13 July 2014

Shonen Knife - Overdrive

More Pop/Punk offering from this Osaka trio. And while Japan as a whole has a habit of copying people's ideas, Shonen Knife I will concede broke a lot of new ground when they first formed in 1981. First, I can't think of any other earlier girl instrumental groups, save for The Go-Go's, but they arrived at about the same time, and secondly, I genuinely don't know of any other three piece female instrumentalists but I'm sure there's plenty of you who'll point out a few for me.

At the time of writing, they were undergoing a hefty and gruelling world tour promoting their new album, Overdrive which I'll delve into a little later. There's also a local venue which I'd hoped to get to save for work scheduling, so hopefully there'll be a next time. Their onstage persona and regalia resembles that of The Supremes (which they list as one of their influences as well as Buzzcocks and Ramones). Commercially Shonen Knife are not an overwhelming success, and their status I suspect is destined always to be cult. But where they scored huge points from me was from their previous album Pop Tune (read the link here), quirk filled, poppy and just plain simple pop/punk fun although the majority of their fans suggest their best material came from the 1990s.

Bad Luck Song sees Naoko-San use an introductory riff/melody borrowed from Pretty In Pink. Quite a memorable one, and with similar rhythm to Sleeper, in fact the majority of Overdrive runs alone the same line. Next track is Black Crow which, first of all, is a touch too long even for a sharp garage act and doesn't really hold my attention too well. They don't do downbeat to well but things pick up reasonably with bassist Ritsuko-San's led on Ramen Rock, which is more stripped down. Next we have Shopping which I really want to loathe as lyrically it feels written by a 10 year old writing in English for the first time, it feels just so silly but the emphasis is on Naoko-San's fretwork right throughout. So it's a love/hate appraisal from me. The majority of the tracks are more or less the same, and I suspect that Miss Yamano prefers no outside input in her songwriting.

It's more or less the same story with Fortune Cookie which is strictly repetitive, and Like A Cat I certainly live with, even with the miaows in the chorus! They're not taking this too seriously seemingly. Still, I've enjoyed the teaming harmonies there and there's a few other Oriental themes like Green Tea and Robots From Hell. The former is a brief stripped bare effort from Emi Morimoto, while Robots From Hell is clearly a Manga-inspired fantasy, but not as menacing as you might think. Still, very amusing and imaginative while Jet Shot is not one theme I fully get, unless it's charting their travels on tour.

Overdrive as a whole? For me, it feels hurried even for a punk band. Looking back at the lyrics they are at worst at a most primitive level, but I can see that Naoko Yamano has a full musical reign without any real outside influences or input from anybody else. Good thing too. I think it will improve with age if I don't get it now but in terms of message songs, they're simply promoting happiness across and when things are looking bleak, there's always ways and means of being picked up and getting back on your feet again. As one former band member Michie Nakatani put it,

"We've always enjoyed writing songs about everyday things. Besides, there are already enough bands out there singing about war, pollution and poverty. While we all care very much about these things, we also feel that music should be fun." 

6.5 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
Best track : Ramen Rock

Buy the album here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
It's also available on Deezer here
Official Shonen Knife website. It's in Japanese however, so you may need Google Translator
Official Facebook page (in English) on this link here

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