Tatsuhiko Wantanabe is the leader of The Penelopes, an “indie pop” band from Japan named after a character from the old Gerry Anderson marionette program the Thunderbirds. Actually, for all intents and purposes he’s the band — Watanabe sings, plays guitars and programs keyboards. He’s joined by Chigusa Miyata on bass and Kazuki Nashimoto on the drums.
Formed almost 15 years ago, The Penelopes are part of that “movement” of Japanese musicians that catch the waves of international pop sounds and send them back to us across the eastern sea. Obviously. If I played you any of these songs without telling you who it was or anything about it, you would say to me, “This is part of that ‘movement’ of Japanese musicians that catch the waves of international pop sounds and send them back to us across the eastern sea, isn’t it?”
Their influences tattooed on their arm, songs like “From Head To Toe,” “Vehicle,” “Heart and Soul” and “Book Of Brilliant Stings” eagerly bait the pop hook with Watanabe’s serviceable guitars. The lyrics sometimes have the amusing quality of sounding like, as they are, translations from Japanese into English. Such as the chorus to “Vehicle”:
“Instead of pulling long face now, you get a vehicle of your own, Just to feel free.”
But elsewhere, they meet their aspirations more gracefully, as on the album-closing “Spilt Milk”:
“Spilt milk is what we’ve done, Don’t have to cry, Spilt milk is what we see, Whoever you run to you are everywhere, Wherever you run to I hope you do it well.”
Not as instantly catchy as similar CDs by the Pizzicato Five, The Penelopes’ music is something of a game of “not X but an incredible simulation,” with the part of X being played on various songs by the Police, Motown, even Men At Work and others. Earnest excavators of pop’s ghosts, the Penelopes fall short of their goals only by failing to dig deep enough or inject enough of their own imagination. This does not leave the group free of good attributes, and indeed I do recommend them for those who’d like a refreshing change of pace from Madonna (and who wouldn’t, really?).
But ultimately, it makes them more of a curiosity, albeit one of solid distinction, than something you take immediately to your heart.
The Penelopes: http://www.jttk.zaq.ne.jp/penelopes/