Release Date: April 6th 2016
Number of Editions (3): Regular Edition (CD only), Limited Edition (2CD + DVD), Limited Edition (2CDs + Blu-Ray)
A Cosmic conflict.
Right after the astonishing Dome Tour in 2013, many were starting to wonder how long Perfume would have continued their career after all these years and milestones proudly achieved. Indeed, the three girls from Hiroshima could have just easily called it quits and relax, but following their hardworking instincts and passion, they instead decided to keep going on through another stage of their story, performing in Japan twice for their “Gurun Gurun Tour” and 15 Years Anniversary celebrations and touring overseas for the third time, with a successful U.S. live debut particularly worth of mention. It’s a fact that Perfume is still hot, surely not as they were back in their GAME/Triangle momentum, but still more than relevant in the mainstream scene. But most of all, they’re still one of the best artists when it comes to deliver genuinely enjoyable Techno-pop music.
The trio’s new studio album COSMIC EXPLORER reinforces this opinion, as catchy melodies and Dance beats permeate most of the fourteen-tracks present in here, occasionally flirting with EDM influences under the crystal clear production of their historical producer/hitmaker Yasutaka Nakata. Despite the mixed feelings about the various singles composing this era (that take half the space in this record) the direction in this album is clear, standing in between the J-pop softness of JPN and the Techno/EDM euphoria of LEVEL3, comfortably taking advantage from these two approaches the group mastered over the years.
Despite adopting familiar sonorities, this record partly offers a previously unheard vibe due to a different approach applied to the classic formula that formed the musical identity of the group in the post-Tokuma era, with a noticeable focus on instrumental sections and vocals: The space-inspired vibe of the title track COSMIC EXPLORER is a prime example of this new approach, with synths reminiscing of the early Yellow Magic Orchestra works based on a standard structure that emphasizes each part clearly, showcasing an almost unusual focus on every section, offering a more mature approach for the Perfume standards, and a very enjoyable as well. A similar formula is followed by Next Stage with YOU, kicking off with a funky guitar coupled by the classic Nakata soothing bass (reminding of the pre-2010 capsule works) followed by a chorus emphasized by catchy vocals melodies, and despite diving too much into the instrumental side that can lead to boredom on the long-term, it remains a pretty nice listen, even though a better balance between sections could have made it better. Baby Face follows the same pattern but in a more balanced and thoughtful way thanks to a worth mentioning arrangement, successfully bringing cute and sweet vibes without interrupting the Dance-ish flow of the record, also exposing one of the constant elements of this album which is the use of vocal extensions.
Always present in the recent forms of the Perfume sound, EDM too finds its fair share of space in this record, and while the input from western artists is clear, almost every EDM inspired track here (excluding the hard-hitting Trance vibes of STORY) features that touch of the Nakata productions to distinguish it from the club bangers populating the western charts: The dreamy Miracle Worker is the prime example of this approach and one of the best tracks on the record, featuring fresh synths and addicting joyful melodies built around a simple verse/build up/instrumental structure: Nothing technically outstanding, but it works wonderfully, and it’ll be a sure favorite for all the lovers of recent Perfume compositions, that will probably appreciate the FLASH album-mix as well, that fixes the flaws of the original version by adding a drop and enriching it with a more consistent arrangement. It’s genuinely nice to see these tracks coming out as well done representation of EDM-influenced Perfume tracks, and along with all the other new numbers featured here, they successfully represent the personality of this album.
Or, more precisely, what this album could have been in its entirety. Indeed, if pretty much all the new tracks do the job fine, the already released seven tracks all stacked up in a row in the second half of the album sadly come into conflict with the new material. It’s no secret that the Perfume singles released in this era were of mixed quality, and except for that pop masterpiece that goes by the name of Pick me Up and the B-side TOKIMEKI LIGHTS, all the remaining tracks feel out of place, creating an annoying stylistic gap: One moment you’re listening to an album focused on instrumental sections, uplifting vibes and melodic vocals, and a few tracks later you’re into the shallowness of STAR TRAIN, Sweet Refrain and Hold your Hand. What’s even worse, this would have been a much easier issue to face if the album mixes featured here weren’t even a bigger problem, as most of them barely have any sense: While the intent is to clearly sacrifice the original vibes to give these tracks a rhythm-boost to fit the album, messy results like the Cling Cling mix and some unnecessary ones like the Sweet Refrain revisitation genuinely make wonder if all of this was really necessary. The treatment reserved to these tracks is rushed and badly organized, from the mixes, to the choice of the B-sides, and even the order they’re placed in the tracklist, as shown by a simple yet decent number like Relax in the City, that suffers from its placement after three relatively calm tracks, unavoidably losing charm in the album’s progression.
With twelve tracks released throughout four singles in almost three years, Perfume had all the necessary material to choose the right numbers and make them fit into the album’s context, and it’s a shame they chose some of the less appropriated ones and just thrown them in a completely random order in unnecessary revisitations, and sadly enough, it’s a mistake that unavoidably compromises the overall flow and cohesiveness of this record. An avoidable misstep for sure.
All in all, COSMIC EXPLORER is an album with several good tracks: The new compositions showcase a consistent and refreshing approach thanks to the focus dedicated to instrumental sections and vocal melodies, pleasantly spacing from the group’s EDM-ish side to more deeply structured numbers, while old tracks like the hit Pick me Up and TOKIMEKI LIGHTS fit the album greatly. Sadly enough, the lazy way the rest of the already released tracks have been managed prevents this album from being a totally cohesive work, staining its flow and making it less enjoyable when taken in its entirety. Nonetheless, COSMIC EXPLORER delivers various enjoyable moments that all the Perfume fans will appreciate, while newcomers may want to take a look at the trio’s previous works to get a more consistent portrait of the group.
Vote: 7.5 / 10
02. COSMIC EXPLORER
03. Miracle Worker
04. Next Stage with YOU
06. FLASH (Album-mix)
07. Sweet Refrain (Album-mix)
08. Baby Face
09. TOKIMEKI LIGHTS (Album-mix)
10. STAR TRAIN (Album-mix)
11. Relax In The City
12. Pick Me Up
13. Cling Cling (Album-mix)
14. Hold Your Hand