Album review: Perfume - Future Pop

Album review: Perfume - Future pop | Random J Pop

Let's just get this shit out of the way from the offset. Future pop is one of Perfume's weakest albums.

The album title is indicative of the album as a whole, in the sense that it doesn't actually make one lick of sense. If the album title was to convey the future of pop music, then it fails on that front. And the album title isn't in reference to a Nakata coined genre which fuses future bass and pop, because only a third of the album has this sound. The album title is only going to be relevant for the tour, where the visuals and the choreography will help bring it to life. But even so, I'm at a loss at how they're going to build a tour around such a lacklustre selection of songs. Mikiko, Kazuaki Seki and the Rhizomatiks are going to have to do the fucking most. They have my thoughts and prayers.

Nakata Yasutaka and song structures must have divorced in 2017, because they are not here on this album. The same goes for his side piece quality, because she ain't showing up neither. There's only one song on this album that I wholeheartedly like. But even that one song has its issues. Every single song on this album has something wrong with it that prevents it from being a solid song and everything that it should be.

"Start Up" feels unnecessary. The album would have been better off starting with "Future Pop", just as JPN would have been better off opening with "Laser Beam". It's an intro for the sake of being an intro, because every Perfume album from Triangle onwards had one.

"Future Pop" features an acoustic guitar, which I'm here for, because I always love when Nakata features them in songs. It features a nice set of verses and I like the EDM drop on the chorus which feels like the song is being shot into light-speed. But the lack of vocals and, well...anything on the chorus, makes the song sound incomplete. Even with the frenetic energy of the music on the chorus, it still manages to feel like a block of silence has been dropped into the song. This could have been a serious bop with some refinements.

"If You Wanna" is about as close to a quintessential Perfume song as anybody gon' get on this album. It could have been a really fucking good song if the chorus maintained the vibe and the charm of the verses. But instead, the song builds and then stalls 'n' stutters during its choruses. And then before you know it, the song is done. No bridge. No middle 8. Yet another incomplete sounding song.

I feel the same way about "Fusion" being included here as I did about "Story" being included on Cosmic Explorer, which is that it should have been left off of the album and just lived as a Perfume performance piece, a la the original "Perfume no Okite". "Fusion" is boring to listen to. Also, their Future experiment performance of it wasn't as great as their mind-blowing SXSW performance of "Story", which was so good to the point that it became synonymous with the song and you couldn't listen to it without having the performance in mind. The same can't be said for "Fusion". It also sounds incredibly out of place. The only thing I can give the song is that it features the title that the album probably should have had.

As per "Future Pop" and "If you wanna", "Mugen Mirai" and "Let Me Know" both feature really nice verses, nice builds, but a chorus which is nothing but a drop void of a fully sung chorus. I actually don't mind the future bass drops on the choruses for these two songs, I just wish the chorus was more than JUST a future bass drop. They needed lyrics and a discernible melody.

"Houseki no Ame" has a great chorus, but awful verses and a shitty song structure as a whole. Too much sparseness and too many unnecessary instrumental passages. "Houseki no Ame" was written to be featured in a TV commercial, and it's pretty clear that the hook was written as the jingle and then Nakata decided to try and build a song around it, but didn't manage to pull it off.

Album review: Perfume - Future pop | Random J Pop

Nakata Yasutaka's approach to this album doesn't involve trying to really evolve Perfume's sound. There are many directions that Perfume's sound could have gone in with this album. And whilst I can't tell you which one would have been best, I know damn sure that it shouldn't have ended up here. Future pop is a bunch of songs based on Nakata's current fetish for EDM and future bass, and then a couple of Pamyu Pamyu-ass sounding songs like "Chourairin" and "Tenku" for good measure. The same 'throw shit at the wall and see what sticks' approach which was taken with LEVEL3 and Cosmic explorer was adopted here. The result is more consistent than the aforementioned, but Future pop still feels like three separate albums ideas and concepts compounded into one. And whilst Perfume's album titles as of late have been focused on levels, ascension and trajectory, there is still a reluctance to push Perfume's sound forward fully. For each instance where it feels like Perfume's sound is being shot forward, it's dragged back.

It honestly wouldn't have taken much to have made this album something great. There are a couple of songs on here that I really don't like to the point where I feel they're un-salvageable. But everything else could have worked and been made into something special if a bit more care was taken with the arrangements and structures - which is why I was so shocked that there were no album mixes for any of the singles. Granted. History has shown that album mixes do not always account for better versions of songs. But the album mix re-working of "Cling Cling" on Cosmic Explorer gave me hope. And if there was ever a set of singles that needed album mixes, it was those from this album; because there was no way the songs could be made any worse. Although, after this mess and given Nakata's output over the past couple of years, I'd imagine he'd do a stand-up job of proving me wrong. 

Half of the songs not featuring vocals and earworm melodies on the choruses, and a third of the songs sounding the same and having the same structures / arrangements is a massive issue. When each song ends, you're left thinking 'Oh! That's it!?' Because there are no bridge sections, no chord changes, no middle 8's and very few refrains. There are many words I could use to describe Future pop, but the one that stays at the forefront of my mind is 'incomplete'. The songs on this album just don't feel whole. Every song feels like an unfinished demo and ends prematurely.

Perfume's albums have always been Nakata's as much they've been theirs. But just like the Future Pop album covers, Perfume are pushed way too far to the back of this and have very little presence on it. Future pop is literally an extension of Nakata's Digital Native album, to give him a few extra songs to slip into his DJ set-lists. His entire approach to Future pop was selfish and downright lazy. For Nakata to have been producing music for Perfume for 15 years and then give them THIS it messy. And to give them songs like "Tokyo Girl" and "Tiny Baby" when they're approaching their 30s? This man does not have a single fuck to give Perfume any more. And it's not just the sound, but the lyrics too. Nothing about these songs feel specific to Perfume, their journey or where they're at in life. It feels very vapid, and it makes no sense to me that Perfume had more to say on their songs earlier in their career than they do a decade and a half into it.

To comment on vocals on a Perfume album is like pissing in the wind. But I'mma go right ahead and do it anyway. The vocals on this album are inconsistent. Nocchi continues to get shafted and get the smallest part on songs, as though she can't sing. But on "Everyday" Nocchiah Carey is out here giving us vocals. On at least two occasions we get a-chan's natural singing voice make a brief appearance. And Kashiyuka continues to sound nasal and strained, and yet, she gets the lion's share of songs. There's no effort on Nakata's part to make music for that suits Perfume's actual voices, and he doesn't give a flying shit about producing or arranging their vocals neither. I'm still baffled at the way he distributes the vocals on songs. On Game and Triangle it was much more even and standardised. Now it just seems random as to who gets which part, just as long as Nocchi gets the smallest parts. Not only has the music gone in reverse, but the vocals somehow have too. We've gone from vocals with auto-tune, to vocals with occasional auto-tune, to vocals with no auto-tune, to rare occasional instances of natural singing voices to barely any vocals at all. At this rate, Perfume's next album will be full of instrumentals and the only vocals from Perfume will be of them counting over beats. I dismissed Game for a good while because of the vocals, but I high-key miss that shit now. At least it was consistent throughout.

Album review: Perfume - Future pop | Random J Pop

I'm all for a rebirth and starting from new, but Future pop feels like it's uncertain of its own sound and Perfume's musical direction. More certain of it than Cosmic explorer, sure. But still uncertain. Nakata tore down the foundations of Perfume's sound and just shat amongst the rubble. As a fan you're forced to look at Perfume's discography and wonder if they will ever be able to give us something better that heralds their heyday before they disband. As a newbie you may be put off but how generic the songs are and fail to see / hear the charm of Perfume and the genius of Nakata, because very little here feels like it has that magic that captured people's hearts and attention back when Perfume were relatively unknown.

I listen to the likes of "Secret, Secret", "Dream Fighter", "Night Flight", "Glitter" and I can't believe we've gone from classics like those, to a bunch of songs that won't stand the test of time. I've felt for a minute that Perfume should put other producers in the mix and I feel the same way after listening to this, although I know it will never happen. Perfume need producers who will craft and tailor songs for them, allow them to grow and help continue to build their musical legacy. Not someone who will dictate the entire direction of their album based on his / her own preferences and nothing else. Nakata deadass gave Perfume four leftovers from Digital native, two of Pamyu Pamyu's songs, two tracks from a cancelled bonus edition of Cosmic explorer and a rough demo track of "Future pop" as an album intro. His level of investment in Perfume's sound is waning.

The only thing I can give this album is that it flows much better than Cosmic explorer and LEVEL3. The track order is pretty inoffensive. There's nothing as monumentally messy as LEVEL3's wedging of "Mirai no Museum" in-between "1mm" and "Party Maker", or Cosmic Explorer slapping "Cling Cling" at the tail end of the album and having it sign off with "Hold your hand" instead of the obvious album closer "Star Train". I personally would have had the album close with "Tenku" instead of "Everyday" as it feels more like an encore. 

Future pop has no sense of purpose. I listen to it, I look at the album art, I look at the album title, I think of the singles and I just don't get what Perfume's team are trying to achieve with any of it. Every album of Perfume's prior to Cosmic explorer had some sort of theme and a narrative. LEVEL3 stepped out of that. Cosmic Explorer shat all over that. But Future pop goes to a further extreme by not really being anything at all.

This album is difficult for me to take as a fan, as very little of what made me fall in love with Perfume is evident here. The moments of magic are too few, too dim and fleeting. Future pop isn't a wholesome evolution of Perfume's sound or a refinement of it. I honestly don't know how we started off with Game and ended up here, but we're here ya'll.

Future pop is not a good Perfume album. It's not a good pop album. It's not a good EDM album. It's not a good J-Pop album. It's not a good Nakata Yasutaka album. It's the worst showcase of a collective who once defined pop, and executed it to such a high standard that you never would have thought they'd deliver such mediocrity. I guess Cosmic explorer and the singles which followed was the writing on the wall. But even so, I can't help but feel disappointed that we ended up with this. Although I can't say that I'm surprised.

An album with only a couple of bops. What kind of Legend of Zelda ass dark world is this where a Perfume album has a couple of bops!?


■ Future Pop
■ If U Wanna
■ Chourairin