Puffy AmiYumi


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Puffy AmiYumi spent their first eight years as huge stars in Japan but hidden treasures in the States. The success of their cartoon show on Nickelodeon beginning in 2004 changed that, and now they are big in the U.S., too. The fact that they are best known for a cartoon based very loosely on their lives (some would say too loosely) might lead die-hard Puffy fans to worry about the music. Would they change their sound to capitalize on their preteen fan base or would they crank out another genre-hopping, Technicolor pop/rock gem like 2003's Nice or 2001's Spike? Despite the reassuring continued presence of longtime Puffy producers Andy Sturmer and Tamio Okuda, the first track might have these fans worrying a bit, since "Call Me What You Like" -- written by Butch Walker (best known as Avril Lavigne's producer, though not of her hits) -- is a distressingly shallow and generic rocker complete with references to text messaging, hair coloring, club hopping, and unwarranted slams on country, hip-hop, and soul music. It seems so un-Puffy, so negative and crass, that the urge to write the record off instantly is very strong. Certainly, Puffy have never been anything less than slickly produced commercial pop, but they have always been so joyous, smart, and fun that their origins are easily overlooked. If the rest of the record had followed suit it would have been a disaster; luckily, they revert to classic Puffy right away with the light-as-a-dust-bunny pop/rocker "Nice Buddy." From there, Ami and Yumi crank out the kind of bouncy punk-poppers that are their strength and also take on ska-punk ("Tokyo, I'm on My Way"), '60s-styled pop ("Etude"), loungey baroque pop ("Sunday in the Park"), arena punk ("Security Blanket"), and rockabilly boogie (the Jon Spencer-sponsored "Go Baby Power Now"), and they even toss in an Brit-pop-styled epic ballad ("Radio Tokyo") and a true lighter-waving acoustic ballad ("Cameland"). These last two tracks show that Ami and Yumi's singing has never sounded better. They have always been near-perfect rock vocalists, but now have more depth and are able to pull off the slower tunes very ably. This newfound sensitive side gives Puffy an added dimension, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the duo head in that direction on future releases. Until then, Puffy fans will be quite satisfied with Splurge and glad that, for the most part, they sidestepped their cartoon personas and instead delivered a classic Puffy AmiYumi album. Tragedy averted. Smiles and hugs all around. Cut to commercial. [The American release of Splurge has a slightly different track list than the Japanese release and contains two bonus tracks: remixes of "Friends Forever" from the Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed soundtrack and "Teen Titans Theme," by U-ichi and Hiroyuki Hayashi from Polysics, respectively.]

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