Single review: Perfume - Star train

Upon hearing the preview of "Star train" I rolled my eyes and thought 'What kind of shit is this?'. It had been clear throughout 2014 and 2015 that Capsule member and Perfume producer Yasutaka Nakata's output had clearly been influenced by top 20 UK chart music. But upon hearing the "Star train" in full and seeing the video, the song grew on me and now I really like it. I'd even go as far to say it's Perfume's second strongest single post LEVEL3 after "Pick me up". "Star train" will no doubt go on to become Perfume's ubiquitous encore song during live shows. I'd quite like it to be. "My color" is tired and there's only so much of "Chocolate disco" I can take.

"Star train" is very unashamed in the type of style and vibe its going for. But Nakata manages to nail it so well that you can't help but just accept it for what it is and a job well done. Nakata's takes UK chart music has been highly inconsistent over the past 2 years. But he nailed it with Wave runner, he nailed it with Perfume's "Pick me up" and for me, he's nailed it with "Star train". Nakata has managed to take a pre-existing sound, emulate it, refine it and put it into a package that fits Perfume. The key term here is fits Perfume, because there have been multiple instances where Nakata has selfishly given Perfume material that fits within his his aural ideal, but not necessarily Perfume's. Relax in the city / Pick me up B-side track "Toumei ningen" is one such instance of this. A song which is a great EDM number and would have made a great addition to Capsule's Wave runner album, but as a Perfume track it had no traction - because nothing about it felt as thought it was produced with Perfume in mind. "Star train" on the other hand does. It's a nice extension of Perfume's sonic portfolio, without bastardising it. And contextually it works perfectly.

"Tokimeki lights" is a strange song, because it highlights what I don't like from a Perfume song and what I wish I'd get more of from a Perfume song in equal measure. "Tokimeki lights" sounds like a Pamyu Pamyu song on the verses, but is an archetypal Perfume song when the chorus hits. The fundamental issue with "Tokimeki lights" is that it feels like a song which was completely composed around the concept of the TV commercial, so it sounds almost like a TV show theme rather than a stand alone song. The verses sound far too much like a theme to a children's day time television program or a breakfast cereal commercial. The chorus is brilliant, featuring shifts and key changes you would expect from a classic Nakata production. But because the song structure is built around the verses, the chorus is not the prominent enough and therefore doesn't anchor the song. (The chorus doesn't hit until almost 2 minutes in).

"Imitation world" is a newly production version of a song Perfume had performed live as early as 2004, yet had never released. I have no admiration or affiliation to the original version of the song. So for Nakata to make changes to it doesn't bother me. But what Nakata has done here is two things:

  1. Water down a song to a point that fans of the original may have some choice words about this version.
  2. Produced a pretty dull song for those who have no concept of the original version.

The newer version of "Imitation world" is much slower than the original. Even with no knowledge of the original, the song sounds like it's about 10 BPM's slower than it should be. The entire thing sounds sparse, lifeless and like an unfinished demo. As with "Tokimeki nights" the song also feels too much like a theme as opposed to a pop song. I'd expect to hear something like this during a display of the leader board in a Wii Sports game - which is a diss to the Wii Sports soundtrack, because every piece of music in the Wii sports games pop better than this deadpan version of "Imitation world".

Star train continues on the trend of Perfume delivering really inconsistent maxi singles. There is no cohesiveness between the songs, and as was evidenced from Cling cling Nakata has no clear direction of what Perfume's sound should be at this stage. Even the song structures are taking a hit. 80% of the songs Nakata has produced feel like they are missing something or that they feature too much. Cling cling's "Ijiwaru na hello" featured too much. As brilliant as "Pick me up" was, the song felt as though it was missing an additional verse or a bridge. "Star train" suffers from it not featuring enough of an epic build up to the final run of the chorus and "Tokimeki nights" suffers from being far too long and not featuring a middle 8.

As has continually been a long standing issue I've had for a while, Perfume's vocals do not always sit well with the music. It's telling that Nocchi has become the member who gets the least vocals on songs ever since Perfume's songs became less reliant on auto-tune, as she's probably the one member who struggles the most to force her range into the higher keys, where-as a-chan and Kashiyuka's voices are naturally higher. "Star train" is harmed by Nakata's insistence on having the girls sound like 12 year old girls. The chants on "Star train" are so unstable and warbled that it makes you wonder why he didn't auto tune them or use male vocals (something that would have worked to great effect, as was exercised on Mutya Keisha & Siobahn's "Flatline"). The gulf between Nakata's music and Perfume's vocals is beginning to grow wider. Part of Perfume's evolution musically needs to be a step change in their vocals. Whether it's allowing them to sing in different keys than they have been for the past 10 years, allowing them to sing in their natural voices or allowing their individual vocal nuances to shine through so that there is a greater sense of songs being sung by 3 girls with very different voices. This is something that was put to great effect on "Pick me up". But on every other song it seems like Nakata is producing songs and then forcing Perfume's vocals into a particular register to fit, and it's ruining songs. These girls are in their mid twenties. They should not be sounding like elementary students signing nursery rhymes.

Perfume's discography had been solid up until a point, but it's in danger of being tainted with these messy single releases. "Star train" does nothing to alleviate that. The title song on its own is good, but the accompanying songs drag it down.

RATING: 5/10

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