SMAP

Super Modern Artistic Performance

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With nearly 20 albums behind them, the boys of pop supergroup SMAP (Sports Music Assemble People) put out their first semi-self-titled album in 2008 with Super Modern Artistic Performance -- same initials, different words. Their sound continues to evolve, though the focus is of course on straightforward harmonized boy band pop. On those straightforward tracks, the band does nice work but nothing that hasn't been heard out of the group in the past. It's where they depart from the formulaic stuff that the album gets interesting. The opening and closing tracks of this album include some work on the songwriting end from will.i.am and make exceptional pieces. Instead of the happy, poppy, peppy fare that fills their discography, it's a pounding, thumping dance track that would fit the Black Eyed Peas just fine but works better with the harmonizing of SMAP mixed with the occasional bits of rapping. The track "Jazz" brings out Yoko Kanno, a composing wunderkind for piano jazz at its nightclub-format best, with more harmonizing over the top. The trick here is that instead of trying to change the sound of SMAP themselves, they place their abilities into other styles, seeing what happens. More often than not, the sheer musicality of the band, applied to new sounds, works out as something fresh and interesting.