I have a very old friend who’s always hated Osaka rock ambassadresses Shonen Knife. He thinks they’re not a serious band — but he’s missing the point. When the world around us is gray and dark, and the news talks of terrorists and financial depression, what we need are songs about slugs, deer biscuits and time warps.
“Super Group” is the Knife’s 712th album (or thereabouts), and as always it toys with a number of different styles and exudes a playful, irony-free glee. “Slug” tells of a meeting between the band’s only remaining original member, Naoko Yamano, and a slimy kitchen invader, over a jangly guitar backing. The evil Sabbath-esque guitar lick on “Muddy Bubbles Hell” is offset by over-the-top lyrics about lava. And “Deer Biscuits” is a rare Knife country song.
In the 27 years since Knife’s inception, Yamano’s endearingly shaky guitar skills and English-language ability have barely improved. I for one hope they never do. What’s most important is that Shonen Knife have imagination and innocence in spades: While the straight-ahead Ramonesy punk edge they embraced in the early 1990s may have become their stock in trade, they never cease to try new things. Why, in a strange twist they even tackle the serious issue of global warming making it harder to do your work, but in such a charming way that the “W” word doesn’t really have a chance to stick. Indeed, the next song then suggests ditching work altogether for a guitar workout.
In short: My friend’s an idiot. Shonen Knife are one of the most important bands in history, even if the world at large doesn’t know it, and this summery record is exactly what we need at the start of a long, cold winter.