Anyone looking for a radical departure from the usual Shonen Knife formula on their latest album Free Time will be sadly disappointed. It’s more of the same bright, faintly cheesy, quaintly conservative garage rock they’ve been churning out since Adam was a lad. Theirs is a sound untouched by musical trends and fashions. They’re like refugees from the punk wars who’ve been in solitary confinement since the 1980s. The one concession they make to the modern world is the ‘Techno’ version of ‘Capybara’ which sounds exactly like you’d expect a techno track performed by Shonen Knife to sound; a soundtrack to a vaguely disturbing Japanese children’s cartoon.
At its best Free Time is a blast of fresh air to the ears. ‘Economic Crisis’ is fast frenetic and furious like the Ramones on speed. It’s the soundtrack to the world going to hell in a handcart. It won’t be long before the news editors of the world are using it to soundtrack riots in Greece, marches in London and pitched battles in Paris. ‘Perfect Freedom’, an ode to the evils of money, sounds like it was raised on a Japanese island by the Buzzcocks.
But don’t think that Free Time is a political diatribe against the economic forces of evil. Shonen Knife have never taken themselves too seriously and they’re not about to start now. They’re not paid up members of the awkward squad. They’re not the Clash turning protest into art. Take ‘Rock and Roll Cake’, a rock song about how much they love cake or ‘Monster Jellyfish’, a song about monster jelly fish. I may be wrong but I can’t recall Joe Strummer screaming about his recipe for Battenburg or Jello Biafra regaling us with tales of non-aggressive, gelatinous marine animals. At times the bubblegum punk of Free Time is cuter than an ewok in a blanket and so sweet it could send a diabetic into a coma.
Free Time will satisfy Shonen Knife’s long time fans and, it’s combination of the profound and the banal, the curt and the cute, the combative and the kooky may win them some new friends. After 30 years ploughing their particular furrow it’s the least they deserve.