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The Fantastic Plastic Machine
Is everybody happy?
The Fantastic Plastic Machine
Fantastic Plastic Machine
Emperor Norton Records
According to Dr. Seuss, getting past the Grinch's nasty demeanour involved him working through an elaborate scheme to steal Christmas, breaking into every house in a small town, and then getting won over by a little girl. Dickens's Scrooge had to get worked over by ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future before he cracked a smile.

A lot of trouble could have been avoided if someone had just let them listen to Fantastic Plastic Machine's self-titled CD. The Fantastic Plastic Machine is pretty much guaranteed to find even the tiniest bit of toe-tapping cheeriness in your soul and exploit it.

At first blush, Fantastic Plastic Machine is a Japanese drum-and-bass group marshalling the go-go pop sound of the 1960s, making retro hip in the same way as another Japanese band, Pizzicato Five. It's a fair assumption, but not entirely accurate. Fantastic Plastic Machine is a group in the same sense as Nine Inch Nails: the musical visionary is the portly, cigar-puffing producer/remixer/DJ Tomoyuki Tanaka, who collaborates with whoever he needs for a given track (including Pizzicato Five's Maki Nomiya for the fluffy-cute "Dear Mr. Salesman").

Tanaka has one hell of a crazyfuncool time on The Fantastic Plastic Machine, clearly evoking the 1960s with the aforementioned "Dear Mr. Salesman" (sample lyrics: "They call him Mr. Salesman / How cute and cool / We call him Mr. Salesman / What a gentle guy") and the almost purely instrumental, swinging "Bachelor Pad". You can almost see the singing girls with big hair and miniskirts on a stage with big flowers and crazy colors. It's just so much fun, you don't mind the heavy Japanese accent on the English (and, occasionally, French and Spanish) lyrics throughout the CD; you almost embrace them for the kitsch.

Some of the songs deviate from the 1960s sound; the "Pura Saudade" remix is a kooky remix of an earlier track; "Allen Ginsberg" and especially "Please, Stop!" are just plain weird. This isn't a bad thing; they're still quite innocent, peppy, and happy, respectively, and they've all got beats you can at least bob your head to (except maybe "Allen Ginsberg", which may inspire you to spin around until you get dizzy and pass out).

The only oddball is a cover of Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out", which is somewhere between dreamy and melancholy. By rights, its slightly downbeat tone doesn't fit in with the CD at all, and yet it makes a snug home for itself providing a transition between the slightly trippy "Fantastic Plastic World" and the freaky "Allen Ginsberg".

But hey, any misgivings you may feel will be smoothed over by the time the stilted Japanese voice asks, for a second time, "Is everybody happy?" Chances are you'll smile and nod, having been carried off into the Fantastic Plastic world.

A Critical Eye exclusive (May 30, 1999)
Eight people - eight lives - one universal groove