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Half Japanese
Alternative Tentacles
Alternative Tentacles

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It's been almost three decades since Jad and his brother David made the first Half Japanese record. Despite a relative lack of commercial success, I've never heard a bad word said about them in all the time that's passed since then. Be ye of the media or a simple music lover, a single reading of David Fair's article on "How to Play Guitar" makes it hard to have anything but fervent support for these sincere, sweet and sloppy rockers and balladeers. Half Japanese possess a great spirit, one that rarely seems lost in the hundreds of Half Japanese songs that have been released over the years. Part of the reason for their success must come from the way their songs have been invented (sometimes in mere minutes) and recorded (this usually takes a few minutes longer); since the band members are likeable, funny and plenty damn cool, the immediacy of their recordings keeps their innate beauty intact.

Even with such unabashed appreciation for their past efforts, the strength and vitality behind Hello is a little surprising. For one thing, as Jad has mentioned in interviews, all bands tend to get worse with time. Coupled with David's departure in 1998, and the afflictions which all "legendary" DIY groups must face (like overextended studio time, and guest appearances from gifted musicians whose charms sometimes work against the band's own), it's fair to expect a less substantial thrill. Hello, though, is a wonderful work that serves as an innocent, starry-eyed Street Hassle. It's classic Lou Reed as seen through the eyes of a kid wise enough to know that his thoughts, no matter how gentle, cannot be torn asunder by any splintering guitar or gruff snarl, as on the punky "Patty" ("Let's demand our fair share/Patty!"). Even the garage rockers like "Temptation" and "No Doubt" radiate a breezy sense of delinquent fun, as if they were recorded after robbing a lemonade stand.

While everything here is generally good or great, Hello continues the trend of most other Half Japanese and solo Jad Fair releases, in that the slow, Jonathan Richman-like songs shine most strongly. "Red Sun" is so good that it justifies this album's purchase on its strength and beauty alone. Only Jad seems to have the ability to make a forced rhyme an act of exquisite style. Here, out of the blue, the line "Apple apple peach" is tossed out, giving "Now that she's in reach" something to rhyme with. Seussian gymanstics also abound on the lovely "Summer Nights", wherein "our love began to stink, began to stunk, began to clink and clunk". I can't help but marvel over the joys one human's perceptions can bring another. If you're one of those Half Japanese fans who thought the story ended with their two-CD greatest his collection, it's time to say hello to another Half Japanese.

-- Theodore Defosse
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