Hey Awesome Album Review is a look back at the albums released by the bands I love between 1991 and 2014.
Each review will be written while listening to the album, and I recommend you listen along as well. Each review will also be awesome.
Today, we are reviewing Shonen Knife‘s “712“. Released in 1991, it was named 712 because the abbreviated Japanese phrase for 7, 1, and 2 sound like “na-i-fu”, which is the imported Japanese word for “knife”.
All in all, my final rating for this album is a 6.8. It had its moments, but they were few.
To listen along with this review, use this playlist: Shonen Knife – 712 (on Grooveshark)
1. “Shonen Knife” Naoko Yamano 3:51
What a weird way to start a record. Is that chuck D in the background grunting? I think it might be. If you set this song to your wake up alarm song, you’d be pretty quick to get up. There’s a strong 90’s rap influence thing going on here. Usually these guys are super cute, so this flow is exactly what would turn me off if this was the first time I heard Shonen Knife. I can imagine that I, in 1991, at the age of 13, probably wrote similar stuff in my friends garage, which is not saying a lot for Shonen Knife at this point. If, by some sort of miracle, you are listening along with me as you read this, you’ll probably wonder why this band is on the list. HUH! HUH! Well, I can only imagine they were being goofy and dumb when they wrote this one. This “touchdown” clip is also completely non-sequitor. This is the kind of song you expect your dad’s band to write, while they check in with each other and smile. Some kind of inside joke song. But also somewhat of an anthem? It’s been playing for a while now, and it’s starting to grow on me. Not like I would ever play this song if I still had a college radio show. They’d laugh me right out of there. Plus, it’s the longest track on this record. That’s poor form.
2. “Lazybone” N. Yamano 2:16
Can I get more echo on my drums? Just a little bit? Alright, back to the goods. Another Monkees-era style sounding awesome cute Shonen Knife song. The thing that cracks me up about Shonen Knife is that they’re singing in English, but if you aren’t paying attention, you probably wouldn’t notice. I can see this track with the top down, in a convertible, feeling that sun on the ol’ face, wind in the hair, along some beach-side road, reppin’. Which fits, since they’re basically saying they don’t want to be a part of the man’s plan, and also they don’t wanna be lazy. I can get on board with that.
3. “Diet Run” N. Yamano 3:12
I bet this song is about a diet run. Yep, first line confirms it. A diet run? Thanks for reminding me about being a fatty, girls. There’s your first example of Japanese in the middle of a song. I was struggling to figure out that verse. Turns out, I’d need 5 years of college Japanese and some immersion to get there. Does this song advocate a diet run? Or are they chastising someone for diet running? I’ll never know. I can say one thing, this woodwind instrument in the right channel is kinda nice and unexpected. There’s something very innocent about tracks like this. I’d like to imagine that they come up with the song titles first… and then just write a song about whatever came up. A little bit from column A, a little from column B. Whoa. That ended quickly.
4. “Blue Oyster Cult” N. Yamano 2:24
Hell yes, a tribute song to the Blue Oyster Cult? Wait, maybe not. Are they singing about a blue oyster poisoning? Yep. I can’t tell if that reaffirms the tribute aspect of this song or what. As an 80’s kid, “blue oyster”, when taken out of the “blue Oyster Cult context, reminds me of the gay bar in the Police Academy movies. Thanks, Shonen Knife, for giving me yet a third reference. That gay bar was getting pretty stale up in here. This track takes things back to a late 50’s vibe. I’m OK with this shift.
5. “Rain” Lennon, McCartney 2:57
Beatles cover? How. Fucking. Adorable. And a “paperback writer” B-side. Well played, girls. Love that drumming. Puts Ringo to shame. I am always a fan when someone covers a weird B-side. Like that time Nirvana covered “turnaround” by Devo. Which is appropriate because I think I discovered Shonen Knife through my friend Paul, who discovered them because Kurt Cobain had mentioned them in some liner notes once.
6. “The Luck Of The Irish” Lennon, Ono 2:54
Two covers in a row, ladies? Bold strategy. Something funny about this, because they are using a much more British accent. It’s because it’s a Lennon/Ono song from the 1972 album Some Time in New York. Wait, am I crazy? Was that not one of the ladies from Shonen Knife singing the first part? I think it might just be some British guy. God, I’m dumb. But it’s still great to hear the Knife, because she still brings a bit of Brit to the mix. However, this song kinda sucks, and it’s totally bumming me out. I’ve never really been a fan of Irish ballads. I guess I think they’re just a dime a dozen. Nice genocide reference, though. That made me reconsider being bum… whoa this song is fucking depressing.
7. “My Favorite Town (Osaka)” N. Yamano 2:57
I’ve heard nice things about Osaka. When I travel to Japan, I’d like to spend some quality time there. Shonen Knife gettin a little punchy with the bass on this track. God, this song is so twee, I fucking love it. I can only assume she’s saying that Tokyo is lame, and Osaka is awesome. After I’m finished writing this, I’m going to scope out some translations for these tracks. You oughta do the same. This track shows off the pedal they bought with the pooled money from their summer tour. Its like a wah-funk compressor pedal. Ohhhh Osaka’s getting compared to London and Hong Kong. She likes em, but fuckin’ Osaka is the best. For me, my favorite town is Portland, OR. But I’ve yet to contend with Osaka. At that point, shit might get all jumbled up on Russ’ favorites list.
8. “Faith Healer” Bill Goffrier, Steve Michner, Jeff Oliphart, Gary Waleik 3:10
Cover track number three. Sounds like a Grandaddy song to start. Who sings this originally? Big Dipper? a fucking 1980’s indie band from BOSTON. Awwww yeah. Cross pollinating. This song is an odd choice, as it is not really something I would expect from Shonen Knife. It sounds more like a song Helmet would cover. Or the Minutemen or something. I can definitely feel the mid 80’s alt-rock vibe on this track, and will totally check out the original after this. Otherwise, cover #3 on what was a 14 track album? That seems kind of high, doesn’t it? But Shonen Knife are a pretty prolific band, so I’m sure the ratio of songs they wrote vs songs they didn’t is a respectable ratio. Does Guided By Voices ever cover songs? I don’t think they do.
9. “Redd Kross” N. Yamano 2:36
Is this a tribute to the punk band Redd Kross? Oh yeah it is. Starts out like a friggin Wesley Willis track. Just saying generic stuff about Redd Kross. Repeatin’ Red Kross. Referring to Redd Kross as hard, sweet, and sexy. Then quoting the Ramones. This is kind of amazing. I wonder if Redd Kross ever hung out with Shonen Knife, and if so, what transpired there? I bet everyone was very polite. Maybe they got burritos, slummed on the corner near a recording studio. One of the dudes probably had a crush on one of these girls. I’d like to think maybe they made out, but I don’t want to make assumptions about the proclivities of Shonen Knife (or Redd Kross for that matter).
10. “White Flag” Michie Nakatani, Steve Davis 1:05
Nice juxtaposition to the last song title. And whoa… punk as shit right out of the gate. Whaaaat is this? Kick some ass, ladies. This is some mosh-pit startin’ music. This one was co-written by some dude, and you can tell.
11. “Superstar” N. Yamano 2:36
Ahh, midwestern style twangy progression, followed by your standard punchy Shonen Knife cadence. Standard Shonen Knife vocal styling. Standard Shonen Knife drum break. And Chorus in chorus. Somewhat of a lagger, but that’s alright guys. Take a breather, that last song was a doozy. Not much else to say about this one except that scale changes in songs always make me happy. Especially when there are three of them in a row. Mr. Big “Be With You” style.
12. “Expo ’90” Davis, Nakatani 2:05
Let’s bet, this is a tale about an expo they went to in 1990. What sort of expo, you ask? Who knows. Yes, they went to the park the other day. The park was closed, they walked away. They brought many things to eat but they had to wait. It’s a tale as old as time. All that fruit and soda and meat is gonna go bad if they don’t rectify this situation. You’ve heard it a million times. Perhaps “expo” in this context is just some exposition about this predicament they found themselves. Bring a friend this time, they’re headed back once they call a park ranger and find out what the park’s hours really are. Ain’t no internet in 1991.
13. “Fruit Loop Dreams” N. Yamano, Pat Fear 1:53
I always dig a slightly distorted acoustic guitar. I also love it when Shonen Knife sings about fantastical things, and I think I heard something about a chocolate candy cane paradise? Yeah this is like some shit straight out of Willy Wonka. Why were there no Japanese kids winning Willy Wonka’s golden ticket? Oh right, because it was written before 1975. Bummer. I’d like to see something as fantastical as Willy Wonka, but not wrecked by the man. An Alice in Wonderland/Willy Wonka original story. That’s not garbage. Someone should get on that.
14. “The Moon World” Nakatani 2:42
There’s definitely some flanger on this track in the back, too. There’s been a resurgence in the past few years of people going yeah yeah yeah or da da da in songs, but I always really dig it when it’s on an older twee-ish track. This song is just okay, though. I’m not exactly falling into a cool Japanese groove with it. I can only hope that the lyrics are about a fantastical moon world. Where gravity is one-sixth what it is here, and everyone is happy and jumping and shit. But honestly, I’m kind of.. waiting for it to end. Doot. Bloop. C’mon song. Let’s do this.
So the next three songs are only available on the Official US Re-release. Not necessarily canon for the 1991 aspect of this review, but let’s do this anyways.
Co-written by L7? Sounds like someone getting methodically fucked in a cult bathroom. I am now thinking about the girls of L7 singing this song to see who had more influence. I’m going with the Knife here, this is indicative of a few of their later tracks, and some of the stuff on their self titled. Shonen Knife has always been one of those bands for me where I’m familiar with a small cross section of their catalog very well, and not at all with the rest. While these reviews are a way for me to get better at writing (and if you couldn’t tell, this is the first thing I’ve written in a while, so it can only get better from here, right?), they are also a way for me to catch up with entire catalogs of the bands I like. Except that Shonen Knife has been a band since like 1981. And I started my list at 1991. Just trying to keep it in the realm of stuff I was actually into.
Back to the song. This song is weird.
16. “Lazybone” (Live)
Live from someone’s dual cassette boombox. I estimate about 14 people in the crowd. In a rad club with cheap beers, or possibly a Japanese VFW. Do they even have those? 10 years in, you’d think they’d book bigger shows. But I know the struggle of the burgeoning band, so I’m not passing judgment. I like the part where Shonen Knife sounds awesome live. I remember this song from a mere 40 minutes ago. I am enjoying it quite immensely the second time around, as though I was in that high school gymnasium with those 14 people, most likely pogoing or headbanging or something. It would be a shame if they just stood there and stared, like crowds do these days. Damn lazybone crowds.
17. “Blue Oyster Cult” (Live)
Ahh goin right into the Blue Oyster Cult track, with a little rant in there. No idea what she said. After this, I’m going to play it into my phone and see if google translate can do something with it. Sometimes technology is totally crazy, amirite? Ok, if I were in the crowd, and the band played this song, I would love it. I like songs like this. Not sure why that is. It’s like where the 60’s left off. Sung by three Japanese chicks. I can’t think of a single uncool thing about that.
It was a little weird using a Japanese band as my first review. I don’t get the opportunity to dwell on much, because I’m not really reminded of much during the songs. Especially when I spend 30% of my time deciphering what’s happening. That’s OK though, there’s plenty of deep, emo emotional tracks in the days to come.
Thanks for listening and reading!