Music News

Big in Japan

Big in Japan is either a name you own, or one that comes back to bite you in the ass later -- particularly if your band's a power-punk trio in an era when Green Day is now being touted as the "grandfathers" of anything.

Big in Japan's debut, Destroy the New Rock, isn't terribly original, but neither is the lion's share of material recorded by countless power-punk trios over the past couple of years, so that's not really a helpful complaint. About halfway through the album, though, you can be satisfied that Big in Japan isn't out to win any Grammys (or even any People's Choice Awards), and they're surely not out to reinvent the wheel. Once you accept that state of affairs, Destroy the New Rock is actually a pretty entertaining piece of work. It's of modest length (41 minutes), so it doesn't overstay its welcome; it's full of catchy hooks and reasonably clever lyrics; and it's refreshingly devoid of fart jokes, unlike the work of about 182 other bands we could name. Ahem.

There are moments that stand above others, of course. "New Dead Boyfriend" is a nifty little song about killing your ex's current beau, as bouncy as a day care center making paper valentines for Mom. "Dig that Stupid Sound," the album's opener, might be taken as a send-up of the current popularity of easily digestible punk-pop, or it might be easily digestible punk-pop on its own; either interpretation works. "You Kiss Me Good," undoubtedly the best song on the album, is a happy-go-lucky track about a girlfriend who stood by the narrator, a failed musician, while he sold records at the local indie shop and got the occasional gig. As loopy as Dinosaur Jr.'s "Freak Scene" a generation ago, this particular track is both the warmest and the most creative cut on the record.

Big in Japan fares less well when it tries to tackle more somber topics, as in the title track, for the simple reason that it's tough to write a song about the fickle nature of the music business when your chosen genre is in its second year of commercial strip-mining.

Any predictions regarding whether Big in Japan will outlive its name, of course, will have to wait for subsequent releases. The best that can be said of Destroy the New Rock -- and it's by no means a back-handed compliment -- is that it shows glimpses of greater creativity than your standard pack of revisionist punk combos. It'll be interesting to see how, or whether, Big in Japan capitalizes on those strengths on future albums.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Eric Waggoner