Incredible Crisis! (as it was known over here) was a very daft little Playstation game, comprising of a couple of dozen mini games of varying strangeness all tied together by a storyline involving a Japanese Salaryman trying to avoid game-ending critical stress indicated by a human-faced onion with steam coming out of its ears.  Usual fayre then.

What was memorable about the game was that it was one of the rare few (I can only think of one other) Playstation titles where the soundtrack was recorded by live performers rather than composed and compressed in a small, dark room.  The game’s 25 music tracks are performed by the accurately-monickered Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra – in that they are from Tokyo, they (mostly) play ska, and there are an awful lot of them.  All of which is probably why the game itself ended up being rather short indeed.

This was my first introduction to TSPO and as introductions go, it’s a bit of a belter.  As the game itself was comprised of a bunch of very short, timed minigames (personal fave being the quiz in the ambulance, where incorrect answers were met with defibrillation.  Told you it was strange), each track is short and varied so it’s a great primer for the band itself.

The main theme and introduction tunes are about as traditional ska as the album gets, with the band exploring several genres and bending them around their unique style.  And no musical stone is left unturned, as Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra is given a bit of a workout, followed by jazz, funk, disco and flamenco in varying guises and combinations.  It’s a mixed bag to be sure, and if you don’t like the track that’s currently playing, in about a minute and a half there’ll be something completely different taking its place.

Being a collection of short songs, it’s fair to say that some songs feel more complete than others, with some coming across as sketches rather than full compositions.  But then again, these are still performed with the same sense of fun as their more well-fed neighbours on the record.

And fun it is.  While there is little to doubt TSPO’s credentials as a very tight, professional unit, the cornerstone to every track – on this album as on all their many others – is the aural assurance that each bandmember is having the time of their lives on each track they perform.  I’ve had the privilige of seeing these guys live, and this intangible sense of vitality and conviviality on this record is perfectly recreated on stage.

Tondemo/Incredible Crisis! is an excellent introduction to a unique and brilliant band.  It’s sad that many of their albums (including this one – I bought it in Hiroshima) are fairly difficult to obtain outside Japan for a reasonable price or at all, but there are a couple of “‘Best of”s and European releases available after a short rummage.  But it’s worth the hunt, as the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra are one of modern World Music’s real treasures.