ALBUM REVIEW: Polysics – 15th P

Few bands give as much to their fans as Polysics – they never seem to stop working. If they’re not touring the world (though admittedly they haven’t graced the UK with their presence in a few years), then they’re recording and/or then releasing a new album almost every year, with EPs and maxi-singles in between. But as a result, they have recently overstretched themselves, their output starting to strain with their workload, resulting in some pretty inconsistent offerings. Sure, the singles seem to deliver the goods, but their often bloated albums tend to feel like too much filler. Energetic, wigged-out, crazy filler, granted, but filler all the same. And that’s by no means a result of keyboardist and occasional vocalist Kayo departure from the band – both We Ate the Machine and Absolute Polysics (the last album on which she performed) have their moments, but they are thin on the ground. One could argue they are more of a live band at heart, the albums just to advertise a new tour and familiarise fans with what will become the bed for their on-stage antics.

But with their 15th anniversary release (at 8 tracks, too short to really call an album, too long to constitute an EP), they feel reinvigorated, with 15th P succeeding on a number of levels, and easily their best work since 2007’s Karate House.

For starters, there’s the obvious fan service. It’s as much a celebration of the band as the loyal audience who have stuck by them so long. And as such, we are treated to a new version of frequent show-starter ‘Buggie Technicia’, but the clearest indicator is in follow-up track ‘Ariga Toisu!’, a kaleidoscopic journey through the Polysics back catalogue, with ear-blink or you’ll miss them microsamples of past classics, yet still managing to hold it together in a coherent track – well, as coherent as they get. Perhaps that’s a commentary on how Polysics’ sound hasn’t really evolved in 15 years, but that’s a rather cynical approach.

Next up is the collaborators. Now a three piece, Polysics fill out their sound with a host of special guest stars from a host of different genres, forcing them to adapt and experiment with voices other than lead Hayashi’s screech or vocoding. There’s Takuma from 10-FEET’s rock-rapping on ‘Mix Juice’, Kojima Mayumi’s jazzy lilt on ‘1.2.Daa!’, Satoshi Mishiba’s virtuoso piano flourishes on ‘783640’ – all offering something new and giving their sound a new lease of life. Only ‘Tomodachi’ falls flat, more of an interesting interlude than something worth listening to more than once, given that its 67 guests from the likes of Asian Kung-Fu Generation and Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, all cha-cha-ing at once for a couple of minutes.

But the highlight is an act of pure self-indulgence – a collaboration with Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo, the band that has inspired and informed Polysics throughout their career. A cover of their B-side ‘Mecha-Mania Boy’, it’s quite something to hear both influencer and influence together at last.

Where will Polysics go from here? More tours, and more albums presumably, and while we can’t expect them to do much more in collaboration on quite this scale again (at least maybe not for another 15 years), let’s hope they learn the lessons gained from 15th P, and aren’t afraid to mix it up again.

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