Is it really five years since The Japanese Popstars first appeared on the radar? The Derry trio have come a long way since then; these days their remixing skills are in demand by the A-list, reimagining tracks for everyone from Beyoncé to Gorillaz, while they’ve also firmly cemented their reputation as effective live performers. At this point they’re even sampling a bit of the highlife themselves, with Nike now producing a range of Japstars trainers. So, with their proven ability and a newly-signed record deal with Virgin, the stage is invitingly set for them to elevate the three-piece to the same status occupied by contemporaries like Justice and The Bloody Beetroots.
As it turns out, it’s a golden opportunity they’ve managed to squander. Upon listening to Controlling Your Allegiance, you quickly get the impression that the Popstars have expended most of their creative energy on those aforementioned celebrity remixes, because they run out of ideas pretty quickly here. It’s a problem that’s especially apparent on instrumental tracks such as ‘Catapult’ and ‘Tomorrow Man’, listless numbers which contain neither direction nor purpose. What’s especially frustrating is this all comes in the wake of ‘Let Go’, an absolute piledriver of a tune composed with a little help from American house producer Green Velvet. In fact, it was this song that heightened anticipation for the album when it first surfaced last year. It’s a perfect dance tune, with a thumping bassline, huge beats, intergalactic synths and processed vocals delivering a hooky mantra.
Perhaps tellingly, the LP’s other highlights also come courtesy of collaborations – in particular, ‘Destroy’, which features a sinister-sounding Jon Spencer on vocal duties, and James Vincent McMorrow’s turn on ‘Shells Of Silver’, a sparser, slow-paced track that compliments the troubadour’s voice perfectly. But not all these guest slots go to plan, either: ‘Take Tomorrow’, which features none other than Robert Smith, never quite takes off – due partly to the fact that his voice is overwhelmed in the mix. Editors frontman Tom Smith, meanwhile, must take partial blame for the unsatisfying coda that is ‘Joshua’; his hackneyed, meandering lyrics combine with the character-free, overly-long backing track to brew up one hell of a snoozefest.
Controlling Your Allegiance is an infuriating listen – infuriating because there are moments of brilliance that are then dropped and explored no further, thus also throwing away the possibility for The Japanese Popstars to reach soaring heights. They’re still a formidable live act, mind, and maybe some of the least impressive tracks here will find a new lease of life in a club setting. In the studio, however, they’re going to have to think long and hard about where they’re heading if they want to make amends with the follow-up.