Three Jpop Discs that Matter: Number Two

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Number Two: Judy and Mary – The Power Source, 1997

Almost a decade before the “Harajuku Girls” were exploitative fodder for washed-up American singers, they were an vibrantly colored and unique fashion phenomenon on the Japanese scene. Whether it was the magazine CUTiE that started the look, I don’t know, but a million high school girls swamped Laforet, Super Lovers, and Betty Blue every weekend to purchase the necessary multi-hued baubles and layers necessary to put together the ergot-infested look. If an SAT from the future asks the following analogy:

Swinging London:Twiggy::Harajuku Cutie Fashion:?

the only acceptable answer would be Judy and Mary‘s YUKI.

With her chaotic teeth and pouty upper lip, the diminutive singer had a stunning charisma, unique voice, and massive stage presence. She gave hope to a bunch of tiny, unpopular high school girls. Yuki and guitarist Takuya were in their early 20s when they started the band with the two over-30 year-olds, bassist Onda and drummer Igarashi. Yuki did the Cutie-punk thing, Takuya looked Sporty, Onda went for Visual-kei-style, and Igarashi dressed in classic heavy metal leather.

Okay, so they looked awful, but Judy and Mary’s music did not sound like anything else the world over — a melodically-complex bubblegum punk with high-pitched singing. Those with hearts un-open to things approaching “cute” should probably avoid, but with no exaggeration, Judy and Mary absolutely wrote the best melodies of 1990s J-Pop if not the entire world. While U.S. Alternative acts tried to figure out how many songs they could write where the chorus was just the verse FASTER and LOUDER, Judy and Mary resurrected melodic songwriting and took it to rococo extremes: notes ran over two whole octaves, falling, rising, doing crazy twists in the most catchy way possible. Also of note: Each of the backing members did songwriting for the band and everyone’s contributions were of equal merit.

JAM had become household names with their 1994 album Orange Sunshine (a LSD reference? Probably not.) and the follow-up Miracle Diving. For The Power Source, they traveled to London to record, and the British engineering and mixing ended up doing great wonders for their sound. The opening track “Birthday Song” is huge crashing rock with a sentimental heart. “Lovely Baby” is just madness, riding from massive noise rock breaks on a perfect punk bass line to the gigantic chorus. The single “Sobakasu” was unfortunately an old recording and doesn’t fit perfectly with the other songs but is insanely catchy (and got them on NHK’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen.)

“Kujira 12gou” is the shining moment, however. The chorus melody sounds like a submarine breaking through Artic ice: crisp, powerful, from seafloor to tip of the iceberg. (I used to have a poster in my room with Yuki’s picture and the lyrics to this song poorly translated into English — one of my prize possessions at a young age.)

Overall, the album stands as the pinnacle of the JAM sound and perfectly encapsulates the Harajuku aesthetic in the mid-’90s. The Power Source was also a huge commercial smash, selling more than 2 million copies. Their next batch of singles went way far-out — the jazz-parsed-with-punk rock of “Music Fighter” and the cascading melodic fantasy of “Iro toridori no sekai” — but the albums just didn’t hold together in the same way. Their last singles in 2000 or so started to get structurally insane, and they soon split. YUKI has become a fashionable indie idol for the post-Harajuku set, and the rest of the members have faded into obscurity.

For the kind of sweet-tooth sweetheart J-rock that still exists today and will probably exist forever, Judy and Mary are far and away the high-water mark, if not the only respectable crew in the bunch. Most of you are afraid of cavities and will stay away, but I urge the young-at-heart — “all the wild judy and all glamour punks,” to steal their slogan — to plunge in.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
February 2, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

8 Responses

  1. Jean Says:

    You’ve lost me on this one. I mean, I’m not saying they’re necessarily awful or anything, but I’ve never been able to see what the big fuss was with this band (outside of the fashion aspect that is). Admittedly, I’ve never tried to get past the few singles I’d seen played on TV, but there was never anything there to really make me want to listen to more. I never was able to enjoy that kind of sound in general (Hysteric Blue and the like). It’s a rock esthetic that I can’t get into.

  2. marxy Says:

    I’m probably going to lose everyone on this one. I love JAM but there are some tough barriers to break through before getting to the good stuff.

    Hysteric Blue were a really mediocre JAM-pakuri act. Same with Shakalabbits.

  3. Brad Says:

    I’m still with you. I bought Orange Sunshine back in what, ’94?, and was totally enthralled. I hadn’t really heard much by them, but I liked the album cover (yes, I buy lots of albums this way) and was totally surprised. One of the few albums I have bought without hearing and enjoyed from start to finish. By the time The Power Source came out, I had kinda gotten tired of them or my musical tastes had drifted somewhat…I’m not sure.

    That said, do they belong amongst J-pop albums that matter? Of that, I’m not sure. But I won’t criticize, because I’m not sure I could put together my own list.

  4. rachael Says:

    i’m a big fan of takuya’s songwriting, and his spastic guitar solos. pity his post-jam projects haven’t been so successful… although i did like that juemillia song that he wrote and produced (reset) that came before their cover of “all the things she said”…

    it’s weird how hysteric blue fizzled out… with the guy being arrested for stalking or something…

  5. Nathan Adams Says:

    Although I prefer their final album Warp, the Power Source was the album that got me hooked on JAM in the first place (and one of my initial introductions into Japanese music), so although it’s place as one of 3 albums that matter in general may be called into question by some, it’s definitely one that really mattered for me.

  6. marxy Says:

    I like Orange Sunshine and Miracle Diving a lot. Warp always seemed tired to me, except “Peace” is amazing. I saw them perform that as their encore at some Budokan gig in 2000. Blew me away.

    The guy from hysteric blue was arrested for stalking/harassment or something. Good riddance anyway.

  7. Tiffo Says:

    No. He was arrested for raping, I think. Many rapes. Well, he deserved it. But anyway, yes, JAM, to me, is an orignal and is simply the best.

  8. mochacochalatta Says:

    hai
    we are mochacochalatta from indonesia…
    we are big fans of judy and mary…
    and we are band…
    we played JUDY AND MARY song…
    if you want see our band on stage,this is link…
    you can copy and download…
    this video are when we palyed sobakasu,daydream,classic…

    mochacochalatta – sobakasu
    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=PLA8QE30

    mochacochalatta – day dream
    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=Z9QZLXWG

    mochacochalatta – classic
    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=7H5SIY3R

    please give your comment about our band
    domo ariigatoo