December 2, 2016

Perfume: Game (2008)

Game is the debut album of Japanese vocal group Perfume, released back in 2008 to fairly mixed to positive reviews. The album was produced by electronic musician and composer Yasutaka Nakata, whose own band Capsule have been performing since 1997. It was Nakata who developed Perfume's 'technopop' sound: electronic music, strong beats and digitally transformed vocals.

It is clear on the first listen of Game that French electronic duo Daft Punk was an influence. The two bands share a similar pace, tone and melodic style. Like Daft Punk, Perfume have a relatively homogeneous sound. It is possible, if you enjoy the general sound of the band, to play it in the background and simply let the album flow from one upbeat pop number to the next. Assessing the relative quality of each individual song comes down to which ones have the best combination of beats and specific sounds. If this kind of ultra-cute Japanese electronic pop does not appeal in the first place, none of the songs on Game will likely change your mind.

My first impression of the first track, "Polyrhythm", is that it sounded an awful lot like a lot of music in Japanese video games. It turns out the song was licensed by Konami for their popular game Dance Dance Revolution. It's an upbeat poppy number, with vocals processed through a vocoder, but the seemingly bright, generic tone masks a pretty complex rhythm structure. It's one of those dance tracks that I like more the more I listen to it.

I think that Japanese rhythm-action game sound is key to appreciating Game. For anyone that has not been exposed to Japanese pop music but has played Japanese videogames, it is likely that this album will sound overwhelmingly like a videogame soundtrack. If that sort of bubbly, electronic, aggressively upbeat sound does not hold much appeal, it's likely Game is best avoided. There is a strong homogeneity across the CD, so if the listeners absolutely loathes one song it is likely she or he will loathe them all.

Moving on from "Polyrhythm": "Plastic Smile" is a remarkably simple piece of cheesy pop with one of those melodies that initially strikes one as irritating but rapidly becomes an addictive kind of ear-worm. The title track "Game" initially kicks off in quite a generic fashion, but a driving and energetic pace and catchy chorus goes some way to save it.

After this things struggle a little. "Baby Cruising Love" is a slightly slower and softer song, which makes for a nice contrast, but after the first few bars it seems to settle into something rather dull and forgettable. "Chocolate Disco" struggles. It is actually rather irritating at first, but like "Plastic Smile" slowly begins to feel a bit less irritating and a bit more catchy and addictive.

At the point things slide into the notorious 'mid-album swump'. "Macaroni", "Ceramic Girl" and "Take Me Take Me" all come and go without any impact whatsoever. "Secret Secret" finally shakes the album up a little with a different sort of take, and a much catchier melody, and that renewed energy carries on in the particularly upbeat "Butterfly". "Twinkle Snow Powdery Snow" returns to the infectious upbeat pop of "Polyrhythm". These three tracks in a row really restore a lot of the album's energy.

Then "Puppy Love" suddenly introduces guitars. It has a completely different sound to the other songs, despite maintaining the same kind of melody and vocals. On the one hand it is a nicely distinctive way to round the album off. On the other hand it might have benefited some of the lesser tracks to experiment like this with the instrumentation.

Judging in the overall context of popular music Game is a manufactured, deliberately over-produced piece of commercial music. Judged in the specific context of what it is trying to do, and who its intended audience is, it's a pretty effective bit of happy, enthusiastic technopop.

Average Score: 3.0

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