When teen stars grow up, their careers always face a difficult journey into adulthood (just ask Macaulay Culkin). So, with playground hip-hop unit Halcali now well into their 20s, “Tokyo Groove” presents us with one disc featuring original songs and another of covers and collaborations, in the hope of reinventing the duo.
Halcali are at the stage in their career where most J-pop stars would have long ago settled into identikit, string-laden balladry or discovered there’s always been an easy-listening jazz influence to their sound. The fact this unusual mishmash of an album resists that trend is creditable, but in place of that is little more than an undignified scrabble for an identifiable sound. Somewhere along the line, someone has noticed that Yasutaka Nakata is fashionable, so there are a few fumbling attempts to deal with the complexities of autotune, but it fails to add anything to the songs, and misses the point of Halcali’s charm in the first place.
“Zig Zag Saturday Night” tries to capture some of the cheerful tag-team rapping that characterized their early appeal, but their hearts just don’t seem to be in it and it never quite takes off. The final track on disc one, a remixed medley of early singles, serves as a cruelly mutilated reminder of how-many-orders-of- magnitude-better they were back then. Disc two rolls drunkenly hither and thither, with covers of Tamio Okuda’s “Ai no Tame ni” and Sheena & the Rokkets’ “You May Dream” better than most, but the overwhelming impression is of a group with no sense of direction and little inspiration remaining.