Saturday, June 27, 2015
Playboy & Playgirl - Pizzicato Five
Matador OLE 333-1
This is the American vinyl version of the album that was released in Japan as "The International Playboy & Playgirl Record" in 1998. As was generally the case back in the 1990s vinyl fans were screwed by the record company. The Japanese version of the album contains 13 tracks as does the Matador CD version. The vinyl contains a mere 5 of them (plus two instrumental versions and an alternate vocal version not on the original album) running a little over 30 minutes so there was plenty of room to have included a couple more cuts. I was such a big fan of the band that I bought both versions, but I wasn't happy about it. I developed an attraction to Japanese pop culture in college when I became interested in Japanese cinema which expanded into an interest in manga and pop music when American record companies started releasing it in the 1990s. Pizzicato Five with their dynamic retro style were one of my favorite Japanese groups. By the time this record was released the group was a duo featuring vocalist Maki Nomiya and founding member Yasuharu Konishi who played multiple instruments, wrote the songs and produced the record. The album opens with "La Dépression" which is a percussion driven song with a childish vocal from Nomiya lamenting the lack of desirable boys. Like practically all their songs, it is sung in Japanese. The band increases the tempo for the frenetic "The International Pizzicato Five Mansion" which did not appear on the original album. It is a synth driven instrumental version of "A New Song" which is the next song on the album. It features a duet with Nomiya and guest vocalist Hisashi Kato. The vocal version features some of the synth work from the instrumental version but it is largely driven by horns. I like it better than the instrumental version. I love the song so I'm not all that upset about having back to back versions of it, but I'd greatly prefer to have more of the songs from the original album instead. The side concludes with an instrumental version of "Week-End" which appeared with vocals on the original album. The lack of a vocal track places the focus on guest performer Shin Kawano's piano runs which are admittedly exciting, but I'd still rather hear the vocal. Side two opens with the best song on the album "Playboy Playgirl" which is one of my all-time favorite Pizzicato Five tracks. The propulsive cut is an urgent invitation from Nomiya for the playboy of the title to take her out for a night on the town for some dancing and kissing. The song has a 1960s sound to it which puts it over the top for me. The group slows down for "I Hear a Symphony" which bears no resemblance to the Supremes' classic hit. It is heavily orchestrated and sounds like a cross between sophisticated 60s pop and soft-rock. The song celebrates the conversations between lovers which it describes as being like a symphony of love. The group shifts gears again for the swinging "The Great Invitations" which is sung as a duet with Masumi Arichika. It is an odd song in which the singer dreams of her imminent death and begins to fatalistically muse about the transience of life which she compares to a movie she saw on a plane while she also comments on how happy her lover has made her and hoping that she won't make her lover cry. Maybe it loses something in translation. The record concludes with the jazzy "Drinking Wine." On the original album the song has actual lyrics sung by Nomiya and guest vocalist Makoto Saito. On this version Nomiya and Saito merely croon "doo doo doo" in place of the words. I don't speak Japanese so I don't miss the words very much, but it seems like a weird decision to me to substitute this version instead. I suppose it does emphasize the beauty of the song a little more and enhances its mellow vibe, but I prefer the original. As a collector I can see some appeal in having some differences in the tracks on the vinyl record and the CD especially since I bought them both. If I was supervising this release I would have issued it as a double record featuring the complete original album with the three alternate tracks added at the end as bonus tracks. At the very least I would have made it proper album length with a few more cuts. Musically though I have nothing to complain about. I enjoy all the songs and the record has a consistent vibe despite the variety of styles and tempos employed in the music. It sounds good any time of the day and its enthusiasm and energy always perk me up. It is also a nice party record if you don't mind having to flip it over every 15 minutes. If you aren't a vinyl nut, you probably ought to just pick up the CD. Recommended to fans of Bertrand Burgalat.