EP review: Perfume - Polygon Wave

EP review: Perfume - Polygon Wave | Random J Pop

I reviewed the digital release of “Polygon Wave”
 not long after it had released. And the gist of how I felt about the song was that whilst it was one of Perfume’s best singles in years, and I liked the Game throwback; it was not indicative of what I wanted from Perfume at this point in time. Perfume should be giving us more than redo's of their first breakout hit after 10 years. It was pretty lazy. And the structure of “Polygon Wave” was also a problem for me, as song structures have been for many of Perfume’s songs for a while now. But now we have a Maxi Single EP featuring 2 additional versions of "Polygon Wave" and 2 other songs. I chose not to get my hopes up for these new songs, despite "Polygon Wave" not being complete trash, and Nakata's latest Pamyu Pamyu and Capsule singles being good, because...well, it's Nakata innit. And lo and behold; he giveth goodness, but he also giveth doo-doo.

So. Let's just get right to it.

The awaited Original Mix of “Polygon Wave”.

The original version of a song that everybody unanimously liked, and the version which is about to see the streams for the digital single edit fall through the floor for all eternity. No fan is gon' play that shit now. It belongs to The Masked Singer and The Masked Singer alone. I like the Original Mix too. It's the definitive version of the song for sure. But the new section of the song doesn’t by any means fix the entire thing to a point where it changes how I felt about “Polygon Wave” the first time around. The structural issues are still present, because the Original Mix doesn’t address them. It just has an entirely new section of music slapped at the end of the single edit of the song. It sounds great, sure. But I’m still left feeling like “Polygon Wave” is not a complete song. It’s still missing something, even in its Original Mix form. A really cool switch and an additional minute of music which hearkens back to Nakata’s old style isn’t a replacement for what the song needed, which was additional verses and a tighter structure which didn't feel like Nakata copied, pasted and then gave up. The Original Mix of “Polygon Wave” sees Nakata taking the same approach that he takes with album mixes, which is that it seems to be made for the purpose of a live performance, not as a fix for the single edit.

A notable thing with Perfume’s songs as of late is that their presence feels greatly reduced on them, and the Original Mix of “Polygon Wave” doesn’t mitigate this, because the additional section is mostly instrumental on a song which already has long instrumental passages.

The “Polygon Wave” remix is so pointless. If video game menu music was the vibe Nakata was going for, then he did a mighty fine job. But if not, then I just don’t get what Nakata was trying to do here. I can only deduce that he remixed this song for himself, to give himself a different version of “Polygon Wave” to play during his DJ sets. But then I think to myself ‘But how though!? Because the remix doesn’t even hit like the original, which is far more primed for the clubs.’ Perfume are never performing this shit. They are absolutely gonna file this under ‘Songs we ain’t ever performing’ along with the album mix of "Flash". Amuse and Universal should have commissioned somebody else to remix "Polygon Wave". A fan had already taken it upon themselves to remix it and remixed it better. I'm tired of the grip Nakata has on Perfume's music. It's preventing it from being everything that it can and deserves to be.

As is to be expected coming off the back of Cosmic Explorer, Future Pop and the wholly lacklustre singles which followed, the new songs on this EP are a mixed bag and don’t instil any faith in me for Perfume’s next album. But let's just look at what we get here, before I go predicting a doo-doo future with a doo-doo 7th album.

As per “Polygon Wave”, “∞Loop” see Nakata jumping back and revisiting shit that he’s done before. What we get here is basically a lesser version of LEVEL3’s “Clockwork”. That’s all I really have to say about it.

Okay. So I guess I DO have more to say about it.

As much as “Polygon Wave” is basically “Polyrhythm” without a “Polyrhythm”, it still has enough going for it that you’d want to play it as well as “Polyrhythm”. But “∞Loop” offers nothing more than “Clockwork”. It's nowhere near as good as "Clockwork". It’s boring. It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s flat. It lacks the energy, the funk and the perfect balance of cool and whimsy that “Clockwork” had. “∞Loop” would be fine as background music in a video game. But even if it were, it’d be for the most annoying zone in a Sonic the Hedgehog game that nobody liked. Everything about “∞Loop” is bland as hell. There’s barely a chorus on the damn thing.

I really hope this song doesn’t end up on an album, but it probably will. I honestly don’t know why Perfume would ever choose to perform “∞Loop” over “Clockwork”, when “Clockwork” is by far a superior song, with a great routine that we have not seen performed as often as it deserved to be.

“Android&” is the song that I think fans will unanimously agree is the highlight of the Polygon Wave EP. “Android&” feels like a perfect partner to “Polygon Wave”, sharing a similar carefree Summer vibe with the funk and the guitars. It’s a shame that “Android&” wasn’t sequenced alongside “Polygon Wave”, as I think it would have worked far better. But it does breathe life back into the Maxi single EP coming after the “Polygon Wave” Instrumental, the garbage remix and the raggedy version of “Clockwork”. It’s a fun song and one that I think would have actually made a better single than “Polygon Wave”. Even if it’s basically a Capsule song.

Now, why Perfume chose to include “System Reboot”, which is the intro to their LIVE 2021 [Polygon Wave] gig, I do not know. Perfume’s big shows almost always have instrumental pieces of music produced exclusively for them. And as good as some of them have been (“Perfume no Okite” is still THEE jam and "Opera" was actual genius), I don’t think Perfume should get into the habit of releasing them. It’s fine for the tour specific songs to just exist for the tours. It makes them feel more special. I felt the same way about “Fusion” and “Story”. Future Pop and Cosmic Explorer didn’t need either of them, as much as I like the latter. These pieces of music were clearly made for performance set pieces. So when you divorce the music from the performance, it just doesn’t have the same potency, and that’s EXACTLY what happens with “System Reboot”. The music is fully contextual. It’s a soundtrack to a visual moment that the majority of us at the time of this release have not yet seen. At the very least, in the cases of “Fusion” and “Story”, when the songs finally did release, it was after the performances, so we had a frame of reference and something that we could replay in our minds as we listened to the songs.

EP review: Perfume - Polygon Wave | Random J Pop

Sometimes less is more. And I think that the physical release of “Polygon Wave” would have been stronger had Perfume made this a regular physical release with the single edit version of “Polygon Wave”, the Original Mix, the instrumental and then “Android&” as a B-side. We didn’t need the remix. We didn’t need “∞Loop” and we didn’t need “System Reboot”. They’re all fluff, not a single one of them is strong enough to warrant inclusion on any release. But if Perfume really wanted to package an EP, then they should have left off the remix and the instrumental versions of “Polygon Wave” and re-ordered the songs: “System Reboot” as the intro, and then “Android&” following “Polygon Wave”.

Fans will like this EP because of Original Mix of “Polygon Wave” and on the strength of “Android&”, which is a really good song. But as a whole, I’m still not fully convinced that Nakata knows what to do with Perfume’s sound. He doesn't care about Perfume’s music as he much as he now appears to for Capsule's and as he always has for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's. His music for Perfume feels uninspired on the whole and directionless. It feels like he’s winging it as he goes. Even as good as “Android&” is, it has its faults. And given his track record for Perfume since post LEVEL3, I can’t help but think that whenever Nakata does manage to come through for Perfume, that it’s by sheer luck.

Perfume’s vocals also continue to be a problem. The highly pitched singing isn’t as much of an annoyance on any of the songs here as it was with “Time Warp”, “Saisei” or “Nananananairo”, but Perfume are still sounding like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Nakata has also taken to having Perfume always sing whole songs in unison, which is getting tired. I know I’ve often complained about how when songs were divvied up in the group, that Nocchi often got the short end of the stick. But I do prefer when Perfume’s songs featured solo moments for all of the members. It added variety and a touch of texture to the songs, because all 3 members have such different voices. But when a-chan, Kashiyuka and Nocchi are stacked together, a-chan is the only member you can hear; probabaly 'cos she told Nakata to turn those flat, pitchless bitches down. And because we don’t get any form of harmonies or vocal arrangements, the vocals always sound flat and sound the same. It’s almost as though Nakata is deliberately finding ways to make Perfume less of a factor on their own songs.

And not only is Nakata like ‘Fuck the vocal variety’. But he’s also like ‘Fuck the song structures’. Nakata can barely be bothered to write full songs for Perfume these days. "Polygon Wave", "∞Loop" and "Android&" all just have one verse and a chorus, and that's it. And Nakata doesn't go to any length to structure songs in a way where despite featuring half a set of lyrics, that they still feel whole. Even "Spending All My Time" felt like a full song and still had a middle 8 despite the verses and the choruses having the same lyrics. But then you have a song like "Time Warp" which has 2 different verses and a chorus and it still feels incomplete as a song. And it's clearly a Perfume thing, because Capsule's "Hikari no Disco" and "Future Wave" and Pussy Pam's "Gentenkaihi" all feel like full, proper songs. I don't know what Perfume did to offend this man, but he is sabotaging their music and giving them nothing.

No one song on the Polygon Wave Maxi single EP feels whole or complete. And the likes of “Polygon Wave” and “Android&” feel like songs made for live performances first and foremost. Before it felt like Nakata was making songs for Perfume to just be great standalone songs. But now it feels like he’s just soundtracking for their tours under the premise of 'Well, if the beat is good, that's all that will really matter'. Bitch, no. And it’s a questionable approach to take, because even if you decide that this is what he did for Future Pop, that tour was one of Perfume’s most boring tours, because the music was boring. And the Cosmic Explorer tour suffered for the same reason. No amount of good choreo and visuals can save a bad and incomplete song. Which is why before Perfume had big budgets and were just performing on stages with nothing but 4 sets of stage lights, a disco ball, and a TV screen, that their shit still went off, because the songs were fire.

Perfume’s songs also appear to be stuck in a loop of being about the same thing, with no real sense of variation. I’ll accept the crossing over of themes concerning living in a virtual world across all 3 songs on the Polygon Wave EP, because they’re packaged together. It creates a cool narrative, even if the sequencing is garbage. But lazy and samey songwriting about the same shit is also becoming a Nakata and Perfume theme as of late. I don’t want these obtuse ass songs which are ultimately about nothing, or songs about what it’s like living in The Sims. I want songs which create more of a narrative for Perfume than the same old ‘We aren’t real girls. We are manufactured. Everything is virtual. What is time? BEEP. BOOP. BLEEP.’ Perfume are 16 years into their careers. 20 if you count their Beehive days. And yet they have nothing more than THIS to say!? Bring back Emi Kinoko or bring in other songwriters, because the ink has long since dried on Nakata’s pen.

Polygon Wave is decent enough because “Polygon Wave” is a cute throwback moment and “Android&” is a bop - but they are not GREAT songs, a return to form, and neither can hold a candle to Perfume’s pre 2012 discography. Perfume and Nakata are on autopilot and they both need to snap out of it, because now isn’t the time to be. They need to do better than just ‘good’. I need great. I need growth. I need these songs to be sounding like they’re coming from people who actually give a fuck. And if Nakata can’t give Perfume the material they deserve, need and should be getting at this stage in their careers, then he needs to step his pussy up or step aside.

My general feeling on this EP as a whole is that it feels like a look back rather than a look forward. I want the next phase of Perfume's music to feel like it's something new and a shot in the right direction, and "Android&" is the only song which does that. But then I also listen to "Android&" and think 'This could probabaly slip into the LEVEL3 tracklisting'.

The Polygon Wave EP will please all Perfume fans, because it features songs which exceed the quality of what they've released over the past few years. And this is great. But that shouldn’t be the bar. And as cool as the Original Mix of "Polygon Wave" and "Android&" are, I still feel Perfume could be giving us so much better.


■ Polygon Wave (Original Mix)
■ Android& 🏆