Pop Tune follows on from Shonen Knife’s 2010 release Free Time (and also their 2011 Osaka Ramones album). You could never accuse them of being slackers. For a band that’s been going since 1981, they’re remarkably productive when you consider that many bands struggle to get a second album out, let alone 18 of them.
The question is whether or not Shonen Knife are still capable of producing good music today and whether or not they’re still relevant in a world of constantly changing music styles and scenes. This, after all, is a world where whole scenes are being constructed in bedroom studios and bypassing the traditional system of record labels, production and distribution.
The answer lies largely in how the band work and how they approach music. There’s a simplicity in the construction of their tunes that’s the key to their longevity. For Pop Tune that comes in the form of 10 songs produced by Naoko and manager Atsushi which leans back to the classic Shonen Knife balance of punk-informed pop, rather than the traditional rock approach that Free Time employed.
Opening track ‘Welcome To The Rock Club’ provides a good introduction to Shonen Knife in 2012. They’re opening the doors to their Rock Club – and everyone’s invited (Not the Landfill Indie mob, mind – they’re never on the guest list).
For the title track, with its blistering guitars and Naoko’s pitched vocals, Pop Tune lends a familiarity to proceedings. It’s clear that the band are also having lots of fun in the process.
The 2000 album Strawberry Sound features cover art by Rodney Alan Greenblat, better known for producing sleeve art for Puffy – and also for his work on Parappa The Rapper.
‘Ghost Train’, equally, has a boisterous driving quality to it that appears to be a nod to the heavier style of music that the band played with on Free Time.
But this also doesn’t necessarily mean the band shy away from the flexibility of experimentation in their material. Take ‘Sunshine’ for example, which shows Shonen Knife step down a gear for a wonderful slice of wistful pop featuring bassist Ritsuko on vocals.
Drummer Emi also gets her chance to take stage centre on ‘Psychedelic Life’, demonstrating a very strong vocal on a tune that eschews the punk guitars for a song that nods towards the 60s bands that originally influenced Shonen Knife.
“I need more excitement!” demands Naoko on ‘Osaka Rock City’, a song that has an epic anthem style with an up-tempo melody that asks to be played LOUD. It’s no surprise that ‘Osaka Rock City’ has also been selected as the theme song for the film adaptation of Robin Shio’s Soul Flower Train.
Meanwhile, ‘All You Can Eat’ ticks the required box of Shonen Knife quirky songs about food!
Shonen Knife continue to demonstrate a charm and playfulness with their material on Pop Tune as well as a knack for melody. This is a band that’s having fun. The whole package is also nicely wrapped up in a Pop Art cover courtesy of the talents of illustrator Mami Saito.