Superfly does one type of sound so well that there is no reason to try anything new. The project — primarily the stage name of singer Shiho Ochi, with some songwriting assists from Koichi Tabo — plays guitar-centric rock indebted to the music of the 1960s and ’70s. It’s a style that suits her well, and also one that sells — Superfly’s fourth album, “Force,” has already landed the No. 1 spot on the Oricon charts, making her only the fourth female artist to have five straight top-spot debuts. The album, though, refuses to just play to Superfly’s emerging strengths as a rocker, instead forcing in the kind of ballads that have made her huge between the energetic throwbacks. This decision makes “Force” an uneven listen.
When Superfly rocks out, though, she produces some catchy music — and she does that more on “Force” than on previous albums. Instead of blazing any new trails, Superfly’s music worships Woodstock-era rock, at points sounding like straight homage (see “Get High! ~Adorenarin~,” which takes cues from Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen”). Like fellow revivalists The Black Keys or Alabama Shakes, that doesn’t matter when the tracks sound so catchy. Superfly’s fuzzy guitars and soulful voice sound best against a fast tempo, and the best moments on “Force” move at just such a pace. In particular, the first three songs make up the disc’s strongest section, highlighted by the driving “Nitty Gritty.”
The momentum built up by that opening trio comes to a grinding halt with the arrival of track four, “Kagayaku Tsuki no Yo Ni” (“Like the Shining Moon”). It moves at a slower clip, is anchored by piano and demands that Ochi play diva even though she sounds best when she’s moving with the music. This cycle — a string of chugging, guitar-powered tracks broken up by a plodding ballad — repeats a few times. Only late track “The Bird Without Wings” comes close to rising above because it features guitar, and even then it is played so slow as to be a waste.
Without the ballads, “Force” is a rollicking and entertaining bit of rock emphasizing all of Superfly’s positives. Thank goodness you can delete tracks on your own computer.