Graded on a Curve: Hiroshima,
The Best of Hiroshima

Anyone can listen to good albums. But truly awful albums? They should be left to the professionals who receive combat pay for that sort of thing. Listening to a truly awful album is like tiptoeing across a minefield. You never know when you’ll get your ears blown off. Such is the case with 1994’s The Best of Hiroshima. You’d expect a name in such extraordinarily bad taste from a hardcore band, but Hiroshima are a smooth jazz ensemble composed largely of Asian-Americans. There’s no comparing them to one of humankind’s most horrifying mass atrocities, but in their own small way Hiroshima are guilty of inflicting unimaginable suffering on the innocent.

Unlike the A-Bomb, there’s nothing explosive about Hiroshima. Their songs have all the edge of a Ramen noodle, but they do have one thing going for them, and that’s their incorporation of such Japanese instruments as koto, taiko, and shakuhachi into their music. This sets them apart from the insipid smooth jazz pack, but you know what they say about setting yourselves apart from the herd–it just makes it easier for predators like me to pick you off.

But if I’m honest with myself (something I try to do as seldom as possible) I’ve heard much, much worse. Which isn’t to say the band can’t suck with the worst of them; a few of the songs on this best-of are easy listening compost of the sort used to grow Yannis. They include “Turning Point,” “Thousand Cranes,” “I Do Remember” (wish I couldn’t), and “I’ve Been Here Been Here Before” (suggested subtitle: “And I Never Want to Be Here Again”).

Most of the rest of the songs on the compilation fall into the “vacuous but perky” category. There’s the Caribbean-tinged “Island World” (criminal use of steel drums) and the similarly exotic “Hawaiian Electric,” which to its credit boasts a big funk lite bottom but still makes me want to bomb Pearl Harbor. And just to prove they’re real world travelers with no prejudice against the Middle East there’s “Time on the Nile,” which so far as I can tell has no Egyptian influences whatsoever.

The remaining songs have a little life in them. Both “Another Place” and the vaguely Japanese-flavored “San Sey” boast a big drum wallop, while “One Wish” features a throbbing bass pulse that proves (despite all appearances to the contrary) it didn’t die on the operating table. All three prove these guys have talent, but like so many other smooth jazz groups choose to use it for evil. Like “San Sey,” “Another Place” evokes the Land of the Rising Sun, but that’s about all it has going for it. The LP’s only saving grace is the syncopated, space age bachelor pad dance number “Go,” which has a late-stage Steely Dan gone New Wave vibe and might, in the worst of all possible worlds, have scored big on MTV.

The only thing stopping me from flunking Hiroshima and making them repeat second grade jazz is “Go.” Rarely does a band of Hiroshima’s ilk produce anything but regurgitated Shirako, and I feel incumbent upon me to recognize this truly remarkable feat. That said, had I paid $9.99 for this LP I’d have demanded a $19.99 upon returning it, in recompense for my pain and suffering. So yeah, I hate them, and will continue to hate them until they become a hardcore band and make tasteless a part of their act.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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