While I was planning to write about Tokyo Police Club’s 10-year anniversary of Champ last June, I never got around to finishing my retrospective. So, this one goes to 11. This is one of those great indie rock records that has aged gracefully and ended up being the breakthrough album for Tokyo Police Club. Champ followed up their debut, Elephant Shell, and showcased the growth in the four musicians that made up the band. Frontman and bassist Dave Monks sounded as captivating and confident as he ever did on this album, and Greg Alsop, Josh Hook, and Graham Wright helped solidify the band’s great chemistry here. The album was produced by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Saves the Day, Elliott Smith) and he really was able to get the best out of the band on Champ.
The album opens up with the similarly named “Favourite Food” and “Favourite Colour,” where the opening track cautiously begins with some synths and a casually strummed acoustic guitar over Monks’ vocals. He sings on the opening verse, “With a heart-attack on your plate / You were looking back on your days / How you spent them all in a blur / When they asked if you were for sure / Let the sugar melt down your throat / ‘Cause you know it’s sweet getting old / With a lollipop and a rose / Let the hospital be your home,” and describes the delicate situation. The pace picks up significantly towards the mid-way part of the song, and the band rallies around every lyric to bring more meaning to the words. “Favourite Colour” features more starts and stops to its pace, especially on the chorus of, “So tell me what’s / Tell me what’s your favorite color / Tell me your favorite color / Tell me how’s / Tell me how’s your younger brother / What grade’s he in?” Monks’ ability to be an engaging frontman pays major dividends on the first two tracks.
The first single released on Champ, “Breakneck Speed” follows and has a fuzzy-sounding bass line that pulsates throughout the song. The great guitar riffs found throughout the track help guide the single towards success. Monks mentions on the last verse, ” ‘Cause I’m still amazed you made it out alive / After what you did / Born on your feet / Running, forest fires underneath your bed / But it’s good to be back,” as he continues to describe a person that the album centers around.
”Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” is reminiscent of the sound that Foster the People went for on their Torches record, and clearly it caught the ears and attention of the band as they would later end up touring together shortly thereafter. The song is one of the more immediately gripping songs found on Champ and was an obvious choice of a second single to continue the momentum found on the album. My personal favorite comes in the form of “Bambi,” that the band used as their third and final single from the promotion cycle. This song in particular showcased the growth in Tokyo Police Club’s songwriting and features some great synths and more intricate guitar work. On the second verse, Monks outlines his relationship with an older generation member as he sings, “Oh, you can watch it when you get a bit older / But for now in the bad bits, I should cover your eyes / She painted pictures with the tips of her fingers / Sewing buttons to Bambi, tying strings to a kite.” The jam that the band explodes into on the chorus is incredibly powerful, and it’s no wonder why the band makes this song a staple in their live sets.
The first half of the album closes with “End of a Spark,” and Monks continues with the album theme of looking towards his elders for guidance and a moral compass. He explains a tender moment in the bridge of, “When he put you to bed / Your great-grandfather always said / Wasting is an art / Well, it’s a good thing that I was young then.” The guitars complemented Monks’ voice and tone nicely, and made for a nearly flawless Side A.
The back half opens with the ballad “Hands Reversed,” where Monks sings about a parent or grandfather when he mentions, “”You’ve got to come into my kitchen for a crime / You’ve got to shoot me up and tie me to the kite / I’m gonna tell you what to do about yourself / Because the breakfast of the champions is a hedonistic health.” I’ve always appreciated the way that Dave Monks can weave a web of lyrics to explain his life experiences with such poise and purpose.
”Gone” brings the tempo back up slightly from the last two songs, while “Big Difference” takes off with the same frenetic energy of the majority of the material found on this album. What Tokyo Police Club does especially well on the latter track is to introduce subtle backing vocals in between each of the lines of the verses to fill out the sound. The band leaves nothing off the table as they continued to explore the possibilities of what they were capable of creating with their music.
”Not Sick” has a great bounce to it, courtesy of drummer Greg Alsop’s beat introduced, and the song remains one of my favorites on the record. Monks sings on the chorus, “Oh Carolina, happy belated / Always golden, still the greatest,” and it’s hard to not find a smile on your face as he explodes through every lyric with veteran poise. Album closer, “Frankenstein” follows the brilliant song with a spiraling and well-constructed guitar riff that further rounds out the sound that Tokyo Police Club nearly perfected on Champ.
With so much going in their favor on this album, it’s no secret as to why Tokyo Police Club’s popularity began to ascend with this release. Champ garnered well-earned praise from almost every major media publication and many of today’s artists still point back to this album as being an influential force in the renaissance of the indie rock movement. While I may have missed the 10 year celebration, this is one record that will continue to age gracefully.