Album 18 hints at a jaded corner in the psyche of this sunniest of bands.
Jude Clarke 2012-06-26
Fresh from their 2011 Ramones tribute – surely the covers album they were always destined to make – Shonen Knife return with all-new material for their 18th release. Pop Tune finds the Japanese three-piece in fine form, exhibiting a wide-eyed freshness all the more remarkable when you consider that they have been a going concern since 1981.
As the title implies, most of the tunes here tilt towards the pop end of the pop-punk spectrum, with Ghost Train, the title track and Welcome to the Rock Club highlighting the band’s appealing way with a no-messing chorus and refrain. The soft, harmonious “oohs” that ornament Pop Tune, Paper Clip, Mr J and Move On supplement the album’s prevailing sweetness of sound.
The usual what-you-see-is-what-you-get lyrical subject matter can be found, pushed perhaps to the edge of mundanity in All You Can Eat, seemingly not much more than a set of instructions for how to get the best out of a restaurant buffet: “Decide which one you want / Then help yourself to the food (…) Don’t forget to take some fruit,” and so on. More enjoyable are the words of positivity found in the album’s opening track, a straightforward greeting to the listener: “Enjoy the music / Listen to the song,” they endearingly suggest; or Pop Tune’s exhortation to “think your happy thing”.
Alongside this, though, some interesting nuances creep in – of wistfulness, regret, or even dissatisfaction. Osaka Rock City pleads for “more excitement” with a vocal that blends nostalgia and melancholy, singing of the band’s “concrete jungle” home town. Paper Clip – one of the album’s most elegiac tracks – reflects its downbeat philosophical theme (“Life is a journey / No need to cry”) in softer, bass-led instrumentation. And the album closes with Move On, a mix of the downbeat (“Life is very hard”) and the upbeat (“A glorious day is just around the corner”).
While by no means succumbing to the blank-eyed nihilism of their heroes the Ramones, then, this album nevertheless hints at a jaded corner in the psyche of this sunniest of bands. It might even, ultimately, make them all the more appealing.