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Don't pigeonhole Puffy as "J-pop" - this album rocks.
on August 23, 2005
First off, don't be scared off by the "J-pop" label people keep attaching to this band here. Puffy's music has no relation whatsoever to popular Japanese singers like Utada Hikaru, Ayumi Hamasaki or Misia, which have more in common with their American equivalents Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera (to give you a comparison you'd probably be familiar with). Pigeon-holing Puffy into this category really does a great band a serious disservice.
Puffy is hard to categorize, but they call themselves a rock band. But don't call them "J-rock" either - their music these days is mostly written by Jellyfish veteran Andy Sturmer, who is also their mentor (along with Tamio Okuda). It has a decidedly western sound to it, which makes the juxtaposition with their mostly Japanese vocals just that much more striking. (Despite their appearance, Ami and Yumi are both also older and more experienced than most of their Japanese contemporaries - both girls are now in their thirties.)
It's this blend of east meets west and this mish-mash of styles and influences that make them as interesting and as listenable as they are. Their music is immediately appealing the first time you hear it, and it only gets better from there.
"Nice" is, in fact, an album probably more tuned to American tastes than Japanese. It was released after their American debut and is a much harder, heavier album than any they've released previously. That's not to say all the songs are that way, but the overall effect is a sort of folk/pop/rock/punk fusion that leans heavier towards punk than their previous efforts. "Urei", for example, is a particularly loud and noisy song, but with such a powerful and (dare I say it) beautifully melodic tune that it will be difficult to get it out of your head once it's in there.
Several of the album's songs are instant Puffy classics, including the hard rocking "Planet Tokyo" that comes off as a true anthem (also presented in its original Japanese as "Red Swing"); "Invisible Tomorrow", the Japanese version of "Friends Forever" (with a different vocal arrangement - your taste may vary); and the ska-influenced "K2G". In fact, there's really not a bad song on the album; I could list almost every song as a potential highlight.
Since their Japanese debut nearly 10 years ago, Puffy has been marching steadily towards this heavier sound, and when I saw them live just a few nights ago in New York, you'd have been forgiven if you didn't think they were an outright punk band. Some people may prefer the new image to the old, some may feel the opposite, but all of their music is great and all of their music is stamped with their unique personality. When all is said and done, though, "Nice" does stand as one of their best works.