On the surface, Japan's Thee Michelle Gun Elephant inspires interest and amusement from their name to Gear Blues' ultra-serious cover art, featuring the four band members in sunglasses and dark suits. And no matter what, there's always going to be something oddly appealing about a glamorous Japanese punk band. While they may draw you because they're a curiosity, but you'll continue to listen because underneath it all, Gear Blues is unexpectedly good.
With abundant energy and clear understanding for the music they are playing, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant have created a catchy collection of songs that owes a lot to the spirit of early '90s alternative rock, with its grinding guitars and spirited attitude. Far from being derivative, however, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant brings their own fresh sensibilities to Gear Blues, making it completely original.
Everything in Gear Blues is upbeat, despite the grittiness of Thee Michelle Gun Elephant's music. The driving "Brain Down" and the forceful "Boiled Oil" standout on Gear Blues, both with an overwhelming sense of fun that fills every moment. Thee Michelle Gun Elephant is unmistakably enjoying themselves, and that is constantly apparent.
While the songs are (mostly) sung in Japanese, the vocals have an irresistible shouting/singing delivery that is mischievous and nearly giddy. Translated lyrics have been provided for the songs, but with lines like "Fire comes from the picture tube/ Ice cream is melting" from "Killer Beach", it's hard to tell if they're accurate or not. Still, rock singers are notoriously hard to understand, and many bands' lyrics make no sense. Don't let the fact it's in Japanese prevent your enjoyment of Gear Blues.
Even though Thee Michelle Gun Elephant have been around for nearly a decade in their native Japan (where Gear Blues has already been out for two years), Japanese punk-pop is a hard sell in the U.S. Good music is, however, universal, and Gear Blues will undoubtedly find Thee Michelle Gun Elephant a great cult following. Despite that many will view them as mostly a novelty, Gear Blues proves them to be serious musicians having fun with what they do.