I intended to write this all the way back in October. Back when the weather hadn’t turned freezing and I could barely order food at a restaurant, I stumbled upon The Bawdies via a flier advertisement. They would be playing a Flake Records show in Kobe, along with a handful of other Japanese groups and a few foreign ones to boot. I filed The Bawdies away as another indie band to look into, one I never really got around to covering for this blog.
Now as the countryside warms up and I ace trips to Denny’s, The Bawdies appear poised to become the “hot” new mainstream Japanese rock act. A month after I first plucked the flier featuring the band, they released their first major label single “IT’S TOO LATE” and soon watched it shoot into the Oricon All Genre Top 10. The four-piece…far less indie than I envisioned as they had been with a major label since near the start of 2009…had been gaining steam since their inception in 2004, but “IT’S TOO LATE” stood out as a particularly momentous accomplishment. The Bawdies will attempt to kick the momentum up even higher by releasing a new single called “Hot Dog” on March 17 and a full-length album in May.
The Bawdies’ climb wouldn’t be remotely as interesting if they were a typical J-Rock band catching fire on the charts before burning out in front of the country. They aren’t though. Whereas most J-Rock newcomers simply take J-Pop templates and play them with guitars, The Bawdies belong to a very clear aesthetic. Specifically, the “garage-rock revival” America experienced at the start of the Oughts. I admit to not being versed in Japanese chart history so I’m not sure if the country experienced a similar boom, but I’m pretty sure this type of messy throwback rock hasn’t made a significant dent in at least the past year. Listen to “Hot Dog” below.
Now, “Hot Dog” comes with one big caveat: when the words “garage rock” get dropped around it, don’t assume they refer to The White Stripes or The Strokes. The Bawdies’ upcoming single actually brings to mind the unfortunate byproduct of that early-decade blitzkrieg, the shameless rip-rock of Jet (note the references to The Doors and Sly And The Family Stone, and give older single “Emotion Potion” a play if you don’t believe me) or the cock-rock swagger of Louis XIV. It’s a little goofier than those two, but the basic blueprint remains. At their best, The Bawdies can pull comparisons to The Vines or a less manic The Hives, but no further.
The group does have one ace up it’s pinstriped sleeve – lead singer Roy’s voice. He’s somehow managed to get a gravel Little Richard caught in his throat and all the howling in the world won’t get it out. It’s far and away the most interesting aspect of The Bawdies – though I can’t decided if his froggy croon constitutes charm or sand paper – and adds an element of unpredictable-ness to an otherwise straightforward band. It’s also the big test for the band’s chart goals. Most mainstream artists in Japan rise thanks to vocal perfection, even the rock outfits. Roy couldn’t be more imperfect – yet his band has received a decent promotion push. If this song could get them into the Oricon top 10, anything is possible.
Despite not being the most cutting-edge group, The Bawdies’ “Hot Dog” single and subsequent album will be a fascinating case study of the Japanese mainstream music world. If the numbers turn out even semi-decent for the group, except to hear their band name (and that torture-chamber holler) a lot more, and expect an influx of similarly minded bands. This could be the start of something very interesting.