Review: Supermarket Fantasy
As a fan, sometimes I buy albums out of loyalty. For instance, I keep on buying all Bon Jovi albums although I no longer feel connected to the music or the band post ‘These Days’.
When Mr Children came out with It’s A Wonderful World a few years go, I remember trying very hard to like the album and was bothered that I did not connect despite repeated listening. Sure, there were a few songs that I really liked like Drawing, Fasunaa and Birdcage. But the tone and mood of the album felt off, it didn’t gel with me, and I was left wondering if the band had grown too mature and too sophisticated for my taste. I know as a whole it was a thoughtful and well-produced album, but I didn’t get it.
So, when I placed my order for Shifuku no Oto, I didn’t have the same giddy feeling that I used to have when a new Mr Children comes out. How wonderful was it that Shifuko no Oto was, short of calling it perfect, a perfect combination of songs and styles that represent Mr Children’s versatility? Til this day, if people ask me to recommend an album, I would always go back to Shinkai and Shifuku no Oto, the two albums that, in my humble opinion, would best show off what Mr Children has to offer.
Supermarket Fantasy (SF) would be the third.
When I first listened to it, I had mixed feelings. It is no doubt a very good and balanced album. If this had been someone else than Mr Children, I would even venture to say that it is one of the best albums of 2008. But because it is Mr Children, I stop short of saying that for a couple of reasons:
- The album is too ‘big’, I’ll explain this in a short while; and
- It feels too intent on espousing the good in people that it seems preachy at times.
Allow me to explain the first point.
Actually, I don’t have to. If you watch this commercial for SF, you will understand what I mean. You will notice that the songs have the same styles. They all sounded ‘big’ (for lack of a better description) and complex . Gone were the quiet sounds of Chi no Kuda or Surrender, or the simple rocking sounds of Everybody Goes and Hana Memento Mori. SF is like an album full of Owari Naki Tabi and Shirushi. Don’t get me wrong. This kind of arrangement worked very well in both Owari Naki Tabi and Shirushi – in fact Shirushi wouldn’t be half as good or devastating if it’s not for the build up and the searing chorus and refraints.
But to have a whole album arranged that way was just too… much. It’s overwhelming. It felt too decadent, almost like having too much of a good thing. Like I said in an earlier comment, at first listen I felt it would only be fair for Mr Children to release an all accoustic album as a follow-up to SF to balance out the extravagance that they displayed so liberally in SF.
Now my explanation of the second point. While Sakurai has always written songs for the common man, never has he been so optimistic and rah-rah like he is in SF. Every song seems to have a moral to it, an uplifting message, a silver lining in the clouds. Is that bad? No. Their songs have always made you think anyway. But it makes SF feel like a motivational album instead of a rock album. I can’t help but think that Gift sort of became the blueprint for the whole album because all the songs seem to go back to a common message: believe in yourself etc etc.
Now that I have those two out of the way, let’s rate the album.
SF, I must say, is a well put-together album. The quality of the songs are consistent, meaning, you know for a fact that there are no fillers or songs that they put in there simply to make up the numbers. If you listen to it from start to finish at one go, you will notice that they put a lot of care in arranging each song to make sure that it sounded unique and different from each other while retaining the same “big sound” style. That must be tough.
Next, the quality of writing is exceptional. When I started to write this review, the transliterations were not up yet in utau-inu so I could only concentrate on the sounds (they are now). Reading the transliterations make you realize how far Sakurai has come, his writing is mature and thoughtful, and it’s no longer about me-me-me-me-me. He is more aware of the other party’s emotions and reactions, and conscious in addressing that in his writing. He is no longer angry or petulant or headstrong. SF displays his softer side, one that looks both ways and firmly believes that things will work out in the end. The positivity can be a bit too much to take it at one go especially since SF reeks of it, but taken individually the songs can be very inspiring and calming.
So what’s the verdict? SF is a pretty album and it’s a pretty good and strong one at that. Despite my grouses I really like it. If you talk about consistency, this is as good as it gets. I wished it had been more diverse and Mr Children had taken more risks like they did with Shifuku no Oto and Shinkai, but that is like complaining that I wish I could drive my Porsche faster than the 120km speed limit of Malaysian highways (you get what I mean). It is definitely an enjoyable, above-average album that showcases Mr Children’s maturity and musical skills. On a scale of 10, I give it a high 8.
My pick of songs would be Shounen, Hanabi, Gift and Kaze to Hoshi to Moebius no Wa (did you notice that there is always a song about wind in all their albums?). In the ranks of albums, it’s in the top 3 best Mr Children albums, together with Shifuku no Oto and Shinkai, though not as diverse as the two.
Get it today.