This album is commercial genius.
OK. Maybe not genius, but certainly … inspired.
As frontwoman for lightweight alternative pop band the brilliant green, Kawase Tomoko cultivated a stage persona often described as coquettish. Her quiver of a voice and demure presence made her an appealing, fashion-conscious figure.
So when she launched a solo project as Tommy february6, she revamped that image to become the nerdy babe — all bright colors, big glasses, and happy music. Even more unexpected was a further spin-off … Tommy heavenly6, the dark, Goth-punk alter ego.
Three years after introducing Tommy heavenly6, Kawase unveiled that persona’s debut album. And a strange debut it is.
Not musically strange — Tommy heavenly6 pretty much lays Japanese lyrics on the bratty teen-girl pop of Avril Lavigne. It’s every bit as commercial as the retro-80s synth pop of Tommy february6.
No, it’s strangeness derives from its context.
Compared to her parent band, Tommy heavenly6 rocks far harder than even the brilliant green’s roughest album, Los Angeles. Working with a team of Western songwriters, Kawase has fashioned a commercial rock album with louder guitars, faster tempii and a lot more bravado.
But never does she sound very threatening or unhinged. At the core, Tommy heavenly6 is still a pop artist — she’s not Courtney Love. She isn’t even Shiina Ringo.
Compared to her Western equivalents — the aforementioned Lavigne, and I guess Pink, Kelly Clarkson and Ashlee Simpson fit that bill — Tommy heavenly6 corrals a set of better songs.
“2BFree” tiptoes close to the nü metal of yore. “Ready?” can actually trace a few roots back to old punk. “Wait Til I Can Dream” sounds like an outtake from the brilliant green’s Los Angeles sessions.
By contrast, “Hey My Friend” is an anthemic single of the Michelle Branch ilk, while “+Gothic Pink+” indulges in the soft-loud dynamics of post-Nevermind ’90s rock.
Compared to Tommy february6 — there’s no contest. Tommy heavenly6 does a better job exploring a range of styles without losing that commercial sheen, and the tight construction of the album leaves no room for filler.
And let’s not leave out meister. Matsui Ryo’s Brit-rock album is the closest thing to competing with the faux metal gloss of Tommy heavenly6, but the larger-than-life rhythm section behind Tommy heavenly6 wins out. Sorry, Ryo.
Tommy heavenly6, the album, is surprisingly satisfying. It’s a seemingly calculated album that offers unexpected rewards. It’s also the hardest-sounding work among all the brilliant green projects.