Shonen Knife – [Album]

Thursday, 02 August 2012

It might sound difficult to believe, but Shonen Knife's newest album, Pop Tune, reiterates the idea that a band really doesn't need to change very much in order to keep listeners interested as years pass. This is, after all, Shonen Knife's eighteenth studio album since the band formed in 1981 – and the only real change to the band's formula in all that time has been the players which comprise their rhythm section. Does that mean their sound is played out? Some would say it couldn't not be but, like (almost) any Ramones record, those who know the band and know what they do will welcome another run around the block.

With the band's reasonably repetitive tradition in mind, it can only be said that “Welcome To The Rock Club” starts Pop Tune spinning exactly how everyone familiar with the band expects. From moment one, singer/guitarist (and sole surviving founding member) Naoko Yamano rifles through a tight and raucous (albeit “raucous” in a uniquely  “karaoke” sort of way) set of prefabricated punk changes which are easy enough to recognize but the catch – and what has always been Shonen Knife's ace in the hole – is the brightly colored and plush demeanor of the music; like a pair of over-sized pants made of fun fur, the song is just fun and good to see/ hear/ be next to as it passes by. There's no easier way to explain it, the presentation of “Welcome To The Rock Club” is adorable and innocent – but with a tiny, very sharp set of teeth just visible enough that the weary know not to dismiss them.

The little tease and nagging sense of candy-coated fun which hooks listeners in “Welcome To The Rock Club” endures through songs  like “Osaka Rock City” (which only sort of wraps KISS in fun fur, but is fun from both a uniquely 'KISS' standpoint as well as a japrock one), “All You Can Eat,” “Psychedelic Life” and “Ghost Train,” but what makes each both fun and frustrating is the fact that each song (as has always been the case with Shonen Knife's music) is perfectly two-dimensional, so is incapable of really pouncing on listeners or revealing some sinister undertone. Attempting to really dig deeply into any song on this record is pointless because each track is just sweet and unassuming fluff (check out lyrics like “When you go to an all you can eat all you can eat all you can eat/ look at the food as you're taking a seat taking  a seat taking a seat/ before you grab a plate, decide which one you want/ then help yourself to the food” from “All You Can Eat” and realize that they really are just about as sincerely adorable as they seem), so the challenge for listeners becomes just enjoying the music for what it is at face value because that's really all there is to it.

Standing back from Pop Tune after one has listened to it all the way through, listeners will have to realize that the record is exactly as good as anything Shonen Knife has ever released because it's digging on the exact same ground. Some might scoff, but think about this: it might be the same as ever, but the bright day-glo colors splattered everywhere on it are fresh and exciting, and the poppy melodies are pretty and memorable; which might be exactly what people said about the band when they released Pretty Little Baka Guy in 1986 (when they began singing more in Engrish than Japanese), but that shouldn't diminish it at all. As long as listeners are willing to take Pop Tune for exactly what it is, they'll love it.



Pop Tune
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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