Release Date: Apr 15, 2014
Record label: Damnably
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Punk-Pop, Twee Pop
Forgive me for stating the obvious here, but if you make it as far as a nineteenth full-length record, you must be doing something right. Shonen Knife have survived all manner of drama behind-the-scenes - lineup changes, fatal car crashes, high-profile support slots to Nirvana and Sonic Youth - to make it as far as Overdrive. Granted, singer Naoko Yamano is their sole remaining founder member, but there’s clearly something about the Osaka trio’s take on pop punk that’s resonated with enough profundity to secure them a solid cult fanbase.
Osaka’s punk pop ambassadors Shonen Knife were already a decade old when Nirvana’s patronage resulted in a burst of ’90s fame for the trio. Twentieth album ‘Overdrive’ finds founder, singer and guitarist Naoko Yamano paying tribute to the hard rock sounds of her youth. Instead of the band’s default Ramones influence, these 10 songs about animals and food are serviced by the stomp of Led Zeppelin (‘Black Crow’), the riffs of Black Sabbath (‘Green Tea’) and the swagger of Thin Lizzy (‘Bad Luck Song’).
I like the concept of a band such as Japan’s Shonen Knife. Around for nearly 35 years now, and heralded in the ‘90s alterna-rock boom by the likes of Nirvana and Sonic Youth, Shonen Knife is essentially one big walking stereotype of J-rock culture, and their 19th studio album, Overdrive is no different. Here, we get songs about ramen noodles, fortune cookies, cats, robots from hell, green tea and shopping, among other things.
Three decades into their recording career, no one should expect any radical shifts in Shonen Knife's musical approach, but 2014's Overdrive is about as close to a major change of pace as they're ever likely to give us. Shonen Knife leader Naoko Yamano has long insisted she likes vintage hard rock and metal as much as the Ramones-styled pop-punk that has been the group's sonic trademark since the beginning, and on Overdrive she sets out to prove it: she plugs her guitar into a bigger amp, tosses in some chord changes that suggest vintage hard rock and glam tunes, and has the rhythm section (bassist Ritsuko Taneda and drummer Emi Morimoto) hit harder and with more swagger than usual. By Shonen Knife's standards, Overdrive does sound like some sort of hard rock album, and the attempts to make like Kiss, Thin Lizzy, or Deep Purple come off better than one might expect, though Yamano's guitar skills are less impressive than those of the average metal axe slinger.
Japanese pop punk legends Shonen Knife have notably won fandom from seminal “alternative” acts like Sonic Youth and Nirvana, but they’ve also generated newfound buzz with recent albums like 2010’s Free Time, 2011’s Osaka Ramones, and especially 2012’s great, surprisingly sad Pop Tune. Moreover, the band has successfully weathered line-up changes, which have occurred as a result of everything from instrumental musical chairs (past and current members have moved from guitars to percussion and back) to death (drummer Mana Nishiura died in a car crash in 2005). Now, they return with Overdrive, studio album number 19.
Rightfully refusing to relent releasing material, Japanese cult outfit Shonen Knife are back with their twentieth studio album. The trio have long been at the forefront of Asian musical exports, famously gatherign support from the likes of Nirvana and John Peel earlier in their longstanding career. Continuing defiantly to produce exuberant underground pop punk which not only spans decades but the world too, the trio are now in their thirty-third year together.