Shonen Knife: Our Best Place [Album Review]

Shonen Knife
Our Best Place
Good Caramel Records [2023]

The Japanese female pop/punk trio that is Shonen Knife have been plugging along since the early 80’s, parlaying their novelty act status to a couple of major label releases in the early 90’s, including Rock Animals. Here on their 24th album, they are still plugging away, still pounding away at rudimentary guitar-bass-drums song arrangements, led consistently by guitarist and lead singer Naoko Yamano for over 40 years, but strangely enough never really progressing beyond the basics either in their playing or songwriting. She is joined by her sister and original member Atsuko Yamano, who played drums for the first two decades, then for six years played both bass and drums on records, hiring another drummer for live shows. She departed the band for nine years, but has returned playing bass since 2016. They were joined by drummer Risa Kawano in 2015.

The striking anomaly, listening to the latest from these now veteran rockers, is that Rock Animals, released on Virgin Records in ’93, sounds like a stronger, more mature record than the new songs recorded 30 years later. The band’s schtick has always relied on the novelty of Japanese women playing punk and early rock & roll inspired songs, their broken English and unique harmonies making up for the repetitive nature of their songs, and limited instrumental abilities. The best things here, “Girl’s Rock,” a cover, “Nice Day,” “MUJINTO Rock” and “Ocean Sunfish,” all display bubble gum pop melodies, sung over basic, early rock & roll inspired instrumentation, or in the case of the latter a solid imitation of Ramones’ style punk.

“The Story of Baumkuchen” is a hilarious love song to a German pastry delight that it turns out is very popular in Japan. Curiously enough, several other songs are also food related, like “Vamos Taquitos,” a celebration of Mexican cuisine that “I want to eat right now.” There’s also one about “Spicey Veggie Curry” and one concerned about “Afternoon Tea.” There’s an overly sweet aftertaste when listen too long to Shonen Knife, but in brief quantities, on a fun single like “Girl’s Rock” it’s hard not to be drawn in by their charms.

“Nice Day” / “Girl’s Rock” (English) / “MUJINTO Rock”

The Ramones / Sha Na Na / The Runaways

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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