Review Summary: An excellent album from one of Japan's most entertaining bands of the 1990's.
Very few Japanese bands are as lively as the Ulfuls. Ulfuls formed in 1988 in Osaka, and played around locally for about four years before Toshiba-EMI took notice, and signed them. In 1992, the band released their debut album, "Bakuhatsu on Parade", which featured a very straightforward pop rock style. The album was a commercial failure. Their next album, 1994's "Suttobasu", had a slightly better performance, but still was an overall failure, charting at the low ranking of 61 on the Oricon. It wasn't until their single, "Guts Daze!", released December 1995, that the band found success... tremendous success at that, since the single went double platinum, and was also their first top 10 single. This single introduced the hyperactive funk-fused-with-pop style that the band would be later renowned for, and proved to charm the Japanese mainstream audience. This pushed their third album, 1996's "Banzai", to sell over a million copies, and made Ulfuls a household name in Japan. Their next album, "Let's Go", was a humongous letdown in sales in comparison to "Banzai", but was still considered to be a hit, charting at number 5. In "Let's Go", Ulfuls further make a name for themselves, by combining humor with talented addictive pop hooks, and fronting a highly talented vocalist (Tortoise Matsumoto) to boot.
The album kicks off with "Ulfuls AAP no Teema", which starts with cheerleaders chanting something, and then kicks off with a pop-funk-esqued sound that would make Sharan Q proud. A bit of a boring track, but still somewhat of a head nodder. "Heart ni Tsukisasare" is a tremendous pickup from "AAP no Teema", and has Tortoise executing his signature heart-in-throat style, over a nice, driving beat, with a few reasonable breakdowns thrown in for good measure. A terrific track, and does a great job working into one of the album's finest moments, "Sore ga Kotae da!". "Sore ga Kotae da" starts off with Tortoise uttering, and then has him, once again, executing his strong vocal style perfectly, only this time, with a very danceable beat performed by the Ulfuls band. Due to the song's highly addictive nature, and Tortoise's powerful vocal performance, the song quickly became one of Ulfuls's signature hits. And if one listened to the track for themselves, one can easily see why. J-pop gold. "Oyasumi Gold" is a much more of a mellow track, and has Tortoise turning his vocal power down a notch over a compassionate band performance. The song by itself, similarly to "Sore ga Kotae da!", is radio gold, but for the opposite reasons. While "Sore ga Kotae da!" followed a dancey, powerful and addictive style, "Oyasumi Gold" follows a mellow, heartfelt style, which works wonders on conquering the opposite, serious side of the Japanese pop spectrum. "Give Me, Chance wo Kureyo" is a great three-minute ditty, which has a bluesy style to it, and builds the album's energy slowly back up. A short, but very sweet, track.
"Let's Go Monday" starts off with Tortoise chanting, and having a wild crowd banging on pans and shrieking counter. The track then starts off with an aged surfer riff, and Tortoise shrieking at the top of his lungs. The track then has Tortoise singing both clean and rather sludgily, while the band continues to chug away. This track is a great example of the unique style of Ulfuls, as they take an atypical sound, and contort and make it their own one way or another, usually with the vocals of Tortoise. An exciting, yet bizarre, track. "Tsugihagi Boogie Woogie '97" continues where "Let's Go Monday" left off, only without the sludgy vocals intact, and instead has a straightforward surf pop/rock style. The song even has Tortoise singing without his impressive signature kick, which leads the song into being just filler in the album, bringing the potential of the album down. "Hansei Nanka Shinai" focuses on psychedelic guitars, choppy drums and a hypnotizing bass line, showing off the talent of the band, rather than the talent of Tortoise, which is a relief in some ways. The track is a good one, as it contains an impressive display of radio friendliness, while maintaining a good deal of technicality, especially within the drum section. "Nenreifushou no Myouna Onna" comes out of left field, and has a symphonic punch to it, combined with folky banjos and has Tortoise singing over the spacey track... it is exactly as bizarre as it sounds. Another good example of the talent of Ulfuls, and it shows off the talent of the group itself, rather than producing mere "radio hits". "Hayai Toko Shinai" revisits the surfer rock sound of the previous few tracks, which really starts to wear. The song is okay by itself, but otherwise, it really starts to bore the listener, and becomes very repetitive. The final track, "Sora", comes on, and finally brings in a breath of fresh air. Similar to "Oyasumi Gold", the band revisits relaxing grounds, thus making "Sora" a relaxed song by nature, and is a great piece of mid-90's alternative rock, which sort of channels to the later days of Unicorn, more specifically "Springman", which, primarily follows a relaxed alternative sound, with lots of atmosphere. That is virtually what "Sora" is all about, thus making the track a keeper, and working as a good closer.
In conclusion, "Let's Go" is a tremendous album in terms of entertainment, and manages to balance humor and talent effectively throughout the album. One of the major disappointments in the album is its failure to experiment with other genres. On their future albums, such as their peak of musical talent, 2007's "Keep On, Move On", the band experiment with VARIOUS genres: including jungle music, 50's esque doo-wop structured songs, straightforward alt rock, straightforward pop rock, and so on and so forth. But on "Let's Go", the album is toned down with its concentration to make the songs as non-structured as they could've been, and abusing and beating the style of surf rock to a nauseating coma. But for what it's worth, "Let's Go" is a great example of achieving commercial success, while maintaining a unique, ever-changing style that would be poorly replicated by bands for years to come.