One important fact must be addressed when talking about Perfume, whether in discussion of the trio’s music, the group’s commercial ventures or Ayaka Nishiwaki’s hair – every Perfume song generally sounds the same. The pop-outfit aren’t artistically bankrupt so much as they have stuck to a winning template…wall-to-wall electro-sweetness, digitized vocals and an insanely good ear for dance pop, masterminded by Yasutaka Nakata. Critics flog the Hiroshima three-piece for mining this particularly gooey vein of pop dry, knocking their last full-length Triangle for “crushing boredom” and robbing the singers “of their own personality.”
For the first point – not to tread on the idea of “personal taste,” but being bored by Perfume seems really bizarre. I could see being overwhelmed by them, or being put-off, but to be rendered bored seems strange, but whatever those are small potatoes. As for the second point, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…why exactly does this matter again? This obsession with “personality” basically translates into “talent” which leads down the road to the uninformed-mom thought of “they aren’t good because they don’t play instruments (I’ve heard of)!” I’d get this harping on “personality” if applied to the lukewarm-badlands of indie rock where anything going beyond “jangly” guitars gets a gold star.
But we’re talking about mainstream pop! This stuff gets cultivated in P&R laboratories, any “personality” present a result of Monsanto-like engineering. And this all goes double for J-Pop, which rarely bothers to put too much thought into the whole personality thing anyways. Oh, Ayumi Hamasaki just released a rock ‘n’ roll album only months after dropping a pair of big, sappy ballads. Why would she make such a shift? Who cares, just buy them now. Even Lil’ Wayne got a smidgen of backstory as to why he went and excreted Rebirth on the world.
So, to wrap up this extended intro/screed, let’s turn to Roger Ebert. He’s made his name reviewing movies for what they are, nothing more and nothing less. He recognizes not every picture intends to be the next City Lights, and he takes this into account. Dude gave both CGI Garfield movies three stars because, while everyone else drooled at the prospect of sticking it to a cat voiced by Bill Murray, he recognized that they were harmless kids movie that did a decent job bringing the comic to the big screen. Perfume aren’t setting out to be Radiohead, Polysics, Justin Bieber or Omar Souleyman: they make bright, light as candyfloss electro-pop meant to get stuck in your head or soundtrack a night of dancing/karaoke with friends. Proceed from there.
All that’s to say – Perfume’s newest single sounds distinctively like Perfume, and you’ll either love it or hate it. “Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite” find Nakata and his trio of robo-girls doing what they do best, leaving detractors to sneer and give up on them 30 seconds in, while the entire population of 13-year-old girls in Japan and me(I acknowledge the group’s target audience and also the creepiness that entails) rejoice at a new slab of dancey disco-pop to entertain us.
Of the two new songs, “Fushizen na Girl” finds Perfume and Nakata sticking closest to the script they’ve perfected to this point. Specifically, this latest single recalls the electro-glide majesty that was “Dream Fighter,” both songs guided by sweeping Auto-tuned vocals and disco-influenced beats (check the congas kickin’ underneath all the electro-noise). It’s four minutes of Perfume executing the brightly colored swooshy pop they do so well, so spending too much time on “Fushizen na Girl” seems kinda silly. Let’s focus on a few track highlights though. Despite all the references to how Nakata crams every second of Perfume’s music with noise, “Fushizen na Girl” highlights how he’s still able to pace himself so great parts get a chance to shine. Just listen to the little ascending flutters drifting up after every few lines or the well timed digi-sighs. It’s a busy track, but a very well choreographed one, bolstered by the three front-and-center member’s zig-zag vocal work.
“Fushizen na Girl” is a great run-of-the-mill Perfume track, but B-side wins this round easily. I’ve already gushed about “Natural ni Koishite” on these Internet pages, but that won’t stop me from praising it even more. Ignore the consumer-tastic video – I still cringe whenever the one girl comes out of the store and the others react to her shopping bags like they’ve been reunited with a childhood golden retriever – and jingle tie-in. This song finds Perfume edging away from laser-light-show dance music and embracing unabashedly massive pop sounds. Nakata gives “Natural ni Koishite” just a little more space than most Perfume songs, and the added air gives more emphasis on this track’s two biggest assets – the big hop-scotching beat and fuzzy bass blasts. They lend “Natural ni Koishite” a surprising boom-bap quality that, when joined by the little electronic accessories and typically stellar robo-voices, create a stupidly blissful piece of warm weather pop. It’s an exciting development in the Perfume songbook, and one of their most accomplished pieces yet.
So there you go…one track that finds Perfume refining the formula they’ve been coasting on for nearly a decade, the other showing the exciting directions they could head in. Allow me to return to the personality issue one last time – critics say the vocal manipulations and sea of electro-smashes keep any of the individual members from expressing themselves. Listening to “Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite” I won’t argue with that…but I do think Perfume the group’s personality (whatever you want to define that as) does come through. Just listen to the music.