This review is something I wrote a few months ago for someone else but which never got published. Obviously the song’s been around for ages and I think some of the ideas I talk about here are pretty well-worn now so apologies for repetition and feel free to ignore. I doubt I’d be able to summon the same enthusiasm for it if I were writing this now, although I stand by what i wrote in general terms.
Momoiro Clover Z are the idol group that it’s OK for indie and experimental music fans to not only like, but actually to get completely dizzy with excitement over. Mouretsu Uchuu Koukyoukyoku Dainana Gakushou “Mugen no Ai” may be the theme song to yet another self-referential comedy anime about cute girls, but it also represents an interesting case of a subcultural pop culture artefact that is teetering on the brink of surprisingly wide ranging acceptance having played more or less on its own terms.
Part of the key to Momoiro Clover Z’s popularity is that they succeed in their fundamental capacity as idols. The group themselves are brimming with character, and producer Hyadain’s music helps to not only bring this out but to amplify it. The asides and snatches of dialogue that pepper the song are monumentally silly, but delivered perfectly straight-faced, which is important in ensuring that the audience understands that the group are laughing with them rather than at them. The fans can at least feel that they and the group are on the same trip here.
While they push a lot of otaku buttons, the group are no vulnerable “little sister” types needing a big brother figure to protect and comfort them. Instead, they take their cues from the more combative theatrics of pro wrestling and tokusatsu action serials. Momoiro Clover Z are all about chasing each moment with hearts aflame and grasping them with both hands, because moments are precious and pass in the blink of an eye and other such semi-sincerely meant cliches. The songwriting formula that producer Hyadain employs for Momoiro Clover Z’s music is perfectly tailored to this philosophy, bombarding the listener with a barrage of frantic beats, hysterical, wailing 80s guitar solos (courtesy here of the ubiquitous Marty Friedman), scattershot call-and-response vocals, and arrangements that barrel chaotically from one melodic and rhythmical segment to another like a hyperactive child channel-surfing between a dozen TV stations composed entirely of 1980s Saturday morning cartoons played at double speed. At any given moment, the song is pummeling you with a surging chorus or soaring guitar solo, but then just as suddenly as it arrived, it’s gone and the next, equally melodramatic, moment leaps in to replace it.
It’s a style that anime fans will be familiar with from all manner otaku-oriented music, but it also shares a kind of anarchic energy with the avant-garde song construction of 1970s progressive rock and the excitable, cut-and-paste style of some post-Shibuya-kei artists like Eel and Plus-tech Squeeze Box (both of whom are Japanese labelmates of The Go! Team, whose member Ian Parton produced recent Momoiro Clover Z single Roudou Sanka), which perhaps explains part of how the group have been able to appeal so strongly to so many in the indie and experimental community.
The single also features Lost Child, written by Narasaki of thrash/shoegaze/metal band Coaltar of the Deepers, which takes Momoiro Clover Z in an even more interesting direction, wisely not attempting to replicate the Hyadain formula in its entirety but instead weaving distorted vocals and cosmic synth effects around a skittering 1990s electronic beat. Taken together, the two tracks showcase a group on the brink of massive success but still making thrillingly silly and deliciously fun music.
And this is what makes Momoiro Clover Z such an important group in the current wave of Japanese idol music. Whereas the likes of AKB48 have crossed over from idol subculture into the mainstream through a combination of sheer force of numbers and steadfastly unchallenging music, and Perfume were never really idols in the term’s fullest sense to begin with, on the evidence of Mouretsu Uchuu Koukyoukyoku Dainana Gakushou “Mugen no Ai” , Momoiro Clover Z seem set on charging ahead riding the same wave of irrepressible energy and casual disregard for J-pop convention that has already been key to their popularity among both idol and indie subcultures.