splendid > reviews > 2/4/2002

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Drop"

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Japanese pop savant Keigo Oyamada, aka Cornelius, is something of an anomaly in today's stagnantly retro-minded musical climate. Whereas artists like The Apples in Stereo and Beachwood Sparks are content to revel in the spirit of past pop glories, Cornelius constantly looks to supersede it in an attempt to re-write the pop culture handbook. His 1998 opus Fantasma was to the cut-and-paste nation what such seminal works as Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Tommy were to their respective generations. It seems strangely fitting, then, that Point is the first major release of 2002; it is a blissfully odd way to begin a year in which "what's going to happen next?" is really anybody's guess.

While it's not necessarily accurate to describe Point as a "serious" record, the album comes across as slightly more focused than any of its predecessors. Oyamada's fascination with what he sees as a Technicolored world around him remains, but the pop pastiche tomfoolery that was such a major component of his earlier compositions has been replaced by a sound that meshes the oddly beautiful simplicities of Van Dyke Parks with the sheer sonic force of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. You still never quite know what to expect from Oyamada, but when you turn the corner to find something like "Drop" or "Another View Point" lurking, you'll be struck more by its obtuse melodicism and clever pop craftsmanship than its goofball sound effects and "weirdness for the sake of weirdness" mentality. His neck is still craned to the left as far as it will go, but Point sees Oyamada peering back to the right from time to time, as if to make certain that his compositions are centered somewhere in the vicinity of reality.

One of the most striking things about Point is its seemingly moribund aversion to plugging in and rawking out. In the past, Cornelius was as likely to unleash an iniquitous six-string assault as he was a hip-pop sound collage or a gentle acoustic ballad. This time around, he has all but abandoned the rock star posturing in favor of songs like "Brazil" and "Point of View Point", which owe more to the pop savvy of Stereolab or Burt Bacharach than they do to the bombastic assault of Motorhead or Oyamada's longtime idols, Kiss. One of the only exceptions to this rule is the blistering pop-metal dirge "I Hate Hate", which finds the mop-haired one skronking and screeching like a banshee in heat, and proves that it's sometimes best to quell the surging beasts that rage within, for the good of the whole.

While Point may be less viscerally invasive than any of its recorded counterparts, it remains a beautifully orchestrated exercise in modern pop construction. Oyamada's music might not have quite the same stardust flash or heavy metal pomposity that it once did, but it now reaches further, affecting the heart and mind as well as the eyes and ears. It sounds implausible, but Cornelius has dipped his hand into the drab bag marked "classic pop" and pulled out something that's pure gold.



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