Review Summary: Loved by red noise.
Mariko Goto is a born performer.
Probably the second most entertaining thing I have seen in the past year was a YouTube live video of Mariko Goto playing a solo set to a room of maybe 30 people in Shanghai, March 2019. It's a distorted electro pop scream-a-thon of the most epic and obnoxious proportions: Goto performs with the energy of a demented honeybadger, violating the stage space to the full extent of her capabilities. It’s fascinating, exhilarating and utterly watchable (honestly, I went in expecting to change video after five minutes or so, only to find myself near-spellbound for the entirety of the performance). Goto’s posture shifts between unrelenting spinal impossibilities and her voice is subjected to such a punishing set of full-throated insanities that it's a miracle she has any if it left by the end. Needless to say, the audience is left in tatters - most of them stand around in a beleaguered mess and the only one who comes close to keeping up with her is her peppy tour buddy Haru Nemuri (who, accordingly, loses her *** at the back of the venue). I can't the remember the last time I saw the look and sound of Raising Hell defined this convincingly.
Off the back of these antics, the final form of her returning highness DJ Mariko Goto’s debut (as such) wasn’t quite the overload I was bracing for. Those who expected Gainsbourg ni Aisarete
to be a scuzzy electropop meltdown or a full return to Goto’s Midori-era fire and brimstone will likely be disappointed; Gainsbourg
is far from the opposite of either of these but it approaches electro pop far more faithfully than anyone had a right to expect, especially considering the raucousness of its anticipatory demo EP way back in 2018. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of chaos to be found here: the debased synth firestorm that kickstarts “Tatami so good!!!!!”, “HEAVEN”’s insistent meow samples and “Breeeeeak out!!!!!”’s flash-in-a-pan slamdown are as turbulent as any of Aratame Ma***e Hajime Ma***e Midori Desu
stormiest fare, here for a good time and not a long time.
However, these moments are underpinned by a cleaner, more palatable approach to songwriting and production. Tail-end highlights “Neverending Story” and “LSD” (that’s Love Suki Daisuki, kids) reinvent the sound of Goto’s broadly unremarkable 2014 album Kowareta Hako ni Rinakkusu
as sickly-sweet dance pop with a fresh sound palette. They’re robustly crafted and engagingly produced, landing as some of the more satisfying moments from Goto’s saccharine side. The album’s best tracks, naturally, are the ones that take the most liberties in pivoting between the saccharine and the stormy: “replay ATAMI” and “Yojouhan Tansu Dance” are innovative bangers as slick as they are infectious, full of great hooks and bold songwriting that shift cohesively between calm and storm with flair and spirit.
“Yojouhan Tansu Dance” in particular is a sign that this album’s polish wasn’t misplaced; while I initially missed the violence of the demo and live versions of that song and “Breeeeeak out!!!!!”, both sound less contrived and a good deal less amateurish in their final form here. I went into Gainsbourg
expecting the compelling sound the potentially limitless ***s not given by Mariko Goto being thrown against a wall as per that live performance; the album has more self-respect and craft than this, and it holds up as ‘legitimate’ pop as well as an appropriate vehicle for its creator’s unmistakable brand of chaos. Not to say it’s without its problems: I think the production could use a pinch more noise to accentuate certain moments, the mix is a little treble-happy, the snare tone does not spark as much joy as it might, the cold opening of the first couple of tracks is somewhat fun but not on nearly the same level as the album’s mid-way bangers, and I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of “HEAVEN” (it’s a perfectly fine track in its way, but it doesn’t flesh out the calm/storm dynamic already outlined with reference to other songs quite as convincingly). The elephant in the room for many (especially first-timers) will be Goto’s voice; it’s fairly established at this point that she’s a force of personality not a melody maker as far as mic chops are concerned, so you can take it or leave it or as such.
More the most part, however, the sequencing, songwriting and overall energy are up to scratch here and Gainsbourg ni Aisarete
ends up as an engaging and quite important album for Mariko Goto. Perhaps the key takeaway is that for the first time in almost ten years, her material is no longer a B-tier fix for the more interesting contemporary output of other similar artists. Not that Gainsbourg
lacks its share of clear contemporary analogues; it has much in common with various eclectically-minded figures who have emerged since the years of Goto’s earlier solo work, such as Tentenko, Samezame, or Haru Nemuri. This group, however, is a good fit for her; where she once felt outgunned by artists like Seiko Oomori, Kuroki Nagisa, and (maybe) Etsuko Yakushimaru, here she feels like an important shareholder sitting comfortably alongside other innovators and eclecticists. Gainsbourg
’s fibre also amplifies the Judy And Mary-isms that often pervaded her past solo work, yet these are voiced far more distinctively here. Where Goto once seemed content to pay tribute to JAM frontwoman Yuki’s giddy pop charm, she now seems to have caught up with the freakhouse art pop spirit that shaped that group’s later day output. A success on multiple fronts, all things considered: Mariko Goto has got her mojo back and her new album (in its way) is as exciting and personable a development as any of her heyday classics.