Shonen Knife (少年ナイフ) are a 3 piece all female punk-pop band formed in Osaka, Japan in 1981, who over the past 30+ years have put out over 20 releases. Band members have come and gone (Naoko Yamano on vocals and guitar is the only original member) and their sound seems to change with each release, but the fundamentals remain the same: an infectious mix of guitar-pop sounds with catchy lyrics full of non sequiturs, bizzarrities and topics of food, animals and embracing mundane everyday activities. This makes for a hypnotically charmed quality, a quality that, as hard as I try, I cannot deny my ear holes their mesmerising sound.
Released in 1992, Let's Knife is a very old album, but it is their best release to date and to validate the decision to review it (and for dramatic effect), I will say that it is a landmark album, one of the most important releases of the 1990s and one of Japan's greatest cultural exports since the NES. The majority of the album's tracks are re-recordings of earlier works which have been translated into in English and reworked with improved musical ability and a more professional sound.
Musically, the first thing you will notice is the overwhelming Ramones inlfuence. Not sure that influence is the right word as I could swear that I've heard a lot of the riffs before, but anyway, punk and surf rock sounds are abundant and provides a stark contrast to the lyrics—a contrast that is oddly fitting.
The first track 'Riding On The Rocket' is one of the most 'Ramones' tracks on the album and a very strong opener. The amazing music video below just reeks of the early 1990s and really has to be viewed to fully appreciate just how rocking, catchy and disturbingly cho kawaii this track/band is.
The next track 'Bear Up Bison' is equally as catchy and is something about bisons being very dirty and ugly and almost extinct. 'Twist Barbie' is another 'Ramones' tracks and going by the lyrics below is a tribute to the classic Twist Barbie line of the '60s, it is also song that introduced me to Shonen Knife.
Blue eyes, blond hair'Twist Barbie'
Tight body, long legs
She's welcomed by boys, ooh, aah, aah
'Flying Jelly Attack' precedes 'Black Bass' with some very basic and childish lyrics (and of course as infectious as ever), but then right in the middle of 'Black Bass' they prove that even though English is their second language, they are not limited to basic lyrics and for a short moment they hit you with a warning about the dangers of freshwater invasive species.
I'm gonna eat jelly, jelly, jelly, jelly'Flying Jelly Attack'
Jelly, jelly, jelly, jelly beans
You're gonna eat cherry, cherry, cherry, cherry
Cherry, cherry, cherry, cherry drops
Ooh, flying jelly beans, throwing them to you
Ooh, crashing cherry drops, breaking right in two
When it gets dangerous
Call out of a rescue
Somebody might hear you calling
And come to help you soon
Someone brought the Black Bass'Black Bass'
To this lake from far away
Changing the biological
Distribution of the lake
Black Bass, got my tackle and my bait
Black Bass, oh I can hardly wait
Black Bass, come along with me
Black Bass, oh how happy we'll be
That little PSA moment doesn't last long and it is quickly back to singing about food, the best pot scrubber brand, watching girls on the train (or a girl that watches people?)
Riding on the train, Watchin' girl, Everyone is closing their eyes, Watchin' girl, and turning into a sweet little cat—although that last one could be about
the uneasy mix of Western culture and Japanese traditions, and the aping of Western customs. The only bad song on the album is 'Ah, Singapore' which completely ditches the sound of the rest of the album and goes for a more stereotypical Chinatown sound—which is odd since Singapore is the most western country in Asia.
Let's Knife is a guilty pleasure of mine and is completely different to anything else posted on this site. It has just the right amount of under-produced punk to offset the cuteness-factor—a balance that some of their later albums are lacking. You might be quick to dismiss Shonen Knife as a niche novelty act, but they are surprisingly adored by a number of alternative bands, in fact back in 1989 they already had a tribute album Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them featuring Redd Kross, Sonic Youth and Babes In Toyland. They also opened for Nirvana and Kurt Cobain was a fan
When I finally got to see them live I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert. The bottom line is, sometimes I don't want to hear about action murders, sometimes I want to relax and listen to songs about how fun it is to cycle at the park.