Review Summary: No matter how retarded the band name may be, "Check Manifest" is one of the most solid and underrated pieces of Japanese electro to date.
Cutemen are a great example of a Japanese electro duo that got buried throughout time. Throughout the 90's, electronica was becoming a huge brand in Japanese music, first made popular by bands like YMO in the 70's, before evolving into bands like Soft Ballet in the late 80's and early 90's, Denki Groove in the mid 90's, and virtually all of Tetsuya Komuro's projects. But the problem with bands like Cutemen is that they weren't fun or bizarre enough to break into the consciousness of the Japanese mainstream, which led to their eventual demise in the mid 90's. One can call it a case of being "ahead of their time", but since one hardly revisits their discography, that wouldn't cut it either. However, before their folding, they released a highly fulfilling album that many Japanese electro groups are still trying to master today. That record would be 1992's "Check Manifest", which is as true of a diamond in the rough as it comes.
The album kicks off with "October Song", which is a fun piece of bizarre and futuristic electropop, equipped with crickets and synths bleeding all over the place. This instrumental introduction works great as a preparation for "CM Song", which experiments with a breakbeat kind of sound, and ends up sounding a bit like Denki Groove's blueprints for years later. A good track, however, when "I'm Here" comes on, one completely forgets about the mere "good" track previously, and becomes hypnotized with the spacey, electropop track. The progressive chorus is splendid as well, which features synths battling with trumpet orchestration. A great track that completely buries the potential of "CM Song". "Toy with Me" starts off the album's hot streak, and comes equipped with Nintendo-like sound effects battling with the ferocious, yet tender, rhythm of the track. A definite standout track, but the true album winner is "Please, Please, Please", which just happens to be right after "Toy with Me". "Please, Please, Please" is a track with a childlike synthpop pound, with the deep vocals of frontman, Picorin, completely coating and coinciding with the track. One of the greatest pieces of electro/synthpop without a doubt, with the main childlike kick of the song, combined with an occasional acidic-electro interlude. "Tenderness" is also a great track, with a progressive power synthpop feel, and, even though it isn't an automatic album stealer, it still works as a great track, with an outstanding dramatic and orchestrated feel. The piano interlude works wonders in the song, and pushes "Check Manifest" to unexplored territory, further making the album a joy to all electro fans.
"Oh Yeah 92" is a very hyperactive interlude-type track, which takes the listener by surprise a bit. Since "Oh Yeah" is definitely a rave track, it lacks a bit of the atmosphere which made tracks like "Please x 3" and "Tenderness" so enjoyable. However, it will please the rave fan. A bit of a downer, and gets highly annoying after a bit, but still... it's a decent track. "Orange" slows things down a bit once more, and is an iffy track by itself. The only thing that makes the track interesting is the occasional "ah" sound effect stab that's thrown in once in a while. Otherwise, the track is skippable, making it the only track on the album worth skipping, and is the reason why the album isn't a full-blown "classic". "Earth, Energy, Ecstasy" is a straight club track, losing atmosphere once more, but is also a fun track. The corny raps kill the track's credibility tremendously, but as soon as Picorin's deep vocals come on, it saves the track a little bit. "Warawanai de" is a smooth new jack swing-meets-synthpop type of track, with dreamy 8-bit stabs twined with Picorin's smooth vocals and superb execution all together. A silky track, and practically saves the album from the mediocrity of "EEE" & "Orange" and the agitating interlude "Oh Yeah 92". "San Francisco" is an islander/experimental track that starts the closing of the album, and is the last reasonable length track ("Picorin in the Space" being 8 minutes). The album is a nice ambient-like track, but shouldn't be counted as a real track, just virtually another interlude. "Picorin in the Space" is the final track on the album, and is the longest one as well (8 minutes for ***'s sake). The track is a spa-like track and puts the listener at full ease. The track is also a standout track for not only its smooth and dreamy atmosphere, but also its length. But due to its sheer unwinding vibe, one hardly notices the 8 minutes passing. An outstanding closer for an outstanding electronica album.
In short, at 12 tracks, the "Check Manifest" album may run a bit too long for some (almost an hour), but for those who can hang on through the album, they will be rewarded with a terrific album that mixes both the fun and serious sides of electronica. Fantastic album, and it's a shame that the Cutemen name is as underrated as it is.