Our often deep-seated cynicism about cover albums isn't without justification. Routinely deployed by creatively exhausted bands to fulfil contractual obligations in the absence of new material, tribute records can be a dispiriting prospect. Then of course there's the prospect of Japan's premier punk outfit raiding the back catalogue of the Ramones...
In stark contrast to so many tribute albums, this project makes a great deal of creative sense and offers endless tantalizing possibilities. New York's punk pioneers have had so large an influence on Osaka's Shonen Knife that the Japanese all-girl trio have occasionally performed as tribute act the Osaka Ramones. In what feels like the most natural of moves, this disc revisits that concept to celebrate not only the livewire sound of America's best punk band but also the 30th anniversary of the Japanese group who could count Kurt Cobain among their fans.
Much has changed for Shonen Knife since the days when their live show turned the Nirvana frontman “into a hysterical nine-year-old girl.” Lead vocalist and guitarist Naoko Yamano is the only member remaining from their formation in 1981, but Osaka Ramones shows that newer members Ritsuko Taneda and Emi Morimoto are well integrated on bass and drums respectively. It also shows how deep the group's love for the Ramones is; their choices of songs to cover include a few classics, but also some fan-friendly curveballs like 'Scattergun' from the final Ramones album, ¡Adiós Amigos! from 1995.
In each and every case, Ramones material and Shonen Knife performance turns out to be a marriage made in punk heaven. Yamano's basic eccentricity and especially her struggles to pronounce sounds which don't exist in Japanese add extra humour to 'Blitzkrieg Bop' and 'The KKK Took My Baby Away', while 'She's the One' benefits from the change in gender perspective to become an odd girl-on-girl love song.
Admittedly limited as they are, Osaka Ramones faultlessly achieves its aims. A lovingly-made album of faithful but dynamic covers which often flirts with genuine hilarity, it's an unmissable prospect for fans of either the Ramones or Shonen Knife themselves. For many people 'Sheena is a Punk Rocker' sums up the former band's discography, and it performs the same function here; if you don't love this deliriously fun rendition from your first listen, this isn't the record for you.