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Review: Perfume’s “Spring Of Life/Communication”

“Spring Of Life,” Perfume’s 20th single and first for Universal Music Japan, sold 49,448 copies on the day of its debut, giving the techno-pop trio their highest first-day sales ever. The song also saw digital release in 50 countries, and coinciding with “Spring Of Life’s” release, Universal gave Perfume their very own label, Perfume Records. All of this movement pretty much kicks off Universal’s attempt to turn Perfume into a global name. It is, needless to say, a big release.

What’s funny about all this hubbabaloo is that the song ushering in all of this change breaks no new ground for Perfume. “Spring Of Life” finds everyone in the Perfume universe – the three singers, producer Yasutaka Nakata, the people who decide what flavor of alcoholic pop to hustle the song out to – doing pretty much what they always do for the big A-side singles post Triangle (2009). And, even though many in the Japanese media (at least the English side, which is what I understand) criticize the group for clinging to the same sonic blueprint while edging closer to pure pop, it’s the right decision. Instead of altering themselves to maximize worldwide appeal…a decision that helped to torpedo BoA and Hikaru Utada’s forays into the Western market…they have decided to stick to what has already worked in Japan and just introduce it to a potentially larger audience.

“Spring Of Life” really does come off like a scientist-constructed song, featuring everything that makes Perfume sound like…well, Perfume. It’s a hyper-upbeat song packed with Willy-Wonka-colored electronics, all playing out over a beat midway between the pop charts and the dance club, Nakata flexing his populist songwriting abilities. The members of the group sing as they always do, flowing with Nakata’s digital wave and sometimes allowing it to envelop them in ones and zeroes. It has a killer chorus. It even functions as a seasonal treat in the same way “Chocolate Disco” appeared on Valentine’s Day, coming out around the time Japan transitioned from glum winter to spirit-boosting Spring, “Spring Of Life” not so much background for the entire three months but the sound of this specific moment when people can start peeling off layers. Some dude in promotions deserves a promotion.

“Spring Of Life” functions as a great gateway to the group’s digi-pop onslaught, but simply writing “standard-issue Perfume” over it comes off as a little unfair. One of the complaints aimed at the group over the last year has been the belief Nakata has been mailing in his production duties for the trio. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but “Spring Of Life” finds him trying out some new ideas right in the open. The most obvious comes late, when the sun rays vanish for a second and a throbbing bit of dance music overtakes the song. It adds a touch of tension to an otherwise candyfloss tune, and Nakata wisely lets it go long enough so that when the somehow-brighter-now music bounces in, the whole song becomes even more ecstatic. On a subtler level, check the squelchy lines of synth crawling down “Spring Of Life’s” side during the verses – a small touch that gives the track a little extra personality.

This single also comes with one other new song, called “Communication.” It’s a throwback to the trio’s earliest work, a time when Perfume weren’t signed to a major label and constantly on the verge of being disbanded due to lackluster sales. It’s a cute idea – hey longtime fans, remember this style! – except Nakata already did it last year, and did it a whole lot better. That song was “Have A Stroll” off of (the still-dominating-time-on-my-iPod) JPN, which mimicked the cutesy looping of stuff like “Vitamin Drop” while still being very much the product of Perfume circa 2011. “Communication” sounds cute in a way more annoying fashion, one where the group’s trademark digital vocal manipulation gets turned down a bit (DANGER DANGER) and the backing bleep-bloop pigeon sounds mirror the sounds of French children’s show star Pigloo. Tellingly, you can only download “Spring Of Life” from iTunes, “Communication” relegated only to the physical CD as a hook to convince people to spend 10 bucks. It is especially frustrating considering that the other new track teased, “Point,” sounds fantastic.

What’s refreshing about Perfume’s adventure into Western markets is the low-stakes game they are playing. Whereas Utada and BoA did a lot to try to get over in America – the latter did a collab with fucking Flo-Rida, for God’s sakes – and current K-Pop supergroup Girls’ Generation seem hellbent on making it in the States, Perfume seem to be approaching this with a detached approach that ends up being a swagger all its own. Sure, they launched a pretty website and are upping their social-media game, but they are pretty much (at least for now) just releasing songs they would have dropped in Japan to other country’s iTunes Stores and then sitting back. Besides being a good way of not getting hopes up, it also shows a strange confidence that feels wonderful in the face of relentless marketing – we are Perfume, and here is a Perfume song, hope you enjoy. “Spring Of Life” is one of the most significant singles they’ve released, but it’s Perfume just being Perfume.