Every month, Memories of Shibuya will be taking a look at a different artist or group, with featured songs – one per week – highlighting the peaks (and, occasionally, troughs) of their musical career.
In 2002, after a brief period touring as a full band, Cibo Matto went on hiatus for almost a decade, the girls pursuing a number of solo projects during their temporary breakup. Yuka released three solo albums as well as a collaboration Yoshimi P-we (of Boredoms, OOIOO and Free Kitten) and an album with Petra Haden as “If By Yes” in this time, while Miho released one solo album and a couple EPs in collaboration with jazz guitarist Smokey Hormel. Although these projects outside of the group could potentially be of interest, this artist spotlight is on Cibo Matto, so in this week’s article we’ll be taking a look at this year’s Hotel Valentine – their first full album as Cibo Matto since 1999’s Stereo ★ Type A.
Reunion tours are generally something of a surefire proposition, commercially if not critically; who doesn’t want a chance to see their favourite band play their old songs again? Reunion albums, however, aren’t generally as warmly received – it’s one thing for fans to accept the fact that their beloved musicians have aged and changed in the years since they recorded the original versions of the songs they perform, but another entirely to accept new music from those same performers. After all, in the long gaps between albums (Stereo ★ Type A and Hotel Valentine are separated by a good 15 years), what’s to say that the musicians haven’t gone off in completely different directions? More than just being a potential disappointment as an album, a reunion album has the potential to be a tragic reminder of how the group that a fan was once so fond of is truly and utterly gone, warped into something scary and unfamiliar by too long spent apart.
The usual compromise bands tend to make when faced with such unpleasant prospects is to go “back to their roots”, stripping down their sound in an attempt to recapture the intensity of their first few releases. Obviously, this approach never, ever backfires and doesn’t at all bring undue attention to how the ravages of time have rendered any attempt to go backwards a moot point – but it’s still generally preferable in the eyes of many fans to the radical reinvention that some bands end up trying. To have a fanbase is to have a group of people wherein, whatever you do, a portion of them will always be disappointed in you, but playing it safe usually guarantees that this portion can be minimized.
So, the question must now be asked: did Cibo Matto play it safe on Hotel Valentine? Truthfully, they did – although it’s worth noting that Cibo Matto’s sound was scattered enough to begin with that it’s hard to really go too far left from where they started. Although Yuka and Miho were working as a duo again (gone are the last album’s contributions from Timo Ellis, Sean Lennon and Duma Love), Hotel Valentine still sounded a lot like its predecessor, which in turn wasn’t that much of a major departure from the album that preceded it. World-music sounds are thrown into a musical blender in an appropriately Shibuya-kei fashion, and although far less raucous than in the days of “Birthday Cake”, the girls still rap in broken English like they always have. While not exactly a weak effort (I like it more than VIVA! La Woman, but then again I don’t actually enjoy VIVA! La Woman at all so that’s a pretty empty statement), a new Cibo Matto album in 2014 ultimately just seems unnecessary. The years between albums found the duo exploring new horizons and collaborating with seemingly everyone under the sun, yet the main musical innovation one finds on Hotel Valentine is that the girls apparently discovered vocoders sometime in the last decade. I don’t know if Cibo Matto will continue to record as a band or if Hotel was a one-off reunion album, but in the year 2014 it seems that the two women who make up the group are less than the sum of their parts when working together as a band. That the album’s lead single (video above) is called “Deja Vu” is no coincidence; Yuka and Miho had been there, done that, and moved on – returning to familiar territory only resulting in diminished returns.