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Pizzicato Five

Japan’s best kept secret

By Fred Choi

Taking a quick glance at the description of Pizzicato Five sounds like a recipe for disaster. How could it be possible for a Japanese band singing in Japanese in a style consciously imitating 60’s and 70’s music possibly be popular in America or Europe where the “real thing” is readily accessible, and in English no less? One listen to Pizzicato Five’s new album, Playboy & Playgirl, quickly puts aside any possible doubts or prejudices and makes it obvious that P5 is more than just a novelty act. They’re gaining popularity in the United States after years of success in Japan for one simple reason -- they’re damn good.

Pizzicato Five (made up of the music wonder Yasauharu Konishi and the irrepressible vocalist Maki Nomiya) has a unique sound that one can categorize as “retro” but which fails to convey the duo’s creativity and their incredibly catchy tunes. Although some may scoff at the comparisons, just as Stephen Sondheim’s stylized songs in Follies transcend mere pastiche and Erasure’s infectious tunes still manage to convey worlds of emotion, Pizzicato Five captures the flavor of a small period of music and run wild with it. There are numerous examples of P5 springboarding off of what could easily be limiting music and producing fantastic, new sounds, like the inventive tune “Concerto” which features some wicked harpsichord that even Tori Amos might appreciate. And of course there’s the characteristically fun lyrics, such as the lyrics to “Rolls Royce” which translated read, “You... go out to make a phone call... to your ex-lover? To ask him to feed your cat?”

Although their first American release, Made in the U.S.A. (1994), was amazingly strong, their next two releases, The Sound of Music (1995) and Happy End of the World (1997) were relatively disappointing. It’s great to hear P5 back on track with songs that are sometimes silly, touching, or happy, but always fun and skillfully put together. For those who have yet to be converted to the groovy and catchy world of P5, Playboy & Playgirl is a great place to start.