How long can one artistic endeavor continue to scavenge, sift and sculpt from the raw materials of (culturally) dead pop forms and still produce shining temples of sonic architecture? All eyes should focus on the Japanese kitsch craftsfolk of Pizzicato Five.
Fifteen years on and the godfathers (and godmother) of such très chic acts as Fantastic Plastic Machine, Kahimi Karie, Cornelius and St. Etienne still plunder and repackage with as much chicy (er, cheeky) vivacity as anyone prancing and strutting his or her musical wares up and down the international jet set runway. Translation: Pizzicato Five still knows how to have fun.
Maybe it’s the recurring motif of good ol’ bloopermeister Kermit Schafer’s oft-sampled “This recording is a series of indiscretions captured.” Perhaps it’s that despite every run of baroque-Bacharach horns, oboes and cheese keyboards, this hangs together like a series of propulsive, sing-along, beat-driven commercials, travelogue segments and TV theme songs. Or just maybe it’s the seemingly relentless, upbeat “vibe” (babe) of the slab. Whatever the reason, Fifth plays less like the compilation of singles that it is and unfolds like an album, an actual, honest to goodness Shibuya album. (Then again, maybe I’m just losing something in the translation, cuz as the particularly upbeat cut “A Room With A View” draws to its stop-and-start tease of a close, my Japanese-fluent listening cohort interjects: “Nice! That’s a love song!” I had no friggin’ idea!)
It would be easy for P5 to go over the top as many of their Shibuya pop contemporaries have (tried listening to a Cornelius record lately?). But, bless ’em, Yasuharu Konishi, Maki Nomiya and their pals maintain a disciplined sense of composition and that Euro-pop savoir flare that is as easy on the headphones as it is on the dance floor denizens.
So long as pop continues to eat itself, Pizzicato Five will continue to prepare only the finest fusion of delicacies. And now, for a less hackneyed assessment: So long as there are sonic raw materials to be plundered and Tokyo continues to be a hyperactive circus of the world’s pop culture, Pizzicato Five should continue to beat the synth drum ’n’ hi-hat for deconstructionist pop music. They still make the 20th century seem old-fashioned.
E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org.