Shonen Knife - Overdrive

On their 20th release, Shonen Knife delight with sticky sweet rock ‘n’ roll and clever, silly lyrics.

Additional Info

7.0

ALBUM: Overdrive

ARTIST: Shonen Knife

2014

Rock

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.”

1. Bad Luck Song
Shonen Knife have proven through the years that they’re great at toeing the line between hard and soft sounds. Here, they take the best of 70s hard rock and inject it with their own playful energy. Sludgy electric chords pervade through the soundscape with an easy flow, and reduce to a rhythmic chug when Yamano starts on the verse. Her talk-singing stanzas are hard to follow, but her vocal phrasing combined with the chord progression make for a decidedly thoughtful sound. Though the lyrics are somewhat obscured in the verse, you can hear the reflective and nostalgic tone in her voice. With sweet harmonies and loveable sloppiness, the chorus is both catchy and completely heartfelt. “The bad luck song might be my good luck song; this is the best way of thinking”, Yamano sings at the top of the chorus. Even though some of the rhyming is pretty kitschy, their endearing qualities make the ride worthwhile, from the sweet message to the polytonal guitar solo.7.2
2. Black Crow
Usually, the pensively foreboding ballads of an album don’t make an appearance until the midpoint has passed. By putting one as early the second track, Shonen Knife set an interesting tone for the rest of the record, but it’s one that’s fresh (at least for a little while). As they decrease the tempo, they up the smoky and dark moods. The slow yet driving pace gives it the feel of an ominous battle march drenched in sludgy guitars. If the White Stripes’ “In the Cold Cold Night” were a more developed rock song, it would sound like this one. However, its numerous repetitions wear it down instead of build it up. As the song cycles on and grows tired, the thing that shakes the formula up is her unexpected octave jump three quarters of the way in. With the mold broken, the song finds new life, but it’s unfortunately too late in the song to become fully realized.6.9
3. Dance to the Rock
There have been many songs that pioneer a specific dance—“The Twist”, “Mashed Potato Time”, even “Teach Me How to Dougie”. But Shonen Knife aren’t here to teach you their own dance here; they’re just here to get you to dance any way you please. With this, they succeed with flying colors. Textured and angular guitar riffs with a nice dance rock drum beat ground the song into a rocking groove, but the endearing talk-singing and vocal callbacks lighten up the mood. It has this playful anthemic quality that demands air time at a rock ‘n’ roll sock hop (with the band commanding the dance floor). With its girl group inspired harmonies and call to dancing action, this song could easily be the theme of their own vintage variety show, compete with teen heartthrobs and adoring teenage fans. If only such a thing existed. In this regard, it conveys a timeless aesthetic that will probably make you dance.8.5
4. Ramen Rock
Like fellow Japanese contemporaries Cibo Matto, Shonen Knife have never shied away from including their love of food in their music. Here, they manage to find the perfect intersection between this and their penchant for writing songs about rock and roll itself. The product dips deeply into the stylings of early heavy metal. At times it severely recalls Black Sabbath, with Yamano’s vocals sounding similar to Ozzy Osbourne’s piercing falsetto. Even though it doesn’t innovate too far from the norms of the genre, it’s a fantastic attempt with smoky and snarling guitar riffs that’ll send shivers down your spine. The lyrics have an interesting flow, with the verses focusing on ramen and the chorus, seemingly on a gig of theirs. But hearing her voice narrate about “ramen noodles” until she switches to her affirmation, “Rock and roll; do my best”, it makes complete sense.7.8
5. Shopping
Spoiler alert: this song contains approximately 100 utterances of the word ‘shopping.’ (This is a ball park guess.) They explore the ins and outs of their shopping addiction in a completely silly way. Unfortunately, it toes the line of becoming very annoying after the newness wears off. From simple declarations of their love (“Shopping, Shopping, I like shopping”) to qualifying the statement (“I love to go shopping at the supermarket”), even extending the invitation to you (“Let’s go shopping; it’s so fun”), this one only makes sense in the context of their eccentric artistic aesthetic. New or casual fans of the band might find the lyrics odd or overly simplistic. But even as fun as it is, the redeeming qualities of the song, like its playful lyrics and banging acid riffs, are overused to oblivion.5.0
6. Fortune Cookie
As they did in “Black Crow”, they return to darker and murkier tones. This time, they take on a more wistful romantic vibe that’s lighter than before. Their guitars sound twinkling and dreamy, emulating a perfect combination of major and minor chords that takes the song to marvelous heights. But besides all this, the real treat of this song is the sweet little narrative they tell—an ode to fortune cookies. They sing about fortune cookie time (“after lunch, after dinner”) and share their love for the sweet treat (“fortune cookie, you are lucky”). Though the lyrics are something obscured, you can hear some of the best bits just fine, like the overarching platitude, “A miracle will happen someday". The acoustic guitar and melodic accents create a sublime texture that adds to this wonderful number. For those who just didn’t want it to end, it continues right into the next song.7.8
7. Like a Cat
Continuing right where the last song left off, the transition is so smooth and seamless that you probably won’t realize you’re listening to the next song until you hear the meowing and wonder what that has to do with fortune cookies. (Yes, they meow. It’s great.) While it’s a continuation from before, it’s takes a heavier direction than its predecessor. Aesthetically, it’s reminiscent of “Bad Luck Song,” the album opener, with its pointedly singular guitar lines that buzz and reverberate through the song. Unfortunately, the musical landscape isn’t too interesting, with the riffs remaining too static. Like before, the lyrics are the cornerstone of the song’s likeability. Here, they compare a girl to the likeness of a cat, “fancy free” and “doesn’t care about the past” or the future. In their eyes, she’s a “queen of the night.” It’s an ode to all of the people out who embrace their lazy carefree attitude, and despite the few flaws, it’s wonderful.7.5
8. Green Tea
After a bath of mostly mid-tempo rock numbers, the one thing this album is practically begging for is an unadulterated banger. At the perfect time for a climax, “Green Tea” delivers. A murky mid-tempo riff bridges the gap between the previous and what’s to come, but the five second pause really amps up the anticipation for an explosion. What follows is a fast-paced guitar masterpiece that’s gritty and driving. Textured guitar riffs cascade down the scale as Yamano’s vocals dance around a two-tone melody. Like “Shopping,” the lyrical material is simply stated: “I like green tea". She goes on to enumerate all the ways which she does so, “green tea ice cream” being an exceptionally great double entendre. When she goes up the octave, she ascends into rock and roll heaven. This is best enjoyed while wearing a leather jacket and shades.9.0
9. Robots from Hell
With its heavy guitar chugs and reverberating power chords, this song takes on a dark and eerie, almost haunting, tone. They go on to tell the story of a race of robots descending from hell coming to take over the world (presumably). Overall, this narrative feels out of place on the rest of the album, much like “Black Crow.” Without their classic playful antics like on songs prior, it feels lackluster and random. The story is more of a stream of conscience description than a narrative, and it seems so choppy and directionless. It ultimately loses steam halfway in, but at least you can kind of picture the roots rising from the earth’s crust.4.5
10. Jet Shot
For an album closer, this one unfortunately misses the mark. It’s driving with heavy guitars and some playful lightness mixed in, but it’s way too similar to a majority of the rest of the album to pull a satisfying end to the record. It’s like the conclusion paragraph to this term paper of an album, except it’s that paragraph that regurgitates information without leaving you with any new ideas. Basically, the one be strive to never reach. It’s a fine song overall, but it could have been a lot better.6.9
Written by Hailey Simpson
Now attending college at UC Berkeley, Hailey's main passions in life are attending every concert she possibly can while keeping up with her studies, drinking copious amounts of Philz Coffee, and spinning tunes on her college radio station KALX.

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