones used on the “Hajimari no Uta” CD single released last year. Worse yet, the remixing seriously mixes down the backing and harmony vocals that added so much to each song (also, the overall sound of each song seems to be not as “full” as the single versions…a bit empty, if you will; I think the keyboards were mixed down as well). A minor quibble, though – the songs are still good.

Note: When I say the two songs mentioned directly above appear in a “remixed” form on the Splurge CD, I don’t mean they’re dance remixes or some such thing (which is what the two U.S. bonus tracks are) — I mean the mixing of the original track in general is slightly different. I just thought I’d throw that out there in case anyone didn’t get what I was trying to say. Hell, I’m not sure what I’m trying to say anymore.

And to make this not a totally Puffy-related post…

Earlier this week I actually did something I haven’t done in a good long while: go shopping for CDs – buying Puffy CDs doesn’t count because I either a) got them online or b) got them at a concert. Anyway, I ended up picking up Back in the U.S.A. by the MC5, and Genki Shock! by Shonen Knife — because when you think “MC5”, you also think “Shonen Knife”.

First, the MC5. Yes, there were famous musical artists from Detroit well before Eminem and Kid Rock. Nowadays, the MC5 are pretty much remembered for their left-leaning, punk-rock attitude as much as their music — even if you don’t know the band, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the famous line, “It’s time to kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”, from their first LP Kick Out the Jams — but, surprisingly, Back in the U.S.A. is an album filled with short, catchy rock songs instead of the plodding, overloud excursions found on their first album (albeit short, catchy rock songs about sticking it to the man and living like a hippie, which is normal for an album released in 1970). It’s amusing to hear songs like “The American Ruse” and “The Human Being Lawnmower” (written about the draft) and listen to them with 21st century ears – thinking that they really could change the world, or open everyone’s eyes, with a two minute rock song. But perhaps that just the pessimist in me talking – and besides, I wasn’t around back when there was a very real possibility that young men my age would be drafted and sent off to Vietnam (possibly never to come back)…so I should probably shut up. Also, these left-leaning rock songs are at least more fun to listen to than some of John Lennon’s similarly themed works (sorry, John). Even if you think the lyrics are silly, this is a good classic rock album to pick up if you find it cheap.

USELESS TRIVIA: One of John Lennon’s better songs from his generally sub-par “Hey, I’m a crazy politically-charged rocker” period (around 1972 or so) was a song he wrote about John Sinclair, who was the original manager/spritual leader/whatever of the MC5. NOW YOU KNOW.

Now, onto Shonen Knife. I guess you could say I’m a fan (if only for the group’s wonderful cover of the Rutles’ “Goose-Step Mama”…or “Goose Steppin’ Mama”, or whatever the hell the official title of the song is now), but not on the level of my Puffy fandom. I don’t have any of their “popular” releases from when they were semi-big back in the early ’90s, just their recent Japanese re-releases from the ’80s (which are always amusing, if not very professional sounding). So when I noticed the music store had Genki Shock! – which I knew was the title of their 2005 Japanese CD – I snapped it up. What I didn’t know was that, for the new U.S. release, Shonen Knife went back and re-did all the vocal tracks, singing all the songs in English. Of course, Shonen Knife are well-known for their crazy lyrics and subject matter (this album alone has songs titled “Broccoli Man” , “S*P*A*M” and “My Magic Glasses”), and they definitely deliver on this new CD. However, I don’t mind listening to Japanese lyrics, and kind of wish they didn’t resort to re-recording all the vocals.

Having said all that, though, I find I can’t listen to Shonen Knife as much as I can Puffy. Though I give the girls in Shonen Knife props for writing and performing all their own songs, too often the songs come across as a little too similar: pounding drum beats; loud, distorted rhythm guitars; and absolutely insane lyrics. That said, they’re nowhere near as repetitive as, say, AC/DC (then again, hardly anyone is). I do appreciate a little diversity once in a while, and Puffy are nothing if not diverse — which is why they get the nod in my J-Pop fandom over pretty much anyone else. Also, I vastly prefer Ami and Yumi as vocalists over Shonen Knife’s Naoko Yamano. Naoko, who’s normally a fine vocalist, every once in a while resorts to a near-Yoko Ono-esque shriek that can be a little hard on the ears (as on Genki Shock’s closing tune “Giant Kitty”, which is about a giant stuffed cat) – and I’m saying that as a Tori Amos fan (though Tori has tested my eardrums a few times as well).

And this isn’t relevant to anything, but the sticker on the shrink-wrap on the Genki Shock! CD informed me that Shonen Knife have been around for 25 years, which means Shonen Knife has been a band for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Woo! Of course, the Rolling Stones were a band nearly 20 years before I was born – and are still going today – so maybe I shouldn’t be as impressed with Shonen Knife’s 25 years. But for a Japanese female punk rock band, that ain’t so bad.

(Edit Well Over a Year Later: I find the above several paragraphs insanely hilarious, especially since Shonen Knife is now one of my absolute most favorite bands, even rivaling Puffy. “Giant Kitty” is now one of my favorite songs, and I love almost everything Shonen Knife does. Strange how things like that work sometimes.)

Hey, look at me! I’m an unqualified music critic now! And I sound like a bad Time-Life CD infomercial! Just let me slip in some references to Aeolian cadences, and I’ll be set for life!

…Chief Oddball is so going to revoke my posting rights after this. I can see him now: “The MC5? Shonen Knife? And yet more Puffy? Why is Pooch infesting my blog with this crap?”

Edit: Good Lord, I think I’m just going to spend the rest of the day editing this thing. Every time I look it over I find more things to correct/expound upon. Maybe I should proofread before posting this garbage in the future.

6 thoughts on ““Splurge” Review AND MORE!

  1. Most excellent review. I think the U.S. domestic release is good for starters, so I was going to head to Great Buy today to pick it up, but of course they did not have it. We don’t have any “specialty” music stores of any kind around here, either…nothing like the old Dearborn Music, Harmony Hizzouse or even Tower Records. May wind up ordering it.

    Weird tidbit: Great Buy has the album filed under the “Gospel & Christian” genre. Riiiiight.

    The Virgin Megastore in Orlando would undoubtedly have the album, and probably even several imports of Puffy’s Japanese albums since they have a decent international collection there. Damn. (Of course, the Virgin Megastore is not a place where you buy virgins, but I digress.)

    Oh, and far be it from me to revoke your posting privileges for actually using them — this is more action than this lowly domain has seen in months, if not years. All part and parcel of keeping it interesting. I thank thee most humbly for the material.

  2. Hmm, I’m kind of not surprised that you weren’t able to find it; I’ve tried to find other Tofu Records releases around here and have come up empty (though Reaper picked himself up a T.M. Revolution disc a while back — incidentally, T.M. Revolution is Yumi’s ex-husband). I also read about that Great Buy/”Gospel & Christian” filing snafu. I wonder how they came up with that one. “Nobody’s going to buy this! Let’s just arbitrarily file it somewhere where it’ll get lost.” Oy.

    Perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong departments for J-Pop; after all, it’s not like Great Buy — or even Dearborn Music, which is where I picked up the MC5 and Shonen Knife CDs — has a “J-Pop” section. They had Shonen Knife in the “indie” section, for what it’s worth (Dearborn Music, that is…not Great Buy).

    Hmm…sounds like we could use a Virgin Megastore somewhere around here. 🙂 Honestly, aside from Dearborn Music, there aren’t many places left that have even halfway-decent CD selections (except for maybe Borders and Great Buy). At the very least, there needs to be someplace that deals with a lot of imports (like I think I said several days ago). There’s actually an “anime store” out in Ann Arbor somewhere, so they might have something. Reaper and I keep saying we need to check the place out, but there’s a large difference between “saying” and “doing” with us.

    Of course, I was just joking about the “revoking posting privileges” thing, though I’m sure your family loves coming here and reading my long, turgid ramblings about J-Pop and Star Trek. 🙂 Then again, it’s a blog — I figure I’m safe as long as I don’t start posting one-line entries or copying inane LiveJournal quizzes in lieu of actual content.

  3. You know, I admit to not quite taking your suggestion of Borders seriously, as mentally I sorta dismiss any store where music is not the primary focus. But then again, I have located some pretty obscure sound effects albums at Borders before, so I decided to check their online inventory system.

    Wow — according to the site, they’ve got loads of Puffy on sale at our local Border’s! Dude, I’m going there today. I’ll post back afterwards with a sit-rep. (Why does this remind me of our “Gotta locate the shitty DiC S’moon merchandise!” hunts of ’96?)

  4. Well, that’s why I added the “maybe” before Borders — some things they’re good on, but not all. But I’d think their selection would at least be better than Great Buy (though probably not in price — Borders, in my experience, tends to be a bit pricey).

    Incidentally — on a lark — I, too, searched the inventories of nearby stores. Aside from books and DVDs tied into the not-so-stellar Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi cartoon, there was nothing I don’t have. Though, frustratingly, they list the amiyumi album (the first Puffy album, which I don’t have), but don’t actually have it available anywhere. Also note that, for some reason, the review on the Borders website for the amiyumi album is actually a review for Spike, a different Puffy album completely.

    LOL @ the “shitty DiC S’moon merchandise” remark. Yeah, I guess it is sort of like that in a way. But somehow, I don’t think this particular chase will entail us stopping off at some drab, musty Toys ‘R’ Us and plunking quarters into a hand-crank-operated card vending machine. Nor will there be a “Save Puffy by buying Pop Tarts!” drive (at least I hope). Plus there aren’t those deep-seated feelings of shame and embarrassment that come with plunking down money for a bright pink CD and associated “girly” merchandise…like when buying S’moon stuff.

    Having said that, I think there might be some more things on YesAsia I might be interested in getting… 🙂

  5. Huzzah! JOIN THE CULT OF PUFFY! WE WILL STORM THE INTARWEB WITH OUR SUPERIOR NUMBERS…OR PERHAPS SUPERIOR INTELLECT!

    Let me know what your impressions are!

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