Heavily influenced by a healthy diet of Beatles, Beach Boys as well as Black Sabbath, and frontwoman Naoko Yamano's personal heroes in The Ramones, Shonen Knife are back on the hot heels from Overdrive with album numero 20. Not bad for an act who's being doing the rounds since the early 1980s non stop. Their last original member is the aforementioned Yamano-San, chief songwriter, lead singer, lead guitarist and many other skiffle instruments as well as costume designer and overall dogsbody. Her sister and bandmate Atsuko retired some time ago although she does still help out on the 4 string duties on occasion. The regular bassist Ritsuko Taneda currently is on maternal leave, and drummer Emi Morimoto decided to move on.
In with the new then with these pop punk princesses from Japan. Yamano San has recruited Risa Kawano, apparently a more livewire than Miss Morimoto, while Atsuko does some of the bass shared with Naru Ishizuka, another member of the 'SK Family'. As mentioned Naoko writes practically all their material, her rule she maintains is "lyrics first, music fits in next" but something tells me that it's seemingly not always the case. Still, I'll give Miss Naoko the benefit of the doubt as I'm listening in to this latest offering Adventure. Understated title, undersold album perhaps.
No Japanese lyrics on this album however, it's all sung in English although the 'Knife do make quite a few cultural references to their homeland, in particular the culinary themes which is the main staple diet (unintended pun, sorry) of Adventure as well as their many previous offerings. So opening up is the non food related Jump Into The New World, and immediately from their last album Overdrive I feel relieved and happy that their joie-de-vivre is back. Good harmonies, very uncomplicated layers akin to the Undertones and The Supremes, so off on the best foot. Rock N' Roll T-Shirt again, unsophisticated story and very Joan Jett-esque and maybe not surprisingly it's compelling.
Now things take an interesting twist with Calabash. One of 'Knife's lesser sampling tracks, certainly pacey and original riffs, until the Whole Lotta Love piece is used as an afterthought. Still just as enjoyable as the previous tracks, so onto Dog Fight which focuses on a personal narrative, music seems to take a temporary backseat save for the occasional Hammond. Must be said it is one of their lighter bites, even with the bow wow. Speaking of wow, next track Wasabi really is outstanding. Yes, the food freaks are running riot again, the Wasabi in question is a type of Japanese hot horseradish. Aside from its spicy theme, a few interesting hushed hollers the song altogether does have plenty of pep!
About halfway into the album, and we have Green Tangerine, I'm assuming lead vocals are taken up by Risa San. Reasonable semi acoustic number although her skills I suspect are centred on her batons and not singing so early in this young woman's life. Back to Naoko's chorals with what is a blatantly copied Ace Of Spades layered Iml. Good enough track but it doesn't need Lemmy's career defining samples. The Iml Miss Naoko implies is the famous heavy metal salute popularised by Ronnie James Dio. Have I spelt the track correctly? I'm expecting a typo from Japan....
It's a nice change to be singing about travel and not too much about food, as demonstrated in Hawaii, SK's track number 8, and a fitting scene setter if the Aloha Oe track is too much for you. Two to go now, and Tasmanian Devil sees Naoko in top gear vocally, ably backed by the sounds of it by sibling Atsuko the stomping beat is often used by SK, this occasion it works well. Final track is another outstanding one, Cotton Candy Clouds, one very very heavy reverb that dominates throughout, the song is an easy explanatory. It is Britpop, but on a more dignified scale, and so gratefully too.
Adventure as far as my expectations set out exactly to do what I hoped to do, bring out my inner child, just like what Cobain imagined on first hearing this act. Indeed it has the same enjoyable effervescence as Pop Tune, if a little more concerted and heavy like Overdrive. But unlike Overdrive, Adventure doesn't feel like trying to run through the thickest of black molasses. It's one of Naoko Yamano's better albums that has been crafted in recent times, she's getting consistently better with age.
8.5 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best Track : Wasabi