Poor, poor MEG. She’s the J-Pop sibling doomed to average-ness, not nearly as popular as sister Perfume and not remotely as cool as brother Capsule. If techno-disco-pop mirrored a Wes Anderson film MEG would be the mediocre family member who isn’t even a glorious failure. Her latest full-length Maverick comes in the middle of the year already boasting one great Yasutaka Nakata produced album (Capsule’s Player) and a pair of excellent Nakata-produced Perfume singles. If none of those albums or songs came out in 2010…or simply waited until the Fall…MEG probably would be showered with a bit more praise. Unfortunately, release dates don’t care and Maverick ends up being just OK.
Not to imply the reason her seventh LP falls a little short is because of a glut of Japanese electro-pop. I’m counting down the days until the next set of new Perfume joints trickle online sometime in August. Rather, all this great Nakata-helmed music shines a light on how MEG comes up short on Maverick. It’s not a bad album per se, just sorta a bad example of this type of music.
Divorced from a greater context, Maverick features plenty of good songs. Like all other Nakata projects, MEG joins digitally affected vocals with vaguely disco templates…or outright ones on the almost too-disco number “Destination”…to create at times ready-to-burst pop loaded with electric wooshes (though not nearly as manic as Perfume or Capsule). There’s the punchy pop-strut of “Gray” and the twinkling “Story” and even a few ballad-wannabes. Nakata uses one of his most endearing production tricks…big, cheesy 80s drums…on two songs here, making both tracks immediate highlights. There are very few moments on this album that could really be called outright mistakes…though, I see ya “Hanabi”…and for the most part Maverick is a consistently OK listen the whole way through.
Which isn’t how this J-electro-pop should work. Give last year’s Triangle or this year’s Player a spin and note how inconsistent those albums come off. They’ve got legitimate dud tracks…but also huge pop triumphs that make wading through the misses worth it. Maverick plays it safe, dodging missteps but also seldom resulting in anything truly thrilling. The only pop monster here is first single “Secret Adventure,” a bouncy treat that holds its own with any of the other big electro-pop hits of the year. But it’s the only one. Indie bands taking cues from this genre don’t settle for alright-ness…they shoot for the same chart-topping choruses. MEG chooses not to and suffers because of it.
Being like everyone else isn’t the only way MEG could have gone and helped Maverick’s case, because there seems to be another direction hinted at on the album she sorta squandered away. Perfume and Capsule at times evoke the 80s, but there brand of nostalgia strikes like a 13-year-old kid wearing a He-Man shirt. MEG, though, sometimes hits on an honest-to-goodness throwback sound that actually charts the same territory as M83 (well still sounding completely different), most prominently on the slowly unfolding title track. Here is where MEG has the best chance to carve out a unique sound separating her from the other Nakata-groups, but she never embraces it on this album.
Maverick isn’t a bad album by any stretch, just an extremely middling one. It’s the missed opportunities…either at giant pop or something a bit more experimental…that truly frustrate. This album screams “missed opportunity,” and leaves MEG the unassuming sibling of the Japanese electro-pop scene.
Aside: Though the album is a let down, the video for “Secret Adventure” rules. You make an homage to Star Fox and you got my vote MEG.