Puffy Amiyumi - An Illustrated History
Bar-None Records
In Japan, a country so youth-obsessed that fads seemingly appear, peak and fade out within hours, a pair of giddy singers has ruled the airwaves for over six years. In addition to selling millions of discs, Puffy AmiYumi appear in commercials for everything from soft drinks to motorcycles. They've been immortalized as Barbiesque dolls and are hosts of a wacky television variety show.

What keeps them on top is a combination of endearing cuteness, solid pop songwriting, slick production (thanks in large part to mastermind Okuda Tamio), and the ladies' own optimistic enthusiasm. They're not really sex symbols (though they are sexy), but are more like every fan's big (or little) sisters. You can't help rooting for them.

Bar-None's Illustrated History showcases the potpourri of pop styles in Puffy's bag of tricks. There's swirling, Abba-like disco ("Electric Beach Fever"), Farfisa-driven new wave worthy of Elvis Costello's Attractions ("Brand New Days"), swaggering 70s style classic rock ("That's the Way it Is" and "Jet Police") and more than a few moments of ringing, Beatle-style chords. The constant throughout the disc is Ami and Yumi's bubbly vocalizing, the overall effect akin to karaoke night with a pair of talented, outgoing friends.

Most of the songs are performed in Japanese, but that's no obstacle to Western ears. In fact, it's liberating. Without verbal context, the listener can appreciate the songs as pure, delicious sound.

Millions of Japanese fans know the delights offered by these engaging pop stars. America could use a shot of unpretentious fun about now. Puffy AmiYumi sweetly fit that bill.

Sidelight: Ami and Yumi are known simply as Puffy in Japan. The suffix was tacked on stateside under threats of legal action from the management of a certain humorless artist whose own career is built on appropriating the work of others, to put it generously.