The outside projects of Yellow Magic Orchestra drummer/vocalist Takahashi (not to mention his colleague, Ryuichi Sakamoto) suggest that there was something amiss with the band’s format during its existence; his solo work is far more amusing, even when the other members are involved. (They contributed half an album’s worth to his solo LPs and play on lots more; Sakamoto even appears on the pre-YMO Saravah! LP.)
Takahashi’s albums are far less programmatic and predictable than YMO’s. He’ll go from a reggae-style version of “Stop in the Name of Love” to a new-romantic soap opera to tongue-in-cheek pop powered by galloping synths to poignant soul-searching to a loopy update of Duane Eddy guitar instrumentals. He gives prominence to guitar (mostly played by YMO pal Kenji Omura, although Bill Nelson’s e-bow graces much of What, Me Worry? and Phil Manzanera, bringing fellow Roxy Musician Andy Mackay along for the ride with sax and oboe, is on much of Neuromantic).
The two 1982 albums are pleasant surprises, with playing and material that’s at once aggressive and arty. Murdered by the Music (from 1980 but unreleased in the West for two years) is the more goofy and eclectic. The What, Me Worry? EP features three tracks from the LP of the same name — one with Japanese lyrics this time — plus another bright original and a sprightly cover of an old German tune.
Selecting those songs that best combine melody and muscle, Time and Place is a strong live set mostly interpreting Takahashi’s previous repertoire but also adding some new things (plus a version of Bacharach/David’s “The April Fools”). The band giving it all a unified feel is keyboardist Keiichi Suzuki, Bill Nelson, Hajime Tachibana (ex-Plastics) and drummer David Palmer. Interestingly, Takahashi doesn’t drum — he sings, plays keyboards and guitar.
Wild & Moody is an LP of pretty songs — mainly romantic, though a little lyrically offbeat — dressed (but not tarted up) in electro-dance clothing. Nothing awesome, but nearly all of it delightful.
Poisson d’Avril (the French idiom meaning April Fools) is the soundtrack of a film starring Takahashi. (A large poster of “Yuki” is included.) He was apparently seized by the urge to become Burt Bacharach; a surprisingly large amount of it is movie music, in the style of “sophisticated” ’60s romantic comedy. Enh. The best of it is represented on The Brand New Day, a fairly representative survey of his Alfa material (i.e. Neuromantic through Poisson).
The Beatniks, a duo of Takahashi and Suzuki, split all the playing (including some twittery synth) and singing on The Beatniks. Suzuki’s vocals are better than Takahashi’s (which often resemble overly echoed mumbling). The lyrics, most in English and the rest in French, are moodier and less cogent than those on Yuki’s solo LPs. Overall, a lukewarm effort.