Led by androgynous, Bowiesque guitarist Masami Tsuchiya, this Japanese trio stepped into the commercial void created by Yellow Magic Orchestra’s decreased group activity. It’s hard to make out what the songs are really about since most have only a chorus or bridge in English, but the lyrics seem simpleminded enough — themes of romantic fantasy, travel and technology evidently dominate. Tsuchiya’s voice is high but gutsy and always in control (even when yelling) — he’s got his shtick down pat, and his guitar playing fits. Ippu-Do alternates between modernized arrangements of ’50s and early ’60s vocal pop-rock melodies and steaming, heart-pounding rock’n’roll, sometimes in the same song. They also use reggae syncopation and synthesizers, so all bases are covered — except originality. (Lunatic Menu and Some-Times are anthologies of the other LPs.)
It sounds like these fellas, especially Tsuchiya, possess the ability to go further but just aren’t sure how. Tsuchiya gives it a try on his solo LP with lots of help from YMO’s Ryuichi Sakamoto, though several tracks include members of Japan (the band) and Bill Nelson on e-bow guitar. Most successful when he tries to mildly funkify Japanese music, with further cross-fertilization, Tsuchiya could be a real innovator.
By 1985’s live album, Ippu-Do was just a duo, aided by two ex-members of Japan (with whom Tsuchiya toured and recorded) plus English bass ace Percy Jones. Despite its recent vintage, the album portrays the band treading musical water with jagged, arty treatments of old material (the group’s and Tsuchiya’s), plus a version of the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” Despite stylistic growth, Ippu-Do needs new — not old — content to make it meaningful.