by Nik Rainey
If you’re a record company looking to carve out a piece of the disputed territory that is today’s pop marketplace, it behooves you to find a niche and scratch it ’til it bleeds. Chicago’s Minty Fresh has distinguished itself in the last couple of years by becoming the U.S. label of choice for wan Anglophiles who spend less money on utilities than on Prefab Sprout imports, and particularly as the States’ signature source for glorious pop froth fronted by wispy-voiced foreign birds. Two years ago, they unleashed the impossibly cute song stylings of the Cardigans on an unsuspecting populace still smarting from the Swedish schmaltz-burns inflicted on them by Ace of Base a couple of years before: not only did Life go a long way toward reclaiming Continental songcraft from the Eurovision Contest crowd, but it paved the way for the possibility of “Iron Man” turning up on set lists at both the Ozzfest and the Lilith Fair, a heartening moment in rock ‘n’ roll genderpolitik if ever one existed. Whether those MF MFs will be able to work similar mousy-girl magic with Kahimi Karie, after setting up a tea service at the top of the charts in both her native Japan and her adopted homeland of France, remains to be seen, but it’s a dicey proposition to be sure: the big congloms are still a tad Nip-shy since that whole Pink Lady and Jeff fiasco, for starters.
But certainly, this comp (culled from several overseas releases) hits every hipster hot button there is: a little retro, a little neo (space-age bossa nova lounge trip-pop, for those keeping score), contributions from as many one-named sound hybridizers as will fit on one disc (Momus, Cornelius, Beck), a Serge Gainsbourg cover (has the resolution requiring all artists to include one Gainsbourg and one Bacharach tune per album passed the House yet?), and, of course, a Rising Sun pedigree (so you can appreciate the unique appropriation of Western musical modes and chuckle condescendingly at the screwy diction), all of which are sure to get college-radio codpieces nationwide throbbing warmly in unison. But does it presage a successful, “Lovefool”-style sneak attack on our vulnerable commercial mainstream? Ahhh… doubtful. Anybody with even a mild appreciation of oddball expansionist pop ethics will find something to delight in here; for all the complexity of the tracks, these songs are spun as finely and melt as sweetly in your ears as cotton candy (with a little polyester woven in to avoid shrinkage), but the fact that the best songs on the album are the three penned and produced by Momus, who is finally receiving a modicum of attention for his perverse pop proclivities after years in the sub-sub-cult wilderness, clinches Karie’s artistic triumph and concedes her popular defeat.
The booklet photos show a woman who’s clearly reached the age of consent, but her tiny voice suggests otherwise, and Momus can’t resist exploiting it to Nabokovian effect, whether it’s the playground chants at the end of the sweetly narcissistic “Good Morning World” or everything from the title on down in “Lolitapop Dollhouse.” Hopefully, the same bluenoses who suppressed Adrian Lyne’s attempt to shift from exploitative hack to gauzy art-house dog aren’t monitoring this album, but it can’t help but creep you out a little to hear a voice that makes Juliana Hatfield sound like Eartha Kitt singing lines like “If you really want me/Take me home and fuck me.” (Oh, sure, the lyric sheet claims the line is “Take me how you found me,” but I don’t buy that for a, um, founding second.) But then again, even that is a bit of a ruse: despite all the masculine machinations behind the boards and the thin porcelain delicacy of her voice, Kahimi Karie remains firmly in control of every dishy crystalline second of her music, a kitten with a licorice whip o’ nine tails. Lap this up and find out where the girl power really lies.
(PO Box 577400 Chicago, IL 60657)