Review Summary: The first move from a great band: a fuzzy onslaught of euphoric rock songs that throw grade-A pop hooks out like spare candy at a chocolate factory
One of the legendary Japanese rock bands of the late 90s/early 00s, Supercar were never ones to do things by halves. They worked at a ferociously productive rate, releasing seven full-length albums in seven years (including two companion albums the same year
as their chunky sophomore), ultimately stretching their brand of zany alt rock to its furthest limits on their enigmatic final outing Answer
and their masterpiece Highvision
, which pulled off a Kid A-style plunge into electronic textures only twice as well as that album (no half measures!). However, if there was ever a true case study of their expansive zeal, it came in the form of their full-length debut. Showcasing the fundaments of their songwriting and band chemistry over a mammoth 79-minute runtime, Three Out Change!!
is perhaps the most full-bodied founding charter a young band could hope for. Its soaring choruses, crunchy distortion and unrelenting energy make for a strong first step that shows a fresh-faced band stepping into their craft with full force and boundless optimism.
It’s also one of the most stylistically focused (read: callously homogenous) albums you’ll find in its field, or elsewhere. Over the course of nineteen tracks, the listener is treated to sixteen minor permutations of robust fuzzy pop-rock, two slower ballads(?) in Automatic Wing
, and one acoustic but no less upbeat reimagining of the album’s rockier fare (Drive
). Now, contrary to what one might expect from such a bloated runtime, the songwriting is lean, unindulgent and, if anything, a little simplistic - the sole track to overstay its welcome is the needlessly protracted closer Trip Sky
, which turns 4 minutes’ worth of decent material into a baffling 13-minute slog. Each of these tracks benefits from focused writing and the album’s sole acts of excess are in the infectiousness of its best hooks, the amount of overdrive used throughout the album, and - moot point! - the overall runtime. All the same, it’s a lot. To put things in context, Supercar’s other enormous album (Futurama
: 76 minutes) covered a wider range of stylistic territory and benefitted from exemplary sequencing. It was hardly fat- or filler-free, but the weaker tracks on that album were comfortably accommodated with their respective place in the album’s perky opening combo, daydreamy middle third and moody final stretch, largely justifying the album’s gigantic scope. Three Out Change!!
on the other hand is an onslaught of fuzzy, euphoric rock songs that throw grade-A pop hooks out like spare candy at a chocolate factory. The appeal of the album is predicated less on Supercar’s (impressive) quality control but more on exactly how partial the listener is to the album’s staple sound in the first place. Reactions will likely split into three camps: those who love it, those who find it uninteresting, and those who enjoy it to varying degrees but cannot stop asking themselves just why the band couldn’t have trimmed the fat.
Fortunately, as a member of the latter camp I can assure anyone remotely partial to this sound (which, I would think, would be most people - Supercar are an easy band to love!) that the highlights here are endlessly forthcoming and endlessly memorable. Drive
, for instance, gives bassist/vocalist Miki Furukawa gives the space and mic time to furnish an album highlight from peppy jangle-pop acoustics; one of the best parts of this album in general is the relatively large scope of her role (later Supercar album’s would be dominated by her no less excellent male guitarist/vocalist counterpart Koji Nakamura). On the other hand, (Am I) Confusing You?
, My Way
are all things fuzz and thunder and have more in common with mid-90s Flaming Lips than the brit-pop tags often directed at this album. Automatic Wing
is probably the album’s most ambitious songwriting, covering a range of dynamics at an engagingly sluggish pace with a sense of meandering grit that feels quintessentially 90s, while Cream Soda
kicks things off with a three-minute digest of every attractive quality on offer here…and then there’s Lucky
. Ah, Lucky
. On an album full of great highlights, this one takes the crown. Many of Supercar’s other finest songs play in this fashion, with a mid-tempo cruise over which Furukawa and Nakamura sustain each perfect melody sustained with just enough longing and nostalgia for every utterance to hang off their lips like the creamy residue of the most glorious summertime ice-cream from the dreamiest depths of long lost childhood. There are few words that can do justice to the way the pair trade off verses, harmonise for a heart-stopping pre-chorus and then take it in turns to claim the chorus in its alternate forms, relaying a reflective account of emotional disconnect first from a female and then a male perspective, one singing while the other vocalises in the background. Lucky
is an outstanding track on the strength of its writing, but its male/female dual vocal performance (surely one of the best ever put to tape) raises it to untouchable heights.
It bodes well for Three Out Change!!
that the same impression imparted by Lucky
- that of an irresistible young band with stars in their eyes and wind in their sails - is salient for any given moment of its runtime. It could easily be said that the album represents a handful of perfect songs and a barrage of b-sides, but there isn’t really a single bad track to be found here (even Trip Sky
is more an annoying misstep than an outright dud). All that really differentiates masterpieces like Lucky
from wayside numbers like Trash & Lemmon
is the higher standard of the former’s hooks and a few performance nuances. Many of the good-not-great tracks (Greenage
etc.) are strong standalone listens and firm reminders of the magic touch Supercar had over their relatively short studio career. It wasn’t quite that everything they touched turned to gold, but at the same time any given one of their tracks carries some trace of the zany, creative spark that often marks out special bands - and there was never really any doubting that Supercar were special. It’s easy to sense their early wave of inspiration here and for all it’s better consumed in chunks rather than in one sitting, the album is a triumph in its own, obstinate way. So what if a full quarter of it could have been stripped out without a second thought? Supercar were never anything less than on top of the world and their mammoth debut took this unapologetically in its stride.