CORNELIUS – “Perfect Rainbow”

He plays games. And nothing else. And your tolerance of Keigo Oyamada’s tactics depends entirely on your tolerance of artists whose entire raison d’etre is to play about with past music and come out with lavish synthetic pastiches. Often it works: “The Micro Disneycal World Tour” was, for me, last decade’s finest example of “la-la-la-la-la” sounding like the most profound lyrics in the world, and “How Do You Feel?” was possibly its finest Beatles appropriation. But the downside of J-Pop is, of course, the way it defines “perfect pop” as something entirely classicist, which places more importance on playing games with the past than defining the loose, elastic, indefinable spirit of the moment; the way its fanbase seem to consider their chosen music to be the most innovative pop extant, the way they tend to look down on genuine modernist pop masterpieces (whether Timbaland or Daphne & Celeste), an entire ethos which is not that different to the jangly 60s idea of “perfect pop” beloved of the indie boys that British J-Poppers so often disown.

Sometimes this misleading process – revivalism disguised as modernity by playing the post-modernists’ card – works: Pizzicato Five’s “World Is Spinning At 45RPM” is aesthetically indefensible, but affects despite itself: the chord changes, and the air of lost innocence and wistful reminiscing over pop past, do the trick. But that’s pop revivalism: Cornelius’s “Perfect Rainbow” is actually rock revivalism, more heavy-handed than he has seemed in the past, and hence devoid of the lighter touch that runs through all his best work, sounding rather unexciting and uninspired. Oddly reminiscent of (but inferior to) the Style Council, it runs through the cliches of 60s and 70s US pop efficiently, but J-Pop has now been around long enough for the same sense of wonder in these “naive” appropriations to have disappeared. The ostentatious “naivety” now sounds irritatingly contrived, and the joy of “How Do You Feel?” is absent here. It’s Cornelius-by-numbers and, while it’s grown on me, it still feels oddly empty and academic, as though he knows what he’s expected to do; harmonica here, shuffling Motownish rhythm there, ostentatiously happy summer mood title on top. It doesn’t necessarily work, and it certainly doesn’t here.

Keigo Oyamada was clearly the one really great talent to emerge from the mid-90s’ Shibuya-kei scene. He’s shone in the past, and will again. Not this time, though.