Like the tributes to powerful kings of old, the two-disc compilation “Unicorn Tribute” brings together 17 lesser parties to pay their respects to the Japanese rock band Unicorn. Formed in Hiroshima in 1986, Unicorn rose to fame in the “Band Boom” of the late 1980s that redirected Japanese pop music away from idol-heavy TV programs and back to rock clubs and impromptu roadside gigs. Today the band is mostly remembered as the first showcase for lead singer Tamio Okuda’s innovative and rococo melodies heard on “Hige to Boin” and “Subarashii Hibi.”
Both those songs are covered on this tribute, in which a gaggle of not-particularly-young artists such as Triceratops, Grapevine, Yoshii Kazuya and Sparks Go Go provide trad-rock covers of classic Unicorn material that are faithful to the point of straight imitation.
Doping Panda go 10 paces further by adapting the old songs to their own digi-rock soundsphere, but Unicorn peers Magokoro Brothers win first prize for their whimsical, lo-fi electronic cover of “Elegy.” Okuda-produced Puffy doing a Unicorn cover, meanwhile, is as self-referential as John Malkovich going through the hole to his own brain. I’m also unclear if anyone ever needed to hear wimpy R&B kings Chemistry or “Queen of Japanese Reggae” Pushim sing Unicorn songs, but they’re on Sony, so we don’t have a choice.
This tribute, like all others, may be ultimately disposable but at least it will send a new generation running to hear the superior originals.