It would have been tempting for The Japanese Popstars to become even more intense and relentless in the wake of signing to a major label. Their debut album ‘We Just Are’ didn’t let up very often, and it was this energetic approach that had reaped rewards for them, so they could have been forgiven for sticking to the formula and giving us more of the same. It certainly hadn’t been broken, so it didn’t necessarily need to be fixed.
However, the mark of a good band is being able to move out of your comfort zone even though you don’t need to, and the Derry trio have done so in style. Those less familiar with the band will probably say it sounds basically the same as its predecessor. It’s their loss, because ‘Controlling Your Allegiance’ is every bit as good as what came before. The mark of a great band is being able to change gears without letting the quality control suffer.
For all the progression that the album shows, opener ‘Let Go’ is rooted in much the same territory as the ‘We Just Are’ material. It’s similarly intense, but makes no secret of the fact that considerably more things are being thrown into the mix this time around.
For one thing, The Japanese Popstars have become more accessible overall. While they’ve had to sit on the record for quite a while (lead single ‘Destroy’ was released as far back as this time last year) and as such have had to release a stream of singles - and the most recent, the Tom Smith-featuring album highlight ‘Joshua’, is this album’s fourth - those same singles are songs that they should feel particularly proud of.
Enlisting Lisa Hannigan for ‘Song for Lisa’ was a great move. Some of you will be left scratching your heads in bafflement (‘How did they make THAT work?!’, etc.) but her vocals add something special to what it perhaps the trio’s most immediate song to date. Away from the new-found pop sensibility, songs like ‘Falcon Punch’, ‘Catapult’ and the stunning ‘Our Building Block’ show that the group have progressed in other ways too. This is the great leap forward we always knew they were capable of.