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Music Review
Pizzicato Five: The Sound of Music by Todd S. Inoue




Kurt Cobain once confessed that when he saw the Japanese pop group Shonen Knife for the first time, he was reduced to an uncontrollable 13-year-old girl seeing the Beatles. For the other Japanese pop-tart band, Pizzicato Five, a first visit to the states was met not with tearful screams but with wide smiles and sideways looks. The cool combo's quirky fashion and quirkier pop sensibilities gave Americans culture shock.

Pizzicato Five's blend of lounge, disco, dance and bachelor-pad ambiance inspired even those too cool to dance to tap a toe or two. The wacked-out single and accompanying video for "Twiggy Twiggy/Twiggy Meets James Bond" cemented the band's unique reputation. And now, a year after the American debut, Matador has released the latest album, The Sound of Music by Pizzicato Five, in time for the holiday season.

Pizzicato Five must have inoculated itself against the dreaded sophomore slump. With 10 years of explorations into the Japanese pop frontier, Pizzicato Five has been there, done that. The 1994 album Made in USA , plunged into the group's Japanese catalog, snapping up songs and even translating a few into English for American consumption.

The Sound of Music works on the same principle. Tracks from as far back as 1992 reappear with English lyrics. Lazy? Nah. This band can get away with recycling old tracks as well as naming its album after a famous Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, because it is, as Maki breathes in "I," "unreliable, capricious, willful, luxurious, affected, lying, dubious and random ... and cute."

Any skepticism that smuggled itself into Pizzicato Five's luggage on the way home to Japan was quickly detained at short-term parking. Dance music is the focus of Sound of Music , but instead of wallowing in it, like the Soup Dragons or Jesus Jones, Pizzicato Five shapes the music to fit its own intricate curves, not the other way around.

The Sound of Music isn't anything new to those who sought out expensive Pizzicato Five imports. Still, the CD is filled with invigorating moments of original pop splendor. "The Night Is Still Young" is elegant in its unabashed dance-floor groove. The track moves swiftly with the catty hips of a runway model. Maki's delicious layered voice implores the night to begin while a grand piano rolls, and house beats and bells chime in the background.

Unlike other dance-music prodigies, Pizzicato Five can deliver beats with a full band. Konishi is a notorious naturalist when it comes to technology, preferring trap kits over bulky drum machines. His ear for the surreal delivers many of Sound of Music 's perfect pop moments. The tracks swing with orchestras, finger snaps, bongos, organs, glockenspiels and triangles.

"Sweet Thursday" uses an accordion, strings, a harp and other frills. "Rock and Roll" would sound ideal as a '50s game-show theme. "Number Five" and "Groovy Is My Name," with its candlelit melodies and scotch-rocks beat, give off a Vegas lounge ambiance. "Airplane," a blend of Smokey's "Going to a Go-Go" and Steelers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You," has the added luxury of Laurie Partridge-like keyboard sprinkles.

Although the beats are mostly on time, the tinkering with the vocal tracks to please American audiences distracts from the overall effect. Maki's English appears hesitant on "Happy Sad." (Pick up the CD single for the Japanese version--what a difference.) "CDJ," a blasˇ house track that was recorded prior to Maki's arrival, is re-recorded with three separate vocal tracks--an exalting singer, an English vocalist, and Maki's voice. Toward the end, all three elements are competing for the same set of ears. Fast forward.

"Peace Music" crops up twice. The version on Side One is laconic and moody. The second version, remixed by English dance pioneers St. Etienne, clogs up the momentum with its exploration into ambient and dub. The track is as long (8 3/4 minutes) as it is soulless. A good idea, but I would've liked to have heard a DJ Krush or Microphone Pager remix, or two new tracks, in that block of airspace.

But such gripes don't amount to a hill of beans on The Sound of Music It's still the lightest, coolest, most original-sounding disc out on the market. It isn't a sequel to 1994's Made In USA . Rather, it's a continuation of a theme, a musical WonderBra to reinvigorate a sagging pop scene.


From the Nov. 9-Nov 15, 1995 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley\'s Weekly Newspaper.

Reviews and Comments about Pizzicato Five

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abbey  08/28/2006
 

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