Half Japanese - Invincible - - Soundblab

Half Japanese - Invincible

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2019-02-22
Half Japanese - Invincible
Half Japanese - Invincible

Plenty of artists write about love yet few, I would argue, capture the giddy rush of your crush walking by more enthusiastically than Jad Fair and the persistently optimistic Half Japanese. Just take ‘Swept Away’, the opening track on Invincible. A driving bass-line and playful, psych-pop guitars lead the charge as Fair sings, “And I am totally, absolutely, positively swept away”.

Look closer and you’ll discover songs about vampires, zombies, giant crab monkeys, and puppet people. For others, this would make for a rather unusual list of topics to sit alongside full-on, unabashed love songs but for Half Japanese it’s business-as-usual. Releasing the magnificently manic 1/2 Gentlemen/ Not Beasts back in 1980, the band has mellowed a little since but nevertheless stuck to their joyfully subversive and (generally) upbeat, art-punk agenda.

Remarkably, Invincible stands as the band's 18th studio album, making the freshness held within all the more impressive. There’s no cynicism here. No midlife crisis or screams into the abyss. This is the sound of a man steadfastly refusing to get old and bitter. Just listening to Half Japanese can make you feel at least 10 years younger (and yes, that’s been scientifically proven).

I’m sure most vocalists couldn’t get away with singing “hurray for love!” without it sounding a little saccharine yet here, on the irrepressibly positive ‘All at Once’,  Fair pulls it off in style. Singing about his good luck over a gorgeous array of hand-claps, indie-punk guitar, a little piano, and some plucked strings. Musically the album is littered with these little, unexpected and subtly introduced, instrumental flourishes.

All this talk of upbeat songs and positivity may have you running for your Leonard Cohen collection but hear me out. Every record collection needs a little balance and Half Japanese is still the ideal band to put on after a three day Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds binge (trust me on this one).

It’s all there in the marvellously zen-like title track, “And what is the answer to the question?/ The answer is invincible/ A heart that is invincible/ Do you know what that means? It means that it can’t be ‘vinced’”. You can go back to Your Funeral…My Trial later but for now, as Jad puts it, “the world is good”.

Love and philosophy aside, there’s also a healthy smattering of monsters. The characters ripped straight from old copies of Tales from the Crypt. Dracula escapes from the grave, looking to pull Jad under, in the moody, graveyard shuffle of ‘It Has Me’ while ‘The Puppet People’ brings some “sick, troubled minds” into the fold over a backing of gorgeously hypnotic, psych-pop. Everything is brought to life with a wide-eyed, endearingly innocent and wholly infectious sense-of-fun.

The album never rocks as hard as 1988’s Charmed Life or gets as downright weird as 1990’s We Are They Who Ache with Amorous Love. It’s certainly a million miles away from the avant-garde, no-wave (no tuning) chaos of their debut. The edges, in some ways at least, have been smoothed off with their more recent run of albums. Yet while the fidelity may lean a little less towards the lo-fi end of things these days, you’ll be relieved to know that they’ve lost none of their outsider charm.

Don’t let the deceptively simple lyrics and breezy approach fool you, Half Japanese are providing something absolutely essential.  This is wonderfully wonky pop music for all you lovesick, comic book obsessed, eternally young at heart, outsiders. For long-term fans, there’s nothing particularly new here yet Jad Fair continues to scratch an itch that no other band seems to be able to reach. Hurray for love and hurray for Half Japanese!

Comments (2)

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Wow - didn't know Jad Fair and Co were still kicking around. Listened to the Coo Coo Rockin' Time offshoot album back in the day. Probably one too many times!

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Yeah, they've had an album out regularly since 2014's Overjoyed. So good

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