WHEN CIBO MATTO released its first single, 1994's unhinged, organ-curdled rant "Birthday Cake," they sounded like nothing else on college radio. Japanese-born New York City singer Miho Hatori and compatriot multi-instrumentalist Yuka Honda made hectic, food-obsessed art-hop about life in the hectic, food-obsessed city they called home, layering the dense beats with a cryptic gastro-sensualism and an oddly confrontational intensity: "Extra sugar/Extra salt," yelled Hatori through layers of distortion, "Extra oil and MSG!/Shut up and eat!"
Whatever its source--or its aim--this hungry rage promised delicious fun for anyone who believed that Hatori and Honda could keep it up. Sadly, in the two years that elapsed between the release of "Birthday Cake" and Viva! La Woman, the full-length album that eventually surrounded it, Cibo Matto went from making weird jump-around party music to crafting boring trip hop for young elites to dance to distractedly after catching the duo on Buffy. The praise heaped upon that platter focused mostly on identity politricks, belying the fact that this unfunky record was only intermittently more interesting than kindred culinary trip popper DJ Food. The contrast between single and album was something like the difference between a junk shop and a boutique. The latter may be neater and more organized, but it's nowhere near as fun.
Now comes the new Stereotype A, which feels closer to shopping at the Gap: "hip," sterile, and vaguely unpleasant. The Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake-aided grab bag of sonic oddities that pervaded even the sleepiest moments of Viva! is gone, replaced by a scrubbed sonic sheen that's nearly antiseptic.
The exceptions--the dinky Japanglish geek-rap of "Sci-Fi Wasabi," the dreary metal parody "Blue Train"--stand out only because they're so damned irritating. Sophomore albums usually are a showcase for growth, but the only evidence of artistic advancement here is that the songs aren't all about food.
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