Album Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Candy Racer

Album Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Candy Racer | Random J Pop

Pussy Pam has been in this weird place since Pikapika Fantajin, an album which was widely considered pretty boring and to be one of her weakest albums. Its follow up Japamyu was also met with some sighs and a huge drop in sales to go with them. Neither album was bad, but Kyary’s shifting position as a celebrity and her place within music was evident. With Pamyu Pamyu Revolution, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and producer Nakata Yasutaka had carved out a very clear lane. But lanes go places, and Kyary and Nakata found themselves on unknown roads, with no signal bars to hit up Miss Google Maps for help. The landscape around them changed. They themselves had changed. But their approaches hadn’t.

With Nanda Collection, every song was pretty much a theme to some product tie-in, which is where Nakata seems to shine. Give him a theme and a brief and he’ll turn in something good. Pamyu Pamyu Revolution and Nanda Collection weren’t just stand alone albums; they were in essence original soundtracks which chronicled Kyary’s career. But then Pikapika Fantajin came along. And whilst it functioned in the same way that Nanda Collection had done, Nakata seemed to forget what made the songs on Nanda Collection work so well. Every song sounded different. Every song matched the hyper surrealism of Kyary’s image. Pikapika Fantajin by comparison felt muted. Then with Japamyu it was clear that Kyary and Nakata were kinda floundering; putting out an album with no objective or clear theme, despite the album title signalling one. Japamyu made for a strange album, because it was unclear who it was targeting. It seems that since then, Kyary and Nakata may have sat and had a chat, or maybe Nakata had an epiphany - because Candy Racer channels more of early Kyary, but there is also a very clear musical theme. Although things such as the Japanese singles release model and Nakata’s penchant for tradition greatly hampers what could have easily been one of Kyary’s best albums to date.

Candy Racer is the only album of Kyary’s which has a really clear theme sonically. This theme being the 80s and 90s. Nakata has touched on both eras numerous times in this music, although he skews far more towards the 80s than he ever has the 90s. And Nakata oft ends up pulling from so many different eras and influences, fused with his own stylisation, that the specificity is kinda lost. Perfume’s Triangle is a great example of this, where a song such as “Dream Fighter” pulls from the 70s, 80s and the 2000s pretty equally. But on Candy Racer era specificity is very much THE thing. Album opener “DE.BA.YA.SHI. 2021” lays it all out flat from the start, giving us 90s gabber and then going straight into the album title track “Candy Racer, a 90s rave song with an chorus that sounds like Perfume’s Complete Best cut “Perfume”. Simply put, it sounds like something out of Ridge Racer. And then we go into the hardcore rave cut “Dodonpa”, Nakata’s take on oontz oontz. Something which is given a twist by way of Kyary’s onomatopoeic vocals, and an intro which sounds like “Molgera” from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Candy Racer opens SO strong and sells the intent and the vibe of the album so well in the first 3 tracks, but then it all goes a bit wonky.

Album Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Candy Racer | Random J Pop

When I first heard “Jumping Up”, the leaked clip of “DE.BA.YA.SHI. 2021” and “Dodonpa”, I said ‘Oh no’. Because I knew what Candy Racer was gonna end up as. An album with a clear sound and theme, let down by the earlier singles which don’t fit them. And that’s exactly what happened. Track 4 is when we get hit with “Kamaitachi”. And the tone that the first 3 songs on Candy Racer set go out of the window. And this isn’t helped by the fact that “Kamaitachi”, “Gentenkaihi”, “Kimi ga ii ne Kuretara” and “Gum Gum Girl” are all sequenced together, smack bang in the middle of the album.

As much as I like “Kimi ga ii ne Kuretera” and “Gum Gum Girl”, they’re not great fits for Candy Racer. “Gum Gum Girl” JUST about works, because the sound pulls in elements from 80s and 90s pop. But we could’ve done without the rest. And whilst these songs are sequenced in the best possible way they could be, the album grinds to halt when they hit. So much momentum is lost in the middle of the album because of the Japamyu detour it takes with “Kamaitachi”, “Kimi ga ii ne Kuretara” and “Gum Gum Girl”. I don’t get how Kyary, Nakata, or anybody else could have listened to the album and not figured that maybe the singles should be left off, and 3 new songs should be recorded to replace them. If Kyary hadn’t changed record labels between Japamyu and Candy Racer, I woulda suggested that she put out a deluxe edition of Japamyu with “Gum Gum Girl”, “Kamaitachi” and “Kimi ga ii ne Kuretara” on it, because quite frankly they would have made Japamyu a better album and better contextualised the title. But we got what we got.

It’s really unfortunate, because the Candy Racer songs which are on theme are all amazing. But the middle of the album really knocks the wind out of the albums’ sails. And even though it picks up with 3 incredible songs on the tail end (“Jumping Up”, “Perfect Oneisan” and “Naitsuro Flower”), the album never fully recovers from its Japamyu intermission.

Album Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Candy Racer | Random J Pop

I’m probably in the minority here, but the singles really are a sticking point for me with Candy Racer, because I can’t help but feel like I only got two thirds of a solid album as a result. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the singles were in the same vein as everything else, but they aren’t. “Kamaitachi”, “Kimi ga ii ne Kuretara” and “Gum Gum Girl” all sound like Japamyu songs, and share a theme between them which isn’t wholly cohesive with what Nakata was going for with the rest of Candy Racer. It’s a symptom of the Japanese singles release model, and it’s something which fucks up a lot of albums. But Kyary has her own record label now, and I feel strongly that she should have pulled a _genic and just left the singles off. It’s not like any of them were huge hits that the album couldn’t have done without. And as good as these songs are, it’s not like any of them hold candles to the newer material anyway. So Candy Racer leaves me feeling a bit short changed in the same way Japamyu did. The blow is lessened here because we get better songs, but the blow still lands regardless.

The decision to not only include the singles on this album, but to not put out a full promotional single prior to the album release which is reflective of Candy Racer also creates problems, because we're right back to where we were with Japamyu. A bunch of singles which don't represent the album, and let people know what they're in for.

Kyary set herself up badly here. She best hope her apple wig shampoo sells more than the 3000 units that Candy Racer sold.

Album Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Candy Racer | Random J Pop

Whilst Nakata turns in some great songs, probably some of his best productions in quite some time, the not-so-great Nakata-isms still find their ways into the songs. 

Nakata is still doing this thing where he’s making the songs about him and his sound, and prioritising that over the artist. Any moment that Nakata can find to not include vocals, he gon’ take it or he gon’ create the moment. This is extremely evident on a song like “Perfect Oneisan”, which has this nice bridge moment, but it goes on for longer than it needs to, all without any vocals from Kyary at all. I didn’t need a full verse from Kyary to be sung over it. I like me a good instrumental passage. But just some soft harmonised ♪ Ooooo ♪’s and ♪ Ahhhh ♪’s would have gone some way to maintain Kyary’s presence on the song without disrupting the music. The musical bridge also does the same thing that the bridge on the original mix of Perfume's “Polygon Wave” does, which is disconnect itself from the rest of the song. “Perfect Oneisan” transitions into its bridge beautifully, but doesn’t transition out of it quite so well. It abruptly just switches back into a place which allows the song to pick up where it left off, as though Nakata couldn’t figure out a way to seamlessly steer his deviation back on course. “Perfect Oneisan” is generally so damn good of a song, that Nakata getting a little lost in his own bridge doesn’t ruin it in any way; but it’s a small thing that those who really pick out details in songs may notice. And it’s only noticeable because every other aspect of the song is so meticulously arranged. Song structures have long been an issue with Nakata and it seems to plague him still.

The faults of Nakata-isms also creep into the album opening trinity. “DE.BA.YA.SHI. 2021”, “Candy Racer” and “Dodonpa” are all good songs. But that’s 3 songs where Kyary’s vocal contributions are limited. This could have easily been fixed by giving “Candy Racer” an additional verse and a middle 8, instead of just one verse which consists of ♪ C’YAAAAAAAAANDEE RACAAAAAAAAAH! SWEETEEEEEEEEEEEEIE, SWEETEEEEEEEEEEEEIE! ♪. The album title track also has lots of instrumental moments, which could have easily been filled with more of Kyary's stuttered vocals, to once again maintain Kyary’s presence on the song, without losing the musicality.

And then there’s “World Fabrication”. The obligatory Capsule cover that every Kyary album has to have. This cover is fine, except it doesn’t fit the album for shit. Why Nakata didn’t re-work the cover to fit in line with Candy Racer or pick a Capsule song which already fits it is beyond me. But this version of “World Fabrication” has no place on this album. And for it to be the last track after “Natsuiro Flower”, which would have been a perfect album closer just makes no sense. “Natsuiro Flower” even has a fade-out finish, and Nakata rarely EVER fades his shit out. ALBUM CLOSER. I don’t know what it is with this habit that Nakata has developed for not picking obvious album closers. He pulled the same shit with Perfume’s Cosmic Explorer (shoulda been “Star Train”) and Future Pop (shoulda been “Tenku”). And he’s at it again here.

But I will give credit where it's due. Nakata does more good here than bad. “Natsuiro Flower” is so good that I almost said to myself 'Maybe Nakata has actually got his shit together'. Kyary singing over a fire 80s as hell seductive slow jam about her pussy on a beach is not something I ever expected from her nor Nakata. But we're here, and it's amazing.

Album Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Candy Racer | Random J Pop

Candy Racer has genuine moments of joy that make me smile. And now that I think about it, this is another key thing which was missing from Pikapika Fantajin and Japamyu. I laugh every time the drop hits on “DE.BA.YA.SHI. 2021”. And the chorus of “Perfect Oneisan” and just the song title alone makes me chuckle. You can tell that Nakata had fun making this album, and that Kyary was enjoying the ride. Nothing about this album feels half-arsed. So if Perfume’s next album ends up sounding like shit...again, then Nakata has personal beef with Perfume and I'mma need Nocchi to get in Nakata's face and ask what's good.

With Pamyu Pamyu Revolution and Nanda Collection, Nakata seemed to find joy in having an outlet where he could do the wacky things that he felt he could no longer do with Capsule or Perfume any more. And Kyary seemed to enjoy having a musical outlet that complimented her visual style. But with Kyary having hit that fame tipping point, everything became more about the money and Kyary as a commodity; which stripped the innocence and the joy out of the music over time. Pikapika Fantajin and Japamyu felt like releases which were the fulfilling of a contractual obligation, rather than something which was funnelled by a genuine desire. Candy Racer sounds like an album which was fuelled by Kyary and Nakata's desire to actually create something fun, but also genuinely cool. Kyary has never been what many would have once deemed 'cool'. Kyary's thing was to completely turn the concept of what is deemed cool on it's head, which in itself was kinda punk, and therefore became cool. Similar to Tommy february6. But Candy Racer is a cool sounding album in ways that none of her other albums are.

Both Kyary and Nakata seem to be at points in their careers where they want to return to recapture and settle into earlier versions of themselves. The versions of themselves when they were fearless, untainted, and did things for no other reason than the thrill of simply having the chance to do it. The whole of “Gentenkaihi” lays out Kyary’s desire for this. And with Nakata this notion tracks when you listen to the music he’s put out for Capsule and Perfume over the past year. Perfume's “Polygon Wave” sounds like Game. Capsule’s “Hikari no Disco” and “Future Wave” sound like early Capsule.

Oftentimes when we’re trying to figure out where to go, we’re so focused on trying to move forward, that we never consider turning around and going back. Progress is not linear. And forward doesn't not equal progress or growth. So kudos to Kyary and Nakata for taking the time to stop and realise that the way to move forward is to go back. But Kyary needs to be braver when it comes to putting albums together. Kyarihanna Fenty is a business woman now, with her own record label. This isn’t just a title that Kyary carries. It comes with responsibility and power, both of which Kyary should have exercised to ensure that Candy Racer went out in as best a form as it could be, but she didn’t do that. As good as the newer material on this album is, the decision to include the earlier singles which feel out of lock step with everything else hurt it. And then “World Fabrication” just being here to be here, prevents Candy Racer from fulfilling the potential it so clearly had. But Candy Racer provides somewhat of a clean slate for Kyary and Nakata to do pretty much anything. I couldn't see where Kyary and Nakata could really go after Pikapika Fantajin or Japamyu. But with Candy Racer I see a clear open road for them both.

VERDICT: Sweetie, sweetie

■ DE.BA.YA.SHI. 2021 🔥
■ Candy Racer
■ Dodonpa 🔥
■ Perfect Oneisan
■ Jumping Up 🔥
■ Natsuiro Flower 🏆