Shonen Knife Free Time Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

The Osaka Ramones have still got it.

Louis Pattison 2011

Shonen Knife must have appeared an image of comic-book perfection as their music first filtered through to Western audiences in the mid-80s. Three young women from Osaka, Japan that rejected their destiny as anonymous salarywomen and dutiful mothers in favour of forming a band and playing wide-eyed Ramones-like punk rock songs about eating sweets and riding bikes, they both strangely echoed the spirit of America’s nascent DIY punk underground (revolt against tedious authority, enthusiasm over ability, the blending of distortion and tunes) while apparently lacking one atom of its angst or cynicism.

Shonen Knife were every clued-in punk rocker’s favourite tip: Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain said they made him feel like "a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert", while Sonic Youth and Red Kross also registered their fandom. There was, perhaps, something a little dubious about alternative America’s embrace of this oriental oddity; but then, the music did rock in the most straightforward, joyful way, so who cares, right?

Free Time is the trio’s 15th album, which makes you wonder a little about Shonen Knife all over again. Three decades on from their formation and the music is a little neater, a little more proficient in its chops – but the wide-eyed naivety of the material remains.

Sometimes, frustratingly so. Rock’n’Roll Cake, we learn, goes very well "with Earl Grey tea". An Old Stationary Shop opens every day, "except Sunday", and "nobody knows how long it’s been there". The sleeve is a cartoon of Shonen Knife riding a giant ferret, which is, in turn, attacking a mutant jellyfish.

Free Time improves when the band tones down the simpers and demonstrate the lessons of 30-odd years of playing as a touring punk band. Economic Crisis, while not quite a primer in Keynesian macroeconomics, at least rides a mighty Motörhead-like punk-metal motif, while Monster Jellyfish matches machine-gun drumming and rocky surf riffs, like they’re out to catch the titular gelatinous zooplankton themselves. The Osaka Ramones, you must concede, still have it.

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