Album review: Perfume - Complete Best

Album Review: Perfume - Complete Best | Random J Pop

Perfume's Complete Best is a weird album, because it was the first that Perfume had actually released. Yep. Before Game. Perfume were just releasing single after single. And rather than their label saying 'Let's put these songs together for a studio album and cull some of the older stuff', they just said 'Fuck it' and made all of their singles produced by Nakata Yasutaka a Best album. Strange. But that's Japan and Best albums for you.

But Complete Best is also unique because it's one of the only Perfume releases which features songs written by somebody other than Nakata Yasutaka. 8 out of the 12 songs are written by Emi Kinoko. Whilst Emi would never write for Perfume again, the DNA of the songs she wrote for Perfume do live on somewhat in the music Perfume had released after. Emi's songs not only have a slightly different energy to them from the Nakata penned songs, but the lyrics carry this sense of melancholy and uncertainty which completely juxtaposes with the happy-go-lucky disposition of Nakata's music. It creates this dichotomy which would go on to become a popular trait of Perfume; things not quite matching up, yet creating something cool. With Game and Triangle it was the 3 young girls were dancing in cute little matching ensembles to hard-hitting electro and techno bangers. For their Complete Best songs it was school girls singing songs that seemed cute on the surface, but had this dark undertone if you really looked at the lyrics. But in an odd way the sense of yearning and uncertainty in the lyrics mirrors what was Perfume's situation at the time as a group trying to score a hit. Everything they had released had flopped, and the release of a Best album before a studio album was seen as the label giving Perfume their send off.

Perfume have been oft compared to the 1970s J-Pop trio Candies, and it's clear they were an inspiration for the Perfume's image very early on, a torch they've continued to carry to this day. But the Emi penned songs also evoke a strong Candies feel, especially songs such as "Inryoku" and "Vitamin Drop". There's just a greater sense of context with Emi's songs. Even when the lyrics feel like nonsense, there's still something tangible and specific about them. As opposed to the Nakata penned songs, which often feel hollow and deliberately vague. He's lucky he had a knack for good melodies and his shit slapped. 

Album Review: Perfume - Complete Best | Random J Pop

Complete Best is split between two different sounds. The earlier stuff is like pachinko with a drum machine. "Linear Motor Girl", "Monochrome Effect", "Sweet Donuts" and "Perfume" all feature lots of blips 'n' bloops and sound like "Baby Park" from Mario Kart. Then there's the material which is indicative of the point when Perfume's style, visuals and sound really started to come together; songs like "Perfect Star Perfect Style", "Computer City", "Electro World", "Foundation" - all of which could sit on the Game album and fit right in. Some could even sit on JPN and work. "My Color" is basically "Computer City" but...not good.

Complete Best is quite literally the pre-cursor to Game. Not just in terms of chronology, but also in terms of sound. It's cool hearing what lead to their breakout debut studio album, because in certain songs you can hear the points at which Nakata's sound started to take shape, which would encapsulate an entire period of his and Perfume's careers, defining both of their sounds for the next 3 to 4 years.

Album Review: Perfume - Complete Best | Random J Pop

Listening to Complete Best is quite the experience though, because it literally is just a collection of Perfume's songs from a period in their careers, sequenced in no particular order. Shitting on a best album for its sequencing is a little strange given that it is a compilation and not a studio album, but I have to flag it. Because Complete Best spans a period of Perfume's career where they were between labels, growing up and also Nakata Yasutaka was figuring out the sound as he went, Complete Best doesn't offer this uniformed listening experience. Creating a top to bottom listening experience would be difficult because of the stark divide between the earlier cutesy martial and the edgier dance songs. But it absolutely was possible to sequence the songs better. Time has been really kind to Complete Best's sequencing though. Especially after the likes of JPN, LEVEL3, Cosmic Explorer and Future Pop - where the sequencing was completely off and Nakata but barely knew what he was doing with Perfume's sound. So I guess you could argue Nakata has just been going back to his roots.

Something small that would make all the difference to enhancing the listening experience would be to remaster the songs. My fussy ass notices differences in mixing and volume levels between songs.

Album Review: Perfume - Complete Best | Random J Pop

Complete Best isn't an album that seems to be widely acknowledged by neither members of the Perfume fandom or even Perfume themselves. "Electro World" is the only song from it that they show any consistent love to, probably because it's the one song from this album which sounds like it could go across all of Perfume's albums. It's just an easy song to slip into tour setlists and bridge certain songs together. It's a shame that Perfume's songs don't get re-arranged for their tours, because there's so much they could do with some of these songs. It wouldn't even take much. Then again, given how Nakata ruined "Imitation World" when he gave it a new lick of paint for the "Star Train" release, maybe it's for the best the old shit is left alone.

With Perfume being a group who have always retrospectively looked back and continually worked their history into their shows, it really is strange that they omit so much of Complete Best when it built the foundation of their careers. They even circled back to the cutesy shit on Complete Best 7 years later with a song like "Mirai no museum" (which I can't stand), and then shit like "Baby Face", "Tiny Baby" and "Tenku" - making it even stranger than they don't work in songs like "Wonder2". Complete Best is a great look at Perfume's beginnings, but it also highlights how far Perfume's music hasn't come. The fact that a song like "Challenger" which was originally put together 16 years ago can be released now and still sound like the current shit Perfume's been releasing really is something. And not a great type of something.

HENNYWAY.

In isolation, Complete Best is full of charm. And whilst Perfume don't write their own songs and have very little input into it, their character comes through in every song in ways it doesn't always on the likes of Game and Triangle, where Perfume were less of a focus over Nakata's productions. And much of the material on Complete Best still holds today, showing that whilst Nakata Yasutaka's sound is a fucking mess as of now, when he was on his shit, he was on fire and gave Perfume songs that could stand the test of time. 

VERDICT: FEBREZE DESU

Highlights:
■ Perfect Star Perfect Style
■ Computer City
■ Electro World
■ Vitamin Drop
■ Foundation 🏆 J's fave
■ Perfume
■ Wonder2

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