With the release of Strawberry Cream Soda Pop Daydream in 2009 it looked like this Best Of album would mark the end of Tomoko Kawase’s alter ego project as Tommy February6. So it was a welcome relief that in 2011 she began giving hints about new material to come.
So now in 2012 we get the release of TOMMY & HEAVENLY – a special split album that features not only brand new material by Tommy February6, but also new material by Tomoko’s other alter ego Tommy Heavenly6. It also marks the first album on Warners since her contract with DefStar expired.
There’s always been something compelling about the Tommy February concept with the idea that you can produce a manufactured pop act with a very distinctive persona and visual image coupled with a very stylised musical approach. And it’s a concept that Tomoko Kawase pulls off so well.
It’s telling that there’s no mention of ‘Tomoko Kawase’ on the album credits. Production and writing credits are once again assigned to Malibu Convertible aka Shunsaku Okuda (Mr Tomoko Kawase) and Ryo Matsui who form the other members of Tomoko’s original band The Brilliant Green.
As an album it’s been misconstrued as a double when in fact it’s really one album more or less equally divided down the middle (Both February and Heavenly get 7 tracks apiece – although Heavenly technically gets 6 and a remix!).
The packaging will probably inspire the wrath of those that despair at digipacks, but the fold-out element of the sleeve give the album a sense of charm with a fine attention to detail, such as the Tommy logos in the booklet sleeve. There’s also a nice tactile quality courtesy of the embossed elements on the outer sleeve. It’s nice to see CD packaging getting treated with care and attention in a world where many artists and labels are trying to resurrect vinyl in the current fad for nostalgia porn.
Hot Chocolat kicks things off with a composition that has all the trademark February licks of catchy melodies, uplifting key-changes – and random English lyrics. The production has some nice fuzzy distortion which adds to the charm. It’s a good start and a good reminder about what makes Tommy February6 work so well.
My Future Boy continues with that classic squelchy synth sound that typified earlier Tommy material. It’s interesting that Tommy wears her influences on her sleeve, notably the Eurobeat/PWL inspirations and other nods to the 1980’s music scene, yet she manages to wrap it up into something that manages to sound contemporary and sharp. It’s often a tough gig to pull off in a current music scene that’s dogged by retro bands and retro sounds handled by less talented souls.
Last Slow Dance takes things down a notch as we get a wistful Tommy-style ballad, which she can pull off with some aplomb (remember the Strawberry Switchblade-esque SwEEt dREAM from Tommy Airline?). Things then get funky with Good Night My Sweet Day which takes an unusual change of pace two thirds in with a sample-heavy segue (including samples from a Speak ‘n’ Spell).
I Hold Your Night, with its mid-tempo piano, is reminiscent of I’ll Be Your Angel from her debut album with its subtle call-outs to Berlin’s Take My Breath Away.
Disc 2 kicks off Tommy Heavenly6’s entry into the fray. Heavenly’s last studio album I Kill My Heart arrived in 2009, yet by this point Tommy had already chalked up an impressive catalogue of songs, including the superb Wait Till I Can Dream from debut album Tommy Heavenly6.
Call Me Princess is a good opener to get things moving with its multi-layered shimmering rock. It’s a good reminder that Tomoko Kawase has an impressive and capable vocal range and reveals a versatile musician playing to her strengths.
Hate Your Lies keeps up the pace as another solid rock number while I’m Your Devil demonstrates that Heavenly can also deliver an effective slab of Pop-Rock on what is perhaps one of the stand-out tracks on the album. Meanwhile, You Hurt Me has a driving melody that would sound fantastic live (and just as good in your favourite J-Pop club night!).
monochrome rainbow is just a brilliant track that manages to weld a wistful melody-driven vocal that plucks at the heartstrings to a relentless rock engine. It’s not surprising that this track was chosen as the Heavenly single of choice from the album (and also used as the second season ending song for the Bakuman anime).
The Halloween Remix of I’m Your Devil that rounds out the album is another gem. It’s a Gothic Pop masterpiece with its theatrical spoken intro and effects. It falters a little towards the end, but manages to get back on track for the final storming minute.
It’s a very clever concept for an album but the crucial question is whether or not it’s a successful concept. Not every track could be called classic Tommy, it has to be said – and the album itself takes a few spins to be appreciated. But any new Tommy material (be it February or Heavenly) is always a welcome addition to the J-Pop library. As Tommy herself suggests – “You can always try me”.
Text by Paul Browne
28th March 2012