Opening with the title track, a typically Nipponese plink plonk rhythm underpinned by Mick Karn’s trademark rubber band basslines, Rice Music is an album that could’ve only been made in the early 80s. It sets the tone for ten tracks of ‘globalearic’ grooves that throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.
Se! Se! Se! is a funky Talking Heads style global groove with itchy n’ scratchy guitars and Tom Tom Club-esque shouty stream-of-consciousness vocals. Haina-Haila is a tribal drum fest with Karn’s drunken master bassline and what sounds like Japanese schoolgirls (infact backing vocalists Eve, Nachiko and Yoko) chanting mantras over a Buddhist monk’s sermon. It is perhaps the greatest tribal drum, squelchy bass, Buddhist chant tune ever recorded. Tao-Tao ups the tempo with a flinty funk-pop workout. Side one’s closing track, Neo-Rice Music borrows the main riff from Tao-Tao and slows it down to a drowsy, dream-like drool.
On side 2, Kafka opens with a weird discordant cello sound effect over a dislocated voice that builds gradually with an synth-accordian/bubbly bassline (the midpoint between Kraftwerk’s The Model and Nirvana’s Come As You Are) jam. Rice Dog Jam barks it’s intentions in another take on Mutant Disco’s frantic arty post-funk with syncopated woofs, megaphone vocals and Toshio Nakanishi’s ‘preaching.’ Secret Party is a murky, underwater orgy of mysterious oozy sounds and textures for which the term ‘Balearic As Fuck’ could have been invented, whereas Silent Object is a beautiful ambient instrumental that evokes the calm meditative pools of a Japanese garden. The LP closes with Night In The Park, a Bowie-esque vocal over a traditional pop structure reminiscent of post-Eno Roxy.
With the ubiquitous assistance of Riuichi Sakamoto, Bill Nelson, Japan’s Mick Karn and Steve Jansen and with Tsuchiya not only providing vocals but playing everything from guitar, drums, synth and bass to bamboo percussion, koto and yokin, (Kiyohiko Semba also provides wadaiko, tsuzumi and tabla percussion) cynics could maybe criticise Rice Music as an exercise in plastic Orientalism for worthier-than-thou world music wannabes. Yet, at a time when the likes of Sakamoto, Bowie, Japan, Eno, Byrne and Nelson were blurring the boundaries between ethnic and experimental, traditional and transcendental, Rice Music is an LP that constantly throws up surprises and only underlines the energy and imagination of post-punk pop during this era.
The cover shows the artist sat at a desk in a fetching mauve trolly dolly meets International Rescue outfit. His heavily made-up, prettily androgynous face stares enigmatically into the distance, one hand balanced on his chin, the other plucking a guitar. To his left is a huge globe, angled to show Japan, China and the far east. The message is simple; the world is shrinking and old codes of sexuality and culture no longer matter. ‘New York-London-Paris-Munich-(Tokyo), everyone‘s talking about Pop Music! In 1982, anything appeared possible.