Shonen Knife - Adventure
Every new album from pop punk favourites Shonen Knife is much anticipated, but this time there's a twist. Lead guitarist and chief songwriter Naoko Yamano’s catchphrase "Let's Rock!" is more accurately descriptive than usual, as the 35 year old Osaka girl band return with their 21st collection of songs, Adventure, which reference 1970s rock, scattering tracks influenced by Deep Purple and Motörhead amongst their more usual sugary sweet arrangements.
As the band's only ever present, Naoko's smiling vocals and precise guitar are joined by fellow founding member Atsuko Yamanoon’s bass, with newcomer Risa Kawano on drums. Endearingly, Risa is introduced in the super melodic opening ‘Jump into the New World’ describing the 20 year old recently leaving her home town. This sugary sweet track is the album's manifesto: for fun. But just as it's easy to overlook the band’s deep musicianship, that's been perfected over decades, it’s easy to overlook their transportive storytelling. With lyrics (“No need to worry take it easy… / Weave a happy song in your heart” and “Open the window of your mind / You can feel a bracing wind”) describing the mix of joy and trepidation of taking the next major step in life, this is one of the best coming of age songs.
Naoko once introduced a live song with, “This is a song about a useful item, because I'm ashamed to write a song about love like other bands,” but matters aren't always clear cut. Laser guided literal style gives the, 1970s rock, power chord laden track ‘Rock 'n' Roll T-shirt’’s titular object personality, but the refrain "I don't care what other people say" refers to teenage flashes of independence and bonding through a shared love of music. As a later line insists, “I want my favourite rock 'n' roll clothes!”
This pattern of alternating styles continues while discussing familiar subjects. Fans know this band love their food and the guest vocals slots are filled with Atsuko singing about Japan's national condiment wasabi, and Risa's more fragile voice expressing her love for green tangerines while discussing herself as a baby, with some common sense: “Tiny green tangerine, healthy food for you / Tiny green tangerine, happy food for you." ‘Tasmanian Devil’ requires deeper common sense, “Cute looking like a tiny gerbil but you should be careful.” It's difficult to imagine Shonen Knife having even more fun, but Naoko and Atsuko sharing vocals – the first Shonen Knife track ever with shared vocals – in this track is a real joy.
The final track ‘Cotton Candy Clouds’ with its complicated arrangement and psychedelic setting references The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ but, as expected, with a more tangible link to food. ‘Hawaii’ references The Beach Boys, and includes off kilter surf guitars. Both tracks have beautiful harmonies these, pre-1970s rock, bands would be proud of.
Shonen Knife are unique in their method of stripping every day life’s problems so only the fun remains, revealing we’ve not lost our own sense of fun. Their emotionally transportive and purposely clear lyrics work because we're easily transported to a time and place described by everyday objects and situations where we found wonder as children. And there’s no better guitar band around. To return to the most charming band in music’s prior instruction, "Let's Rock"!