Back in the late 1980s, Sony bought CBS Records hoping to use the near century-old label as a leverage to breaking Japanese artists in the U.S.
In 1990, the label introduced Matsuda Seiko — simply called Seiko — to the States, pairing her up with then It-boy Donnie Wahlburg of New Kids on the Block for a duet.
The album tanked, and Sony retreated.
But a few years later, Shonen Knife and Pizzicato Five made in-roads to America’s indie scene, achieving a kind of success that puzzled the folks back home.
And when Sony released a pair of hotly-received promotional discs at the SXSW festival, the company decided it was time to brave the U.S. market again.
Enter Japan For Sale, the commercial version of said promotional discs.
The tone of the compilation is thoroughly indie, with DJs and electronica artists occupying the most air time. All kinds of music are represented on the disc nonetheless.
In the rock category, Dog Hair Dressers offer Redd Kross-like power pop, while The Brilliant Green serves up a more Byrds-inspired alternative rock.
Hip-hop has its emmisaries in YKZ and DJ Krush, the former pairing up with the Beatnuts, the latter sticking closer to home with rapper Twigy and idol-singer-turned-R&B-chanteuse ACO.
Polysics attempts to channel DEVO through Nine Inch Nails, while Yoshinori Sunahara, Denki Groove, Boom Boom Satelites and Chappie (who is really Pizzicato Five’s Yasuhara Konishi) fill out the rest of the disc with thundering beats and electronic effects.
For the most part, Japan for Sale is devoid of anything hinting at Matsuda Seiko and her aborted attempt to crack the U.S.
Even the token idol pop track from Puffy AmiYumi isn’t typical — it’s an ABBA-meets-Beatles confection delivered with tooth-rotting sweetness.
As an album, Japan for Sale offers a diverse program in which none of the tracks feel forced. DJ Krush doesn’t feel out of place with the cheerleading chants of Chappie or the Cranberries-meets-Radiohead moodiness of FEED.
In short, Japan for Sale is a good introduction to the second largest music market in the world. Perhaps Sony will be a bit more successful in its bid for American audience this time around.