Shonen Knife - Free Time
Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, Shonen Knife, despite going through more recent line-up changes, continues waving the flag of not just their homeland, but so too good old-fashioned Rock ’n’ Roll. Few have managed to break the international market in such a fashion. Perhaps it’s because the band has always embraced the English language, or that their sound is a timeless one, - born out of a love for the 60s and 70s pop/punk scene - or that nobody else out there has the balls, proverbial or otherwise, to get up on stage and sing about broccoli men and riding rockets to Pluto across stars of marshmallows and ice-cream.
Their influences have always remained apparent; ergo little has changed here from the familiar guitar riffs and bass lines, but then after 30 years it’s hardly surprising. Indeed all the usual idiosyncratic hallmarks are present; songs about food, shopping and animal hybrids, which all might seem to add up to a collection of random thoughts, but such is the charm of Shonen Knife; a band that’s about as far removed from pretentiousness as you can get. Sticking to what they do best, Naoko and co. usher in their fifteenth studio album by finding yet more wonderful ways to express the joys of life and the kinds of everyday activities that would ordinarily be taken for granted by many.
Yet Free Time does expose a touch of cynicism through Naoko’s lyrics: Early tracks 'Perfect Freedom' and 'Economic Crisis' are perfect fodder for Ritsuko Taneda’s heavy bass and Emi Morimoto’s drums, with Naoko aggressively tackling some of the more serious social issues to have dogged Japan in recent memory. True to form, however, there’s little dwelling on what may be construed as slightly depressing; the angry sentiments behind Naoko’s endearingly broken English is quite heavily masked - even drowned out on occasion - by the toe-tapping arrangements, and it’s not long before the rest of the album falls back to basics with more lovingly crafted pieces of pop pie.
You’d be hard-pressed not to smile at ‘Rock’n’Roll Cake’, appreciate Naoko’s delight over a small Sussex farm in ‘P.Y.O.’ and embrace the irony of a ‘Love Song’ that’s all about disliking love songs. And while ‘The Old Stationary Shop’, for all its wistfulness, is no ‘Mysterious Drug Store’, its nostalgic presence encapsulates the child-like playfulness of what Shonen Knife is about. By extension certain moments of longing can be found elsewhere in songs such as ‘Do You Happen to Know’, which may just find its share of sympathizers in fellow musicians. Certainly Naoko is not want of any inspiration throughout these ten original recordings.
As a whole, then, Free Time does acknowledge that time moves on, and as the band approaches such an monumental anniversary undeterred it still finds the occasional moment to shake things up a little, while ultimately staying true to its familiar ideals. It may be 30 years on, but Shonen Knife, seemingly 30 years young, prove that they’re still ‘Top of the World’.