Fantastic Plastic Machine

Beautiful (Emperor Norton)

Japanese performers frequently bring a wonderfully fresh perspective to American pop. The bouncy sounds that too many musicians on this side of the pond sneer at or reject as embarrassing anachronisms fill the likes of Cornelius and Pizzicato Five with undiluted glee. Moreover, these artists' cheery dispositions and fondness for all that's sunny and upbeat tend to burn off most of the irony and self-consciousness that might otherwise ruin the fun.

That's certainly the case with Tomoyuki Tanaka, the hyper-witty pilot of Fantastic Plastic Machine. Beautiful, Tanaka's third collection, is irresistible sonic candy floss, with a lack of nutritional value that's more than compensated for by its undeniable tastiness. "Beautiful Days," the de facto opener, is electrified disco of the brightest sort imaginable, with steady thumpin', faux strings and happy organ providing the underpinning for a vocal duet that sounds like Barry White and Marilyn McCoo as reinvented by Mattel. That's followed by "Paragon," a joyous melange of jazzy fillips and studio-generated whoops and zoops, and "Love is Psychedelic," a declaration of cool delivered via oddly phrased, charmingly surrealistic lyrics and symphonic soul that Tanaka explains with this simple admission: "Oh, by the way, I might have drank too much." After listening to the end of the tune, you may feel the same way -- but there'll be no hangover the next morning.

Yes, this is a sterling example of style over substance, as is ably demonstrated by the synthetic singers heard throughout "On a Chair" and the dizzying keyboard arpeggios that skate across the surface of the well-named "One Minute of Love" (guess how long it lasts). However, most insubstantial albums aren't nearly as stylish as this one. Beautiful is only skin deep, but what gorgeous skin it is.

 
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