Mr. Children

Supermarket Fantasy

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Being a high-profile band 20 years deep into their career on the Japanese scene, which doesn't favor experiments for established acts, Mr. Children obviously aren't about to stray far from their sweet, sleek, and sunny pop/rock. However, their style still allows some room for wriggling, and wriggle they do, because Supermarket Fantasy, despite its consumerist title, has a clearer identity than its blandly nice predecessor, Home. The trick is simple: Mr. Children imbue their tunes with gargantuan doses of sentimentality, shamelessly plundering the vaults of '80s pop and pop/rock. Granted, sentimentality is J-rock's middle name, but the myriad followers Mr. Children have spawned by 2008 usually deliver pleasant but indistinct jumbles of chord progressions, angelic vocals, and string textures, whereas Mr. Children are able to produce some clear and effective, if cheesy, melodies. Not that the band pays no attention to arrangements; on the contrary, Supermarket Fantasy is lavishly orchestrated even by J-pop standards, where having equal amounts of strings and guitars is considered normal. But sweeping violins and synthesizers (major key only) are just that: arrangements that help the hooks, rather than hide their absence. That said, Mr. Children fail to deliver on catchiness from start to finish -- some cuts on the latter half of the album, such as "Tokyo" or "Rock 'n Roll," aren't very memorable (and the latter doesn't have enough rock & roll, either). But Mr. Children do their best to make up for it, with the bluesy opening track and the orchestra interlude in the climactic "Kaze to Hoshi to Mebiusu no Wa." Supermarket Fantasy is still far from perfect: the record can be accused of being safe, derivative, and blatantly manipulative when it comes to emotional impact. But then, it never pretends to be avant-garde, and the fact is, while a host of Japanese performers, from Ayaka to Sid, try to capture this kind of sound, it's Mr. Children who are able to nail it.

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