16 March 2014

Shonen Knife - Pop Tune


An ever so slight Japanese running theme we've got at present. Regular readers here may remember earlier this month that I reviewed a J-Pop/Thrash Metal group called Babymetal, which is basically fronted by three teenaged girls backed by a band heavily influenced by Megadeth and Bathory as examples. My pre-judgement told me uh-oh, but on listening to it first time I completely changed my tune and I must say that I was sold by its energy, quirkiness and originality. So moving onwards with another all girl group from the Land Of The Rising Sun who this time follow the principle of playing their own instruments and writing their own songs.

Like their younger peers, first impressions of Shonen Knife are that this could be a little different, notwithstanding where they come from. They list the Beach Boys and 1960s girl groups as their early influences and their pop/punk influences are visibly clear in this album. It's hard to believe that this Japanese trio formed way back in 1981 although there's only one remaining founding member lead singer and guitarist in Naoko Yamano. Even in her early fifties Naoko-san still exudes puppy dog enthusiasm with infectious pop/punk melodies which feels fresh thirty years on. Their first few albums were in their native tongue, and their themes were, erm interesting to say the least, tending to concentrate on sweets, animals and other issues relative to Blondie's Parallel Lines. The idea of all girl instrumental groups was still relatively new, The Bangles and The Go-Go's were yet to make it onto the grand stage about the time Shonen Knife were beginning to attract global attention outside their Motherland.

We're currently waiting on their 2014 release Overdrive which will be album number nineteen, and they'll also be touring the UK about the same time, so I thought to get in a little research before the new album comes out. Pop Tune is their 2012 offering and here, Miss Yamano is co-producer along with Goo-Goo Dolls' Robby Takac who's incidentally championing quite a few other Japan acts in the United States. Shonen Knife waste no time in setting out their stall with Welcome To The Rock Club, with influences of The Ramones and Buzzcocks. It does take a little while to get round their Osaka twang but it's easily done and doesn't take long for Pop Tune to find its feet. The majority of the lead vocals is taken up by Yamono-san, bassist Ritsuko Tanedo sings the Britpop sounding Sunshine, while Psychedelic Life is performed by stickwoman Emi Morimoto. The latter tune is certainly a Mamas And Papas pastiche with brief flutework adding to the late 1960s flavour that free thinking and free love was promoting then.


The remaining nine tracks of the record are effervescent, quirky and simple three chord engineered tracks that would certainly impress their US and UK peers. Mr J. runs along a similar catchiness to Sleeper, the lyrics are of dry wit and observational humour, likewise with Paper Clip, which is a brief slowed down respite from the pace of Pop Tune. The hors d'oeuvres is the jangly introduction in Welcome To The Rock Club and the message spreading of happiness is extended right throughout, especially in the title track, with Naoko's Debbie Harry influenced vocals taking centre stage. There are other pleasing little numbers, for example the grunge inspired Ghost Train with some good harmonic backups. However, All You Can Eat sounds like written half-hearted, the title lyric sounds rather hurried and unintelligible though I have my suspicions that Miss Yamano is having a playful dig at Blur, and the kazoo break sounds like they've invited Frank Sidebottom to the party.

So Pop Tune as a whole. Flighty, fun filled and unashamedly sugar coated, and with a strong underground following, Shonen Knife's offering is certainly enough for me to think that this cult status is no less than what they've earned. They certainly wouldn't look out of place at a Blondie concert, enough to give any pop/punk act a run for their money and you just might like to know what Kurt Cobain thought of them. "When I finally got to see them live (in L.A.) I was transformed into a hysterical nine year old girl at a Beatles concert." A fantastic accolade, even though none of them heard of Nirvana back then, and as mentioned earlier they're touring the U.K. in May this year, so I'm hoping to take the opportunity to see this interesting act. This album wouldn't fail to bring a smile on your face.

7.5 out of ten. This is good and well worth a check.
これは良いと見て価値があります。(in Japanese of course)
Best track : Ghost Train

Buy Pop Tune here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Alternatively, listen to it here on Deezer
Official Shonen Knife website here. In Japanese however, so you'll probably need Google Translator
Official Shonen Knife Facebook page here

3 comments:

  1. Nice review, I was really impressed with this one... Overdrive is a bit of a drop in my opinion! Just stumbled across this here blog. Big Ginger WH and SK fan (and lots of other J-bands).

    If you're investigating other J-bands to review, GO!GO!7188 are(were) stunning, and the singer's new band, Chirinuruwowaka, is also great and more current. TsuShiMaMiRe are another of my all-time faves, they do allsorts :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the suggestions, we will have a look into them. :-)

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    2. We're always open to everyone's ideas for our next reviews, so we'll be listening in very soon. Thanks for your kind comment BTW!

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