Remember the late 80s?
When bands as diverse as Throwing Muses, R.E.M., the Pixies and the Replacements were all stashed in the same corner of the record store because they weren’t Skid Row, Milli Vanili, Whitney Houston or Guns N’ Roses? When labels didn’t think achieving post-punk credibility meant signing every band or artist that sounded like Pearl Jam, Sarah McLachlan or Matchbox Twenty?
Listening to Japanese band Fleming Pie brings back that feeling, that particular giddiness when no one in the mainstream music business knew what to make of the Camper Van Beethovens, Dead Milkmens and Melvins of the world.
At the same time, Fleming Pie doesn’t quite resemble any of the bands that experienced their creative peak in the last half of the second to final decade of the previous millenium.
Fleming Pie’s eponymous debut album starts off with “Sunday Morning,” a track worthy of XTC during its Skylarking/Oranges and Lemons era. From there, it moves to more conventional alternative pop on the level of Green/Out of Time-era R.E.M. with “1,000,000 Men” and “The Man in the Moon” (not to be confused with the Automatic for the People-era song of the afformentioned comparrison group.)
Along the way, Fleming Pie’s incredibly polished songcraft yields anthemic ballads (“Need”), bluesy ruminations (“Primary”), a number of funky rockers (“Yume”, “Ai to Uso”), a John Lennon-esque piano song (“Fossil”) and even a grungy, Love and Rockets closer (“No More Fantasy”).
The album’s pinnacle is “So Ra So (Nashville Mix)”, and the band really does try to play up the “Nashville” part of this mix. Guitars slide and twang on a song that was originally released as a straight-forward alternative pop single.
Singer Nakashima Tomoko’s voice could be construed as helium-inflected to anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time with Shiina Ringo albums. In reality, she has a vaguely soulful voice acustomed to songwriter Segawa Eishi’s heavily American music.
Fleming Pie is an accomplished band with an album’s worth of very good songs. So why haven’t they dominated the Oricon charts?
It’s perhaps because Fleming Pie’s music is incredibly competent but not particularly flashy or extreme. Plus, the band looks like your next door neighbor. “Visual” just isn’t in this quartet’s vocabulary.
Which is a shame. Fleming Pie deserve a chance in its homeland. They certainly deserve this much coverage.