Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bitter and Sweet Refrain

Ah, the last Perfume review of 2013 is both bitter and sweet. Sweet because it's a Perfume review and bitter because... well, it's Sweet Refrain.

Yeah, yeah, spoilers. You all know I am not the most enthusiastic fan of Sweet Refrain. Still, I believe in doing the song justice by giving it a proper single review in which I can review both the A-side and B-side of this single. So I intend to give Sweet Refrain a proper single review, going over once again my opinions about the A-side and getting a chance to delve into my opinions about the B-side. I will admit, I find it very surreal that Perfume released a single so soon after Level3. I can't say I'm complaining that much, but it doesn't take away the surreal feeling of this entire release. I don't know, I guess the news and release of Sweet Refrain came so fast, that I didn't have much time to react. Not to mention I was still jamming to Level3. Still, this is a Perfume single, and there's nothing more fun than reviewing a Perfume single! While I have expressed disappointment with the A-side, perhaps the B-side will salvage this single? Maybe, maybe not. I will say what I was hoping for with Sweet Refrain was a B-side that would sound better than the A-side? Did my dreams come true? Or were they a pathetic desire that could have never happened? Let's find out! Onto the review!!!


At first, I did not like the outfits for Sweet Refrain. I thought they were too dark and aged the girls by ten years. Now I think that may have had to do with a bad promo shot. Something about the way the girls were posing made the outfits look really matronly. When I saw the outfits in the PV, in the live performance and other miscellaneous photographs, I liked them a lot better. While they are a much more mature look for Perfume, the girls look very classy and elegant. And I like that the outfits aren't so uniform. I feel like a lot of Perfume's recent costumes have all had this default style to go to. You know, these costumes. Same style, just with different colors and patterns? Even if I wasn't initially jazzed by the costumes for Sweet Refrain, I was at least thankful that the girls had gotten to wear something that looked different. These costumes are very monochrome, with the only splashes of color being the bits of purple and the snazzy red shoes the girls get to wear. But the matching colors do give the girls a unified look, even if each individual outfit is different.

My favorite of the three outfits has to be Kashiyuka's, just because it looks so smart and crisp. Nocchi has a decent outfit too, and it is nice seeing her in a pantsuit. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't make her look like a high school principal. A classy high school principal but still. And then A-chan's dress... I don't have much of an opinion on. It looks nice, very pretty and mature. So yeah, in short, the outfits grew on me, even though I don't think they'll ever be my favorite Perfume single outfits. The covers follow the simple, mature theme the outfits have got going on. Both the Regular and Limited Editions are in black-and-white, with the hot pink title being the only splash of color. I have to say, I do like the color scheme, and black and pink is always a win-win combination in my eyes. There isn't much to say about the Limited cover. It's nice, but there's not a lot going on in it. The girls just look very elegant. Same goes for Regular. The room in that cover is pretty cool though, kind of retro looking. And the clocks do allude to the PV!

Sweet Refrain

I think I have gone very thoroughly over my opinions about Sweet Refrain. By now, I pretty much just feel like I'll be repeating myself for the third time. But if you don't want to peruse through paragraphs and paragraphs of text from my previous posts about Sweet Refrain, here's the short version! I personally think Sweet Refrain could have been a better song, especially as the first A-side to follow up the Level3 era. It sounds like a remnant of the JPN era mixed in with the sounds of the Level3 era. I don't know if that's because it was released for a drama, but for whatever reason, the song feels like a mishmash of two different styles. Sure, that can and does work, but here, it feels hastily cobbled together. I do think that Sweet Refrain had the potential to be a really good song; something along the way just ended up not working. In my opinion, that something is the vocals. Yes, the ultimate downfall of Sweet Refrain is that the vocal arrangement is too sweet-sounding to fit the instrumental.

I was only able to figure this out when I listened to the instrumental of Sweet Refrain and found that the song was a lot better sounding than I gave it credit for... when the girls weren't singing, that is. Sweet Refrain is a song rich with music box-style notes and EDM effects sprinkled amongst the instrumental. It's this really quirky combination of whimsically cute and dance-oriented. Listening to the instrumental makes me wish that Sweet Refrain had a better vocal arrangement. As it stands though, Sweet Refrain's vocals remain too cutesy and sweet. Not all parts of the vocals are bad though; the buildup before the chorus is nice. And so is the repetition at the end; I really like the slow fade-out the song does. Really Sweet Refrain isn't a terrible song; in fact, when I'm in the right mood, I actually enjoy listening to it! I don't know, I think Sweet Refrain has slowly been growing on me, and I would take it over some Perfume songs. However, even if I do end up enjoying this song more than I do now, I don't think I'll be able to ignore that flaws that Sweet Refrain has.

Luckily, the PV for Sweet Refrain does what so many Perfume PVs do: it enhances the song. Again, I have an entire PV review for Sweet Refrain if you want my full opinion. In short though, I like it. It's another artistic Perfume PV, one that relies on slick special effects and visual trickery to engage the viewer. The basic concept of Sweet Refrain is the idea that the girls of Perfume are exhibits in a museum. The PV is basically one endless rotation, showing each time what the multiple Perfumes do in the museum. They do activities ranging from dancing around in a circle to bouncing balls to posing in front of musical staffs, you know, normal stuff you see in a museum! The PV also features several homages to past Perfume dances, and if you're an expert on Perfume choreography, you might be able to spot them! I, of course, could not, but I still tried. Yeah, Sweet Refrain isn't really a PV with plot, but the effects in this PV are engaging enough.

What really impressed me about the PV for Sweet Refrain was the camerawork. This entire PV is shot so it looks like it's one continuous, rotating shot. That, of course, can't be because there's no way they could get tones of people who looked just like Perfume and placed them all in a room together! I really like the editing for this PV, and not just because I get to see a bunch of Perfumes in one room together. It's really mind-blowing how seamlessly these multiple doubles of the girls interact with each and their surroundings in the PV. I would actually like to see a making-of video for Sweet Refrain, to see how all these effects were done. Of course, the PV for Sweet Refrain isn't without its flaws. Mainly, the only thing I don't like about Sweet Refrain is the lack of color. This is a very muted PV, mainly being only the color white with very few splashes of color. It didn't look terrible, but the lack of color did make the PV look a little monotonous. Still, that didn't prevent me from enjoying the PV. Overall, I found the PV for Sweet Refrain to be a nicely done PV that boasted some extremely clever special effects.

I will give Sweet Refrain 3.5 out of 5 apples. I didn't really need another A-side so soon after Level3, and I'd be lying if I said Sweet Refrain was a good follow-up to such an amazing album. Still, it's a decent Perfume song, that I'm sure most Perfume fans will enjoy. Me, personally, I think it had its flaws, but even I can admit to listening to it of my own free will.

Koi wa Zenkei Shisei 

Ah, here is the elusive B-side! I heard absolutely none of Koi wa Zenkei Shisei until the weekend Sweet Refrain leaked. No previews, nada. I went into listening this song with absolutely no idea of how it would sound. All I hoped for was that it sounded better than Sweet Refrain. So the question is... does Koi wa Zenkei Shisei prove to be a better song than Sweet Refrain? Yes. Absolutely yes. If there was a show called Songs that Could Have Been A-sides, Koi wa Zenkei Shisei would be featured on it in glowing, neon letters. This song is so much more interesting than Sweet Refrain. I guess it was inevitable that Sweet Refrain would have to be the A-side though what with it being used for a drama and everything. Still, would it have been so bad to make this single a double A-side? I would have been completely okay with that. More than okay! But there are things that cannot be. And even though Koi wa Zenkei Shisei is merely a B-side, it is still a great song. Like Sweet Refrain, Koi wa Zenkei Shisei is a happy, upbeat song.

Unlike Sweet Refrain, Koi wa Zenkei Shisei is a happy, upbeat song that works. The very beginning is really cool in that it starts with the vocals being a lot less process before sliding into Perfume's usual vocoded and edited vocals. I also love the metronome-like sound effect at the beginning; it's similar to the way Communication started, only a lot less cuter. From there on, Koi wa Zenkei Shisei is a really sweet song, that has a very nicely layered instrumental. In fact, the instrumental is my favorite thing about this song. Of course, the vocals work well with the instrumental, like the parts where they echo and overlap over each other. I honestly don't have anywhere near as many problems with Koi wa Zenkei Shisei that I did with Sweet Refrain. I guess the only criticism I can really give is that it doesn't bring anything new to the table for Perfume? Even then, that doesn't prevent me from enjoying the song. Koi wa Zenkei Shisei is so much more musically interesting than Sweet Refrain; all I can do is lament that it wasn't the A-side.

But hey, at least I can give it some apples! And so I shall give Koi wa Zenkei Shisei 4.5 out of 5 apples. It isn't by any means the most exciting and fresh Perfume song, I've ever heard, but I still think it's a really great B-side with a quirky instrumental and nice vocals to match!

The Verdict

I stand by my opinion that Sweet Refrain was released too early. Level3 had only been out for less than two months; to release another single so shortly after the album was in my opinion, not a very wise marketing move. I mean, I like not having to wait six months for Perfume's next single, but Sweet Refrain just feels a little rushed. I think the only reason it was released so early anyways was because Sweet Refrain was included in that J-drama. If I had been in charge, I would have released the single after the completion of the dome tours, probably some time in January or February of 2014. As it is though, Sweet Refrain is... an interesting single. I've driven to death my problems with the A-side. In a nutshell, Sweet Refrain is too happy-sounding, reminiscent of the JPN era. That could work, but the problem is that the instrumental is much more EDM-oriented, with all the Dubstep thrown around in the song. The final result is a disjointed song that perhaps might work with some fine-tuning.

However, in its current state, Sweet Refrain is merely an all right song that could have been so much better. Luckily, Koi wa Zenkei Shisei picks up all the slack Sweet Refrain leaves, being an equally happy song with a much more cohesive and interesting sound. I particularly love the instrumental for Koi wa Zenkei Shisei, with all the cute quirky noises sprinkled about in it. Sweet Refrain is another case of the B-side being better than the A-side. I like Koi wa Zenkei Shisei so much better than Sweet Refrain; I at least hope it will be performed during one of Perfume's dome tours! Overall, I don't think Sweet Refrain is a bad Perfume single. In fact, compared to some Perfume singles, it's pretty good! I do like the style used for this single, and the PV for Sweet Refrain is lovely and artistic! However, this just isn't the best I've heard from Perfume. And as a follow-up single to Level3, it is kind of lackluster. If you're a Perfume fan though, I think you can get into Sweet Refrain. Besides, I have this nagging feeling that it's probably going to be a long time before Perfume releases their next single...

After meticulously compiling my opinions for the A-side, B-side and overall single, I have decided to give Sweet Refrain four apples. Even if the A-side is a little iffy, I highly recommend checking Koi wa Zenkei Shisei out. It's probably one of my favorite B-sides this year and the better of the two songs on this single. Now all I can do for Perfume this year is wait until images from the dome tours leak!


  1. Nice review! I agree with you on the vocals. I feel the exact same way about their new song "Hold your hand" which sounds almost identical to this.

    "Sweet refrain" was a song I didn't like at all when I first heard it. But Perfume's live performances of it made the song grow on me. I really do hope this isn't the direction their 5th studio album goes in. I was hoping for something a little more electric. If Yasutaka wants to dip Perfume into this more sedate style, then he needs to do it better and in a more drastic fashion. He also needs to really work on the vocal production too, because this high pitched flat singing isn't suiting a lot of these songs as well as it used to when Perfume's sound was completely electronic.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, Sweet Refrain's vocals are just... not good. Although I actually like Hold Your Hand better than Sweet Refrain. Less gratuitous dubstep, but we haven't heard the full song yet so that might change...

      I think just about any Perfume song can be enhanced through a live performance! Seeing them perform Spending all my time at Cannes was what made me FINALLY like that song. But I don't know about Sweet Refrain, or Hold Your Hand, or what these two songs mean for Perfume's next album. I agree with you, if Nakata wants to explore this calmer, laidback sound better, then the vocal production needs a change. Right now though, all I really want is information about Hold Your Hand! What gives, UMJ? Are they waiting for something?