This review’s going to be more than a little different from how we usually do things, because a thought occurred to me when folks started to talk about the songs being released from Re:STUPiD as if they might be unrecorded work from Lui Frontic Akabane JAPAN (I can see arguments pro and con and have at different times supported either) — we’re thinking about BiS and their music now in the completely wrong way. See down at the end for the punchline and why I legitimately think that’s good and bad, but for now … on to the review!
You can be forgiven for completely disagreeing with the premise and point of this review; I’m not sure that I agree with a lot of it. I just can’t shake the idea that the BiS comeback is not only earnest, but doing exactly what it wants to do, and that there’s a very real new normal there, and that puts it all into a different context, and that context is kind of wild.
I should talk about the music, which I’ll preface by saying that I don’t think there’s a bad song on this entire record, but it’s also missing a real punch-to-the-throat standout.
Not for lack of trying! If I’m being completely honest and taking every song as a single entity (and allowing initial reactions to fizzle a little), I’m completely down with “gives” even though it’s basically “ODD FUTURE” done over again (or, throwback, “Brand-new Idol Society”), and “Give Me a Chocolate” is sneakily a really damn good song with an amazing hook. “Never Starting Song” is a lot of fun, almost like Reel Big Fish or something, and “SAY YES” has that same pop-meets-punk-but-not-in-a-weenie-way energy. “Mysterious ASShole” is great and heavy! I’ll even go ahead and call out “Romeo’s Heart,” with its distinctly early-90s pop vibe and power chorus, and the classic BiS ballad-sounding “If tomorrow comes.”
Where the album loses me a little bit isn’t in the fact that it’s got ballads on it — WHO KiLLED IDOL? had ballads galore — but in the fact that the ballads are all doing the same thing over again: “NAKODUB” and “twisted grunge” and “NOT the END” aren’t the same song, but they’re all plowing the same overly familiar ground, and it’s disappointing, especially because it starts to feel like SCRAMBLES has run out of ideas and keeps trotting out the same moves. Yeah, it’ll sell you records, but it has all the creativity of tying your shoes.
What’s particularly kind of a kick in the pants is how great an album you’d have if you put together the best parts of Re:STUPiD and Brand-new Idol Society 2; the What is still there with BiS, but it’s like they and their creative team just don’t have the stamina to maintain that creative intensity anymore.
Now, those last few preceding paragraphs are coming from a person and a standpoint that knows BiS, the whole history and the drama and the influence; if you step back for a minute, some of those same critiques (repetitive! in particular) remain, but you start to think about things a little bit differently. “gives” sounds like the kind of power ballad that nobody else would even try to pull off, and “Give Me a Chocolate” is doing really interesting things in its use of distortion, and and and … and wait, did BiS actually put out a plus album?
The thing is, if you remove this album from all previous BiSperience*, it’s actually a perfectly acceptable pop-meets-rock record with some heavier overtones. In fact, if you let yourself forget for a minute that it’s BiS and pretend that it’s instead PIIIIIIIN or somebody similar, you could get away with thinking that it’s a good album with some outstanding moments, albeit repetitive, and you’d be really excited about where they might be able to go. Yeah, it’s ballad-heavy and derivative, but so what? It works, doesn’t it?
Here’s the wild part: We (most of us, at least) expected that BiS would come back with both barrels blazing, as if Pour Lui had sat around for two years and somehow seen the subcultural phenomenon she kick-started and been displeased at the results, and felt that it was time to set things right. But if you look back, like at the brief furor over her “I hate BiSH” comments, that’s not where she was at all — what she saw was that the landscape had changed so much, and with BiSH now at the forefront, that the time was right to come back with a free hand.
We don’t need the old BiS anymore. We just don’t. Alt-violence and punk-inspired power pop are absolutely everywhere in idol now. While the edifice for the likes of Hello! Project and 48g idols wasn’t ever really going to change, there’s now a generation of people who’ve been steeped in the idea that, some latencies aside, idols can be something completely different from the old norm. They can drink, they can smoke, they can swear and deliberately go on stage half-naked to sing about sex and whatever, it’s fine. Even the aesthetic around idol rebellion is shifting toward weird syntheses of IDOL is DEAD-era BiS and traditional forms — once the attitudes moved, it stopped being a big deal to dress to communicate a message, and just as much subversion can happen in “traditional” costume as in studded leather.
Here’s the thing: BiS won. It’s tempting to say that they didn’t because idols are still working under ridiculous behavioral rules and the like a lot of the time, and the uppermost echelons of idol are pretty much unchanged, but, unpacking these things in reverse order: Simple supply-and-demand tells the idol big bads how to behave, and they’ll adapt to whatever society says it wants, and that may be happening as AKB48 (for instance) sees its sales in decline while the PassCodes of the world are in ascent; on the flip, you have to remember that idol is all about appearances, and within unique Japanese cultural and business constructs at that, and we have very little idea of what the truth of any situation is. If I were managing idols, I’d be coming up with all kinds of creative ways to handle graduations, and very few of them would have anything to do with health issues or school or creative differences, is what I’m saying.
Not every revolution is won during its visible lifespan, you know? Time goes on, minds change, and you go two generations between legal segregation and a Black guy as president of the United States; BiS’s earlier work, particularly the latter two albums of that first overall iteration, were a deep assault on idol, embracing elements here and attacking them there and changing ideas about music and fashion and behavior. The scene is littered with the aftermath, and as that scene grows, it’s going to keep the old energy moving, and it’s going to keep changing things. BiS might not survive to see a final success (though the idea of Pour Lui retiring in full is weird and impossible), but they got this far, and they don’t need to be leaders anymore.
Instead, they can focus on making the music that Lui or Watanabe or SCRAMBLES wants to make, maybe keep pushing some creative boundaries and still hold on to some of the old anarchic energy, but in terms of face-peeling, heel-stomping cultural attacks, there are now a whole bunch of new soldiers who are reshaping the landscape on a regular basis. You could almost call this BiS victory lap. And taking Re:STUPiD itself as a single creative work, mostly decontextualized from its creators’ history, it’s a pretty acceptable effort.
So that’s what I really got out of this record. It’s not perfect and not even as creative overall as Brand-new Idol Society 2, but it’s actually a lot better than we’ve seemed to be willing to give it credit for. And you know what? That’s okay. BiS is different now because the world doesn’t need BiS to be BiS anymore.
*I can do this all day, people. Come at me.