Banal and lifeless as anything, Sakamoto's Let's Dance Raw can't be bothered to make the listener care.
I once thought nihilism was the most rigorous of all philosophies. Not in the sense that it was strictly codified but because nothing seemed so demanding or strenuous as living in a world where everything was permitted and none of the old certainties maintained. The kind of iron-cast spine it would take to walk through a world where even the existence of the ground beneath you was in question… that was something only a super-human or an insane person was capable of, I assumed. But Shintaro Sakamoto is about as nihilistic as you can get, and rather than march forward with a ram-rod straight-step he just kind of slouches and shuffles down the road in an unbuttoned and grease-stained Hawaiian shirt, ambling towards nowhere in particular, accepting with a sardonic shrug the intransigence of all we know.
The album art – featuring an image of Shintaro's dapperly dressed super-imposed over a sepia-toned mushroom cloud – should let you know exactly what you're in for, but if you couldn't guess from that self-aware hint then laid-back tropical sway and bend of his steel guitar and the infusion of chimpmunk style vocals should clarify just fine the kind of arch, ironic shenanigans Sakamoto has in store. It’s a cloying album, Let’s Dance Raw, a laid-back and all-too knowing piece of irony that finds Sakamoto saying, with a sigh and wistful grin, "if it could all end tomorrow then what's the point?" This attitude is clear in everything: saxophones moan more than they wail, guitars and ukuleles are plunked rather than played, Sakamoto doesn't sing so much as he mumbles and every song sounds exactly the same. Certainly some offer a suggestion of variation. "Why Can’t I Stop" has an opening lick, like the dark and jittery intro to a psychedelic spy movie, which suggests a dark and neurotic compulsion you may not want to stop and "Let’s Dance Raw" kicks off with a harder beat and a disco-inspired flair but both quickly drop these and return to the same laid-back island-style rock’n’relax that characterizes every track on the album. It's as if Sakamoto's resigned from the world so completely that he can't be bothered to exert the effort to actually change up the music, because, well, what would be the point?
Even the lyrics reflect this attitude. Not only does Sakamoto manage to squeeze in a few self-satisfied knocks against Christianity with "The Super Cult", a song about a religion founded "2000 years ago" that brought about the end of the world and a number about an all-powerful dictator who will wipe the world out on a mere temper-tantrum's whim, he even anticipates critics of this kind of schlock with a lyric about how "we can slide a chip between our eyes…it will free (us) from anxiety and nihilism…let’s become fantastic robots!" What he’s offering is a lounge-lizard cynicism, hip and chic and smart enough to know what a waste of energy trying is but ironic enough to rebut any criticism with a wry and self-satisfied rejoinder of "why so serious? It's all shit anyway, isn't it?" But this pose, which he finds a scathing rejoinder of a sick world or a viable formula for existing in this fleeting mess, is neither new nor interesting nor intelligent nor even at a bare minimum fun. It's tiresome and draining and does nothing to excuse the fact that Sakamoto doesn't have a musical idea worth listening to.
Turns out being a nihilist is easier than I ever thought. You don't even have to make an effort.