Pizzicato Five were an oddity of a band among a collection of odd bands – my collection, in fact. In a cupboard full of CDs, all arranged in order of how much I loved them, Pizzicato Five were always near the top row, alongside other dear favourites, the songs that gave me an escape route from a very tough time in a house full of fighting, screaming, doors being booted off the hinges. Even back in the early noughties, Pizzicato Five were difficult for me to define. In the end, I went with pop, which usually worked in my favour – yet with Pizzicato Five, it still felt vaguely wrong. They seemed to leap out of the hi-fi, their CD artwork and photography dazzlingly kitsch, a hint of a world they’d created by plundering the past for the benefit of the present. They were nothing less than perfect. In some ways, they reminded me of Pet Shop Boys in their steadfast presence, a duo who would always be there – until they weren’t. Early proponents of Japan’s famous Shibuya-kei movement, Pizzicato Five were constantly leaping around, finding other sounds, taking their influences of jazz, 60s pop, and (eventually) house music. Releasing an album or an EP every year, they were far more prodigious than most bands, which made them a gratifying band to follow. There was always something new to hear.
I’d started college in Glasgow, not being able to afford university which I dearly wanted to go to. We had no house, having lost it in a domestic battle that led to my parents splitting. Eventually, I ended up in a small flat in Cumbernauld (at the other side of town where I used to live) and of course my priorities were sorted: my books, my CDs, and my Doctor Who stuff. Everything else could go. It wasn’t so bad. I had to help with the rent and university just wasn’t an option. But that was okay. I had spare money left over to shop for my favourite thing – yes, again, books and CDs. Glasgow, thankfully, had plenty of options. Virgin Megastore in Buchanan Street was always my second port of call after Avalanche. It was there I found The Fifth Album From Matador, which was actually Pizzicato Five’s twelfth album, and released as Pizzicato Five™ in Japan. Now, here’s more context to how I fell hard for this band and this album: I’d been raised on punk, pop, new wave, goth, acid house, and Britpop. From all the influences around me, family members who liked different music, I absorbed the lot. But 60s inspired pop? It wasn’t something I heard often. Billy Fury was there, but his music didn’t sound like Pizzicato Five. Billy is amazing but is he Maki Nomiya? No, of course not. Maki was uncompromisingly cool, a metamorphic superstar who had the biggest wigs, the coolest clothes, and a voice that could bend itself around any music of any style – and she did. Yasuharu Konishi, a founding member of Pizzicato Five, wrote the songs, ran a record label, and played the hip straight man to Maki’s super glamourous presence. Together, they became very important to me.
College was ruled by several albums. Bed by Juliana Hatfield. Girls Fucking Shit Up by Lolita Storm. Snake River Conspiracy. Many others, including The Fifth Release By Matador. 20th Century Girl, which was Pizzicato Five at their most groovy and bombastic, could have stayed on repeat and I wouldn’t have bothered. In fact, it did during many bus breakdowns. First Bus? Worst Bus, let’s be honest. Darlin’ of Discothèque (a reworked version of an earlier song from one of their many EPs) is another fab highlight from the album. I tried to stick it on during a party with my student friends, only to have The Stroke stuck on instead. I coped. Tout, tout pour ma chèrie made me realise the only French I can speak are phrases from this album. Room Service, a laidback lounge track, is another favourite.
I’ve spent years trying to collect Pizzicato Five CDs, which isn’t easy even in the age of international shipping. Some releases are Japanese only, rarities that fetch hundreds online. But of all the CDs I’ve managed to locate, The Fifth Release From Matador remains just a little bit more special to me, because I found it when I needed it most, even if I didn’t realise it at the time.