Perfume are still one of the most attractive three piece acts in the Japanese music scene- they still have some of the most amazing set pieces, choreography and stage shows on offer. However, their most important aspect- the music- has been slowly waning ever since they hit their high point with GAME and Triangle. Their last album LEVEL 3, while still quite a fun listen, really showed cracks in the veneer and a lot of people -whether they admit or not- likely could feel the appeal of the group starting to tire. A few so-so (and one really awful) singles later and here we are, at the release of their latest, COSMIC EXPLORER. Unfortunately it does not offer any kind of retribution or new hope for the group- as they venture into more and more unexciting and dull territory, despite having a few gems hidden between it all.
Before I get off to sound like a grinch– I will talk about the positive elements. Once again, the production is impeccable. That trademark sound is always –at least for a little while– attention catching and warm. The girls sound as good as they usually do- and definitely put in their all in the vocal department. I imagine they’ll put on quite a show when they tour this live too- so that’s their side cleared. The title track COSMIC EXPLORER is absolutely brilliant, it almost seems to have a Kraftwerk inspiration tucked in there- and I dig this immensely. Some of the reworked ‘album-mixes‘ of the earlier singles manage to breath a bit of new life into them- particularly the one of “Cling Cling“- raising the song from something I loathed to actually liking, so kudos there. There’s a couple of great hard hitters here and there to boot too. However… the rest of the album proves to be a chore to listen to- particularly in full. I personally had tuned out by about the halfway mark and had to return to it a second time to finish.
It really leaves us to wonder ‘what happened?” though. Perhaps the taste of international success with his other big project- Kyary Pamyu Pamyu– got to Nakata with Perfume. Constantly introducing more and more western EDM influences into his flagship group has watered down a lot of we used to love about them. The amount of stadium aimed hard hitters on here is far greater than ever before- no longer are we treated to the intricate, unique and highly complex tunes that made earlier works so fascinating and inspiring. Some may argue that it’s alright to make it more approachable- and that’s a noble sentiment. Admittedly, tracks like FLASH and Miracle Worker are instantly pleasing and get your head nodding- but when they’re surrounded with similar, but less successful style tracks- they become almost pointless.
Perfume’s problem isn’t with the sound and image they’ve created- it’s the fact that their producer’s heart just isn’t in it anymore. COSMIC EXPLORER shows (well, more teases) at times, that there’s so many potential avenues that they could explore (imagine a full album with the title track’s sound!)- but opt to take the safe and easy path out. The one Japanese pop group that used to excite even the most jaded hipster with their cutting edge sound and style now bore even the hardest fans. While LEVEL 3 certainly wasn’t much higher standard than this- COSMIC EXPLORER seems to strike as the most uninspired work Nakata has ever put out. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the girls as Nakata seemingly drives them into the ground. Maybe it really is time to call it quits, before their reputation is completely diminished.
5/10– Don’t let the amazing artwork fool you- this is truly Perfume’s most lukewarm album to date. Only hardcore fans need apply. Everyone else- maybe it’s time to revisit GAME or Triangle?