ARTIST: Shonen Knife
Despite the great length of time they’ve been around as a band, Shonen Knife have never lost their playful spirit. Through thirty-two years and numerous lineup changes, they’ve attracted a cult following with their simple and sweet brand of rock and roll. Bandleader Naoko Yamano, now fifty-three years old, is the only member who’s been with the Osaka-based band for its entire span. It’s safe to say that their output as a band has been especially prolific, not in the sense that they’ve released a great number of albums in a short amount of time, but in that they’ve been releasing albums regularly since their inception. And there’s no stopping them now. Overdrive, the follow-up to 2012’s Pop Tune, is their 20th record as a band. Quite a milestone record as this certainly amasses some high expectations, but none of it has gone to their head. In fact, the record shows no indication of it being some kind of special celebration record. It’s simply a frills-free rocking good time that plays to the band’s strengths of creating simple and fun songs with hilariously relatable lyrics. They’re having a good time, and it’s clear they want to convey that same experience to their listeners.
The most wonderful thing about this album, and their music in general, is that they’re not afraid to tout their influences with pride. In 2011, they released an entire record in tribute to the Ramones and their body of work titled Osaka Ramones. Understandably, the Ramones have been a big influence of theirs for a majority of their time as a band, but on this record, they explore sounds that harken back to other contemporaries. Many of these songs are heavily informed by 70s hard rock and metal, like Black Sabbath on “Ramen Rock". On the best songs of the record, they pull off a winning combination of sludgy guitar work with snarling licks, executed amazingly well on songs like “Dance to the Rock” and “Green Tea”. What’s so great about this sound is that they take the styling of a heavy genre that has historically been male-dominated and dripping with masculinity and give it their own feminine edge. For such a loud guitar-forward album, it’s actually endearingly sweet. Influences of 60s girl group can be heard in the lush harmonies of “Dance to the Rock" and in the lovelorn balladry of “Fortune Cookie”, an ode to the beloved treat. They use their musical informants well, but many of the songs revolve around the same sonic ideas that they sometimes run out of steam, like in album closer “Jet Shot”. They try to slow things down too (“Black Crow”), but their attempts don’t go over too well. All in all, their sound here is nothing new, but it’s executed nicely with their original spunky style.
Food and rock ‘n’ roll are their favorite topics to sing about, and they aren’t afraid to show it. Like always, their lyrics are the embodiment of simplicity done well—truly ordinary statements about truly ordinary things, but the way they talk about them is simply endearing. Two songs are about rock ‘n’ roll itself, as meta as that seems. “Bad Luck Song” is a positive affirmation that rhymes ‘thinking’ with ‘thinking’ and “Dance to the Rock” is an invitation to dance. “Ramen Rock” happens to combine their subjects of choice all into one that describes ramen noodles and is also uplifting as she sings, “Rock and roll, do my best”. They really sing best about food, though. “Fortune Cookie” is an ode to the eating the desert and absorbing its message, and “Green Tea” is a love song to all things green tea-flavored: ice cream, chocolate, even cookies. They really have a knack for telling simple stories that are just really charming and relatable. Their amazingly simple lyrics convey a sense of kitschyness that only they could pull off. Staying true to who they are as human beings adds to their charm. It seems like they just write what comes to them and don’t try to make it profound, and in doing so, they make the ordinary things we take for granted feel magical. That’s the real beauty in their approach.
“The bad luck song might be my good luck song; this is the best way of thinking.”