review: Shonen Knife 'Pop Tune'

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With a collection of songs bristling with pop-punk hooks, and lyrics concerned with the simple pleasures of sunshine, pop music and all-you-can-eat restaurants, it is sometimes hard to believe that Shonen Knife have now attained veteran status with the release of Pop Tune - their 18th album in their 30th year as a band.

After a flirtation with pop-metal on their previous couple of albums, Pop Tune is a return to melodic pop-punk, perhaps inspired by their recent release as the Osaka Ramones and definitely under the influence of '60s girl groups and garage bands. The striking sleeve art (above) by up and coming illustrator Mami Salto suits the feel of the album perfectly.

It's infectious from the word go, with the two minute anthem 'Welcome to the Rock Club' underlining the pop-punk influences. I'm surprised that the songs aren't actually shorter as the brief buzz-pop approach suits them really well. The catchy title track itself only makes it past the three minute mark because of a strategically placed key change.
'Osaka Rock City' has a great anthemic chorus and is more in tune with the Ramones than Kiss, and 'All You Can Eat' is a light hearted pop song where Naoko sings in detail about the delights of those restaurants. As always, there is something uniquely charming about Shonen Knife when they write songs like this.
Things get a bit gentler on 'Paper Clip' which is lovely acoustic based pop and, along with the more uptempo 'Mr J' reminds me of the lighter moments of the Kinks.
'Psychedelic Life' is also moves away from the basic pop punk template, and again the lyrics raise a wry smile "burning incense, and having some peppermint tea... I feel like a bohemian", and what sounds like a wooden flute solo underlines the sixties vibe .
'Ghost Train' is a straight forward idea that again would benefit from a bit of brevity, although the band sound great on it.
'Sunshine' is a pretty acoustic based song, more gentle and reflective than anything they have done for a few years, with lead vocals from bassist Ritsuko.
Given the 70's hard rock feel of their recent album Free Time, I was pleasantly surprised by Pop Tune. At its heart it is a pure pop record, a summery carefree rush through the simple pleasures of life. I still think they could have taken the Ramones influence one step further and shortened some of the songs, but overall this is both an invigorating listen and an impressive statement from the band. Shonen Knife were always touted as an influence by bands such as Nirvana, L7 and Redd Kross, and whilst recent records have been good, Pop Tune helps us see just why this band packs such an influential clout.

Pop Tune is released in the UK/ Europe on Damnably. Shonen Knife are on tour in the UK and Ireland during the first two weeks of October.

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