Shonen Knife’s 18th studio album was released just a few days before the birth of my first child. Good timing, too, because its 10 tracks contain plenty of life lessons I intend to pass on to my beautiful baby girl.
The title track is a paean to pop (as indeed is Shonen Knife’s entire 31-year career), and its life-affirming message about the value of music is a good place to start. “No need for anxiety, no need for politicians / All you need is pop!” squeals founding member Naoko Yamano, her guitar jangling a crude — but no less infectious — punk-lite arrangement.
On a more practical level, there’s “All You Can Eat,” a song so intrinsically Knife that it’s a wonder they didn’t write it 20 years ago (though like much of the album, it does recall 1992’s “Let’s Knife”). “When you go to an all you can eat, all you can eat, all you can eat / Don’t forget to take some vegetables, vegetables, vegetables” — it’s essential advice for any parent to pass on to their kids.
“Paper Clip,” meanwhile, sees Yamano pondering the titular tiny metallic office supply as it travels through the postal system, and reflecting on the meaningless meaningfulness of our own insignificantly significant existence: “Life is a journey / No need to cry,” she sings over downbeat power-trio harmonies. The very idea that she would look at a paper clip and think so deeply about how it had arrived in her possession and consider its feelings exemplifies Shonen Knife perfectly: wonderfully trivial yet endlessly deep.
Elsewhere we get to hear vocals from bassist Ritsuko Taneda on “Sunshine,” which steals its opening chord progression and bass line wholesale from Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” but also bears an overwhelmingly positive lesson about enduring crappy weather; and new-ish drummer Emi Morimoto, whose thoughtful “Psychedelic Life” extols embracing left-of-center bohemian values.
I’ve written before in this newspaper that Shonen Knife is one of the most important bands in the world, even if the world doesn’t know it, and “Pop Tune” reaffirms this. OK, Knife isn’t winning any prizes for technical ability, with its basic musical approach barely having changed in the last decade. But by eschewing brainless love songs to celebrate life’s smaller details, Yamano and co. have plenty to teach our children.