Japanese pop-rock duo winds up pulling off Top 40 pop-rock better than most American acts today. Now that's a hell of an accomplishment.
These days it's easy to marginalize the outsider: not showing someone how something works simply because it'd be too time-consuming or because we simply don't care. Dismissing someone is far less time-consuming than showing them the nuts and bolts of how something works. Yet every once in awhile, an outsider can come along -- one who has been observing the details from afar -- and show us everything we've been doing wrong, teaching us lessons on things we may have just plumb forgotten about.
Welcome Love Psychedelico, everybody.
Hailing from Tokyo, Japan, Love Psychedelico is guitarist Naoki Sato and vocalist Kumi, a duo obsessed with late '90s American pop-rock, their roots being based back in the slew of singer-songwriter records that so dominated the pop marketplace in the late '70s. After releasing four albums in their homeland, it was about time to start making some U.S. headway, thus resulting in This Is Love Psychedelico, which -- much like Robbie Williams' The Ego Has Landed several years prior -- is more or less a collection of previously-released material streamlined for release in the American market. Their love of pop music shines through every note, which is perhaps why this album sounds like a dead ringer for... Sheryl Crow.
No, really: Sheryl Crow.
You wouldn't even know the group was Japanese based on the opening track alone, the extraordinary "Standing Bird", a track that easily could have been a single from Crow's eponymous sophomore release. The dated keyboard, the twangy-yet-poppy guitar strums, the plaintive and evocative vocal stylings, it's all prime Crow material (which, let's face it, the real Crow has had a hard time re-capturing as of late). "Fantastic World" -- despite its wanna-be alt-rock riff -- has a chorus that is positively Beatlesque. Never once, though, does it sound like Love Psychedelico is ripping off the greats: the disc seems to exist in a perpetual state of homage, making no bones about where its harmonies and chord changes come from, as if studied extensively before being unleashed upon the world.
Lyrically, however, it's a whole different story. There's nothing wrong with Kumi's lyrics at all -- they're perfectly passable pop fluff -- but often in the middle of a song, she switches from Japanese to English, sometimes (like on the otherwise-excellent "These Days") right in the middle of a lyric. Though it does do a good job of flaunting the group's bilingual prowess, it ultimately deadens the impact of anything insightful she would have to say. Though tracks like "Your Song" hold up fine on a melodic standpoint, they're ultimately are defeated by failing to stick to a single language, the themes ultimately feeling like staccato interludes that just so happen to part of the song.
Yet even with that fatal flaw, there are still some fantastic tracks to be had: the Nikka Costa-styled funk-pop of "Unchained" is unparalleled excitement, the punky "O" overcomes the limitations of its forced punk riff to actually work its way towards being a respectable hot-rod rocker, and "My Last Fight" hints with enough sadness that its joyous chorus actually winds up carrying a bit more of a cathartic tone than initially thought.
No matter what way you look at it, Love Psychedelico is great at making fantastic pop songs. Sure, the lyrics will get lost on Americans due to its bilingual asides, and each song could stand to be shaved by about a minute without consequence, but by and large, American pop music doesn't get more exciting than This is Love Psychedelico.