Puffy AmiYumi are better than PokeMon. While their animated Cartoon Network show is cute and bubbly and horridly typical of what runs on that network, the actual band itself is quite amazing. The group consists of two girls who have been recording unabashed power-pop music for over a decade — huge in Japan, they’ve released more than eight full-length albums, and have a Hello Kitty-level merchandising team behind them. They penned the theme to the massively-popular animated superhero show Teen Titans and have developed a small audience here in America with the success of their own show. They’ve already found a small U.S. cult that just can’t get enough of their guitar-driven J-Pop, and now they’re poised to be bigger than ever. With the release of this year’s Splurge . . . they just might succeed.
A constant mentor to the young duo has been Andy Sturmer, head honcho of perpetually-underappreciated pop outfit Jellyfish, and he reprises his role as collaborator and producer here. Yet the band also brings a slew of rock-greats along for the ride too, here snagging Jon Spencer, Offspring mouthpiece Dexter Holland, and rock uber-producer Butch Walker. Most importantly though, the band has created a terrific, fun, and ridiculously catchy pop album without ever once going dirty, vulgar, or new-age experimental. Countless bands wish they could achieve this level of pop perfection. “Security Blanket” could have easily been a mid-90s pop-rock hit (and the Goo Goo Dolls would certainly kill for a hook like that nowadays). The throw-back pop stylings of “Missing You Baby” sound as if the girls (Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura, just for reference) had somehow transported themselves back to the time when Scott Walker’s first four solo albums came out, with a bit of “Rhinestone Cowboy” flourish thrown in for good measure. Certainly, songs like “Etude” and “Mole-like” (not to be confused with a track that appears later on the album simply titled “Mole”) aren’t as flat-out engaging as “Sunday in the Park” or the Jon Spencer-filled “Go Baby Power Now”, but when an album is this movie-theatre-popcorn good, it’s hard to complain. (It should be mentioned that “Go Baby Power Now” is the best classic-rock rip-off since the band Jet formed).
“Radio Tokyo” — co-written with Butch Walker (a fine producer whose latest album, Butch Walker and the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites is one of the best LPs released this year) — is one of those pop hits that you’d swear you’ve heard before on the radio (in the good way). In a strange irony it’s also better than the neglected Collective Soul song “Over Tokyo” which, incidentally, Walker sang vocals on as well. “Tokyo I’m On My Way” (the Dexter Holland collaboration) is similar — bouncy, fun, and unabashedly disposable. Yet with all the big name-dropping, it’s Sturmer who still gets the best moments, be it the we-love-rock opener of “Call Me What You Like” or the “ooh ooh” vocal-channeling of “The Story”. Even the prerequisite ballad (“Cameland”) is infused with enough 60s-folk homage that it is more of an interesting detour than a drain on the album’s momentum.
Two remixes cap off the album, one an utterly useless retool of the otherwise-fine “Friends Forever”, as well as a bouncy update of the “Teen Titans Theme”. Here they’re just tacked on to what is an otherwise great pop album. Are the lyrics worth analyzing? Not for a second. Will this album change your life? Not in the least. Yet is it the most fist-pumpingly fun album you’ll hear all year? Absolutely. Let’s see Pikachu try and do that.