I’m always incredibly happy when I hear that Shonen Knife are releasing a new album. What’s not to be happy about?
Since their formation in Osaka back in 1991, the trio – continually led by guitarist/vocalist Naoko Yamano – the trio have exuberant energy that fails to make me smile. A lot of other people feel the same way; Kurt Cobain was a big fan of the group and even interviewed them back in the ’90s, which is how many of us discovered the power-pop group.
Though the band have a dedicated following in the West, it feels seldom the group get the mainstream accolades they deserve. Although having featured on If I Were A Carpenter compilation in 1994 alongside Redd Kross, Grant Lee Buffalo and Sonic Youth (and their stunning version of “Superstar”) and the subsequent use of their contribution, “Top Of The World” in Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Parent Trap, they’re still relatively viewed by many as somewhat of a novelty act.
Which is a surprise given the band’s prolific back catalogue and being somewhat of a “band’s band.” Sweet Candy Power may not change that at any stage but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t once again showcase everything that is great about the band and maybe, just maybe, inspires people to go back and check the 15 album strong back-catalogue.
The opening track, “Party”, very much sums up the band for casual listeners; a mix between The Ramones and ’60s girl pop groups such as The Chantels or The Ronettes. It’s a two-minute blast that Shonen Knife fans have come to love, with their grasp of the English language although broken very much a secondary consideration to the music.
But that’s where some of the trouble may lay; that they are so good at what they do, having almost created the template for Japanese power pop bands who followed, that what marks it out from perhaps some of their more defining earlier works?
“My Independent Country” cuts through the sugary sweet (no pun intended) jangle the album presents throughout, but even then it’s still that strong nod to The Ramones many critics have attested is their heart-on-their-sleeve influence. “Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches” is a very playful, childlike pop song but the more casual listener may feel that the band are more of a gimmicky act than us more ardent Shonen Knife fans know they’re not.
Which is the concern with Sweet Candy Power. If you were to play this to listeners who aren’t aware of the prolific work the group have released, Shonen Knife would simply be written off as a novelty akin to Babymetal. Which is a shame, given how utterly furious Pretty Little Baka Guy is.
That, however, was 33 years ago. Still, “Riding on the Rocket” is quintessential listening for those curious about the trio.
Sweet Candy Power is a good album and if you’re an aficionado of the group certainly is worth checking out. Just maybe if you were to introduce people to the group’s work, this might not be the best starting point.