Classic Album Review: Viva La! Woman

Nicole Moore

Cibo Matto’s “Viva La! Woman” is an album just as full as personality as it is food references. Intricate instrumentals, textured samples, and vocalist Miho Hatori’s love letters to beef jerky and various culinary delights are a recipe for a fantastic record.

“Viva La! Woman” opens with “Apple.” An earworm loop of a piano playing in reverse joined by a grunge-inspired chugging guitar riff immediately set the tone for the album. Jangling drums, prominent synths, and samples of a murmuring crowd are also spliced ever so carefully into the mix. Hatori vocalizes beautifully throughout the track when she isn’t speaking, reversed at points in the same fashion of the piano loop.

Both members of Cibo Matto (At the time of this record’s recording), Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori are Japanese expatriates  and lived in New York at the time of this album’s release in 1996. Japanese influence seeps into the track listing throughout the project, most notably through Hatori’s thickly accented vocal delivery. Tracks like the aforementioned “Apple” are also thick with an eastern instrumental influence at points.

While eastern influence can be seen on this project, Cibo Matto doesn’t wear this on their sleeve. “Viva La! Woman” can best be described as a mix of prominent music staples at the time, such as trip-hop, alternative rock, and breakbeat music. A wide variety of samples and sounds bring the project to life as do a lot of trip-hop albums of the era. “White Pepper Ice Cream” features a smooth, chilled out guitar riff that feels it could come straight out of a Portishead track. Tracks like “Beef Jerky” and “Birthday Cake” in contrast feature loud drastically different breakbeat influences in their production.   

What makes “Viva La! Woman” great is its non-stationary nature as a record, effortless switching between its fits of loud, distorted breakbeat, and more chilled out trip-hop influences track to track. While these are the two prominent influences in this project, one never outweighs the other. Production tricks are just as fluid, yet consistent, with Hatori’s vocals switching from a soft-spoken part of the backing mix, to other moments where she seems to speak directly into your ear.

The meat of this album lies in it’s zany, food-based, stream-of-consciousness lyricism. (A factor that makes sense, considering Cibo Matto is Italian for “Crazy Food.”) With songs titles like “Birthday Cake” and “The Candy Man,” the theme is strong throughout the track listing. (The latter of the two being a funky, psychedelic take on the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory track.)

Some tracks on this album take this theme in different directions than others, and to different extents. Tracks like the soft and sweet “Sugar Water” take an almost poetic approach to lyricism, while the brash somewhat comedic “Birthday Cake” tells of a mother making a birthday cake with two-month-old milk for her son. Each track on the album plays with this idea of a “song about food” differently, to the point, it feels as if the ten tracks on this record were made by ten different bands.

“Viva La! Woman” is a classic, yet relatively unknown album for your consideration. A mash of playful lyricism and tight funky instrumentals make this record fun, just don’t make the mistake of going into it with your serious face on. This is a fun silly record to let go and dance to, even in its most somber moments.


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