Friday, April 24th, 2020

Perfume – Challenger

Challenge acceptable…


Ryo Miyauchi: The synth leads are chunky like a fat streak of crayon, and the production tricks are a lot more simple. The lyrics, too, read like a script shouted by a cartoon hero. But if Perfume sounds more regressive here, it’s because “Challenger” dates itself all the way back to the beginning of their history: they salvaged this from an early demo that Nakata first made when he was approached to produce for a teen pop unit from Hiroshima. The song highlights all the tremendous changes since, Nakata’s still clunky English lyrics notwithstanding, but it does better to point out what has remained the same.  Perfume has always been singing this same song about looking at the challenges ahead, and so “Challenger” could’ve come out any time in their long career.

Katherine St Asaph: Why did “Hurly Burly” feel like an escape, a little bit of stowed-away-in-hammerspace comfort, where this just feels saccharine? The lyrics are nowhere near as peppy as the music, yet nowadays, In These Times™, I can’t.

Jessica Doyle: That “we-are-challen-ger” refrain is the weakest part of the song, and unfortunately the first; get past it and you settle into a competent and enjoyable, if unremarkable, Perfume song, with a chorus that manages to be affecting despite its repetitive quality. Everything about the packaging of this — the Make My Video challenge, the winning of the challenge by an 11-year-old, the news that Nakata actually wrote the song a couple decades ago — seems designed to say, “Don’t expect another ‘Polyrhythm’ or even ‘Pick Me Up,’ you’re not getting it.” But even with lowered expectations, the song’s merely okay. 

Alfred Soto: The sustained mournfulness of the intro synth sets the mood for a track incorporating Apollo-era Eno and, well, the sustained mournfulness of The Visitors-era ABBA. When the tempos intensify, I hear no lessening of the funereal mood. 

Scott Mildenhall: Kinetic yet somehow static, “Challenger” treads water for longer than it can withstand. The story behind it might give it an extra edge for fans and followers, but as layered as it quietly is, it isn’t quite so engaging without that investment.

Will Adams: Perfume tend to get sentimental with their milestone anniversaries, and “Challenger” is no exception. There’s plenty of charm here: the zooming sonics are a welcome return to form after some inconsistent dabbles in future bass, and it’s sweet to commemorate the very first song Nakata wrote for the trio. But with that comes the clunkiness one would expect from the very first song Nakata wrote for the trio: the titular refrain is earnest but awkward, and the key change feels tacked-on. On paper, “Challenger” has designs for great cosmic exploration; in practice, the song is content to wait at the station.

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