How many Japanese City Pop albums come with their own overture? Momoko Kikuchi’s Adventure, originally released in 1986, is the latest entry in the reassessment of this R&B flavored subgenre, and the instrumental fanfare that launches the record with a piece of pop ambition that it doesn’t quite fulfill. Like much of the City Pop reissued by Light in the Attic and its distributed labels, it’s a slick picture of a me-decade music scene that thrived far from Western ears but was thoroughly inspired by American pop. What makes this picture a little less in focus is a showcase voice that isn’t completely up to the task. After all, she had just turned 18.

If Kikuchi’s voice doesn’t have the depth to pull off the ersatz soul of the subgenre, the effect is kind of like R&B bubblegum. The label’s description of her vocals “complimenting [sic] the electric music like caramel sauce over vanilla ice cream” is apt; this is sweetened post-Motown pastiche. Take, for instance, a track that transliterates to “I Want to Be a Wave.” It opens with glassy percussion and shimmering synth line before a pop beat that suggests, to pick something approximately contemporary, Culture Club’s “Church of the Poisoned Mind.” Kikuchi’s voice is thinner than Boy George’s (not that he didn’t flub some notes along the way), but the still adolescent voice lends it an innocence that invokes ‘60s girl groups. In the 21st century, a producer would have Auto-Tuned the dickens out of that timbre, but here the limitations are for all to hear, and if it’s a little too vanilla-flavored, it feels more endearing than manufactured.

Still, make no mistake, this is glitzy product made during an economic boom, the sound of a youthful optimism—remember that? At any rate, the charming overture that opens the album is a thematic preview in more ways than one, hinting at key melodies and introducing ‘80s production values that sell soul and uplift with plenty of attractive artifice. Take a look at the cover image, which shows Kikuchi swimming in a lighted pool, a dramatic purple sky behind her. What kind of Adventure does this promise? With titles like “Night Cruising” and “May Not Meet Again,” romance is in the air, but nothing threatening, thanks to Kikuchi’s diminutive vocals; a cultural critic better versed in Japanese pop idols might make hay out of this seductive (but also very clean!) persona as alluring water nymph and suggest it’s a watered-down, commodified sexuality. Perhaps that’s an exercise best left to others, but isn’t that what make-out songs are? Lyric translations are not provided, but one wonders what’s going on in “Red Lightning,” especially given an intro groove that briefly cops “Like a Virgin.”

Ship to Shore declares this quintessential City Pop, and it’s good fun; the LP is available in purple vinyl and with a deluxe poster of the cover art. But even better is a concurrent reissue, Rie Murakami’s Sahara; the promotional push wasn’t as strong for that one, but its enigmatic cover came ready-to-meme. Although Kikuchi had just turned 18 when Adventure released, she was already a pop veteran; her debut was the 1984 Ocean Side, with ebullient horn charts that lean even more to the subgenre’s R&B roots. (Feel free to scratch your head at the teenager following that up with an album called Tropic of Capricorn; Henry Miller probably would not have approved.) Come along for this musical adventure if you like, but rest assured there’s more interesting City Pop out there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Various Artists: The Ladies of Too Slow to Disco 2

Quality, catchy music that deserves your respect. …