The most oddball J-pop act in the world is still going at it on Sports, honing the balance of quirky and catchy to nano precision. What other band charting in the Oricon in 2010 would have the audacity to open an album with an elaborate a cappella performance, followed by a powerful bass fest showing that, no matter what inferiority complexes the J-music scene has, the Japanese have got the groove on par with the Red Hot Chili Peppers? From there, the album romps through a variety of styles, scattering around bits and pieces of disco, alt rock, and R&B in a nonchalant fashion; there's also a good deal of blues, pop jazz, and that expensive lounge sound always favored by Tokyo Jihen, even though they make it a bit too rough for restaurant crooning. Ringo Shiina's squeaky voice is not perfect for this type of music, but her aplomb makes up for any technical shortcomings -- she has no doubt that she has the right to sing it, and she doesn't care. If you break it down to separate parts, Sports has too many ingredients to work, what with Beatles-esque piano tunes in the "When I'm 64"-style, epic folk suites (the closer "Kimaru") and speedy Pillows rip-offs. But everything on the album gels together, because this is, after all, a J-pop record, and whatever Tokyo Jihen whips out for arrangements, they do it to prop up big, sunny melodies on par with Remioromen, Ikimono Gakari, or anyone else you care to name. That the band is still too shy to really push the envelope and come out on the experimental side is a bit disappointing, but at least Sport leaves a more complex and lasting aftertaste than an average Japanese Top Ten record.
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