To the casual American observer, it might seem that most Japanese pop and rock bands (barring extreme noise terrorists like the Boredoms) are somewhere on the axis defined by Shonen Knife and Puffy AmiYumi: from adorably incompetent pop-punk with twee lyrics to sugary Day-Glo bubblegum, all of it proffered by cute girls in miniskirts and bobby socks. However, as the American audience for Japanese pop/rock (or J-pop, as it's been reductively dubbed) has grown and matured, more traditional pop/rock bands like Mr. Children have attracted more notice outside their homeland. One of the most popular rock bands in Japan, with combined album and single sales of over 50 million copies, the quartet of singer/songwriter Kazutoshi Sakurai, lead guitarist Kenichi Tahara, bassist Keisuke Nakagawa, and drummer Hideya Suzuki is as famous as U2 is to Western audiences, and occupies a similar place in the cultural landscape as an earnest, occasionally political band with a playful theatrical side and a strong connection to its audience.
Although the band formed under a different name in 1988, Mr. Children didn't release their debut album, Everything, until 1992. As if to make up for lost time, their second and third albums, Kind of Love and Versus, were recorded and released within the next 15 months. Though these albums were moderately popular, Mr. Children's big commercial breakthrough was 1994's Atomic Heart, featuring the hit single "Innocent Love," the first in an unbroken string of number one singles on the Japanese charts that has continued into at least 2007. A steady climb in sales and popularity followed the success of Atomic Heart, with 1996's Shinkai, 1997's Bolero, 1999's Discovery, 2000's Q, and 2002's It's a Wonderful World maintaining the group's hold on the charts. A lucrative sideline in theme songs for Japanese television dramas and commercials (which is not frowned upon in Japanese pop culture as it is for many Western pop purists) was equally successful. However, in 2002, bandleader Sakurai was temporarily felled by the discovery of a potentially deadly blood clot in his brain. Although emergency surgery was entirely successful, Mr. Children spent nearly two years on hiatus as Sakurai recovered and devoted his energy to a variety of social and environmental causes. Mr. Children returned with 2004's Shifuku No Oto, followed by 2005's I Love U and 2007's Home. The two-disc rarities collection B-Side followed, joining 2001's pair of singles compilations, Mr. Children 1992-1994 and Mr. Children 1995-2000, and the 1999 live album 1/42. ~ Stewart Mason