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Music Review: Shonen Knife “Free Time”

The fifteenth album release by the all-female J-Pop – Punk band.

How is it possible that a band that has been around for three decades can still turn out strong catchy tunes that continue to excite and thrill?  Whilst most bands struggle to produce a third album (normally because they’ve run out of original material) the all-female J-pop-punk trio, Shonen Knife, are on their fifteenth, and sounding better than ever!

A follow up to their previous album Super Group, Free Time has all the elements SK fans have come to expect:  Raw energy, simplicity, a feel-good vibe and tight harmonies, whilst covering an array of topics from animals to chaos.

The album opens with the stomping single-release “Perfect Freedom”, the first of three tracks with a drum intro, the others being “Do You Happen to Know” and “P.Y.O”.

Ballads have never been a part of the group’s repertoire, and it’s made clear within the lyrics of the Buddy Holly-esque, “Love Song”, why lead vocalist/guitarist and original band member, Naoko Yamano, avoids writing them: “People in the world like you listen to love songs.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I have a strange mind.”  However, the melody is so delightful that the song almost becomes a parody of itself.

The UK and European version of Free Time comes with two bonus tracks: Rock ‘n Rock Cake (Japanese Punk version) and Capybara (Techno version).  Unfortunately, these add nothing to the credibility of the album.  Both are weaker versions, so why bother to include them!  It would have made more sense to add previously unreleased tracks (they’re bound to have a truckload) as they did with the Perfect Freedom Double-single release, or even demo’s or live tracks.  But this shouldn’t discourage you from listening to the rest of the album, which is undoubtedly one of group’s best.

It’s remarkable how a former salary worker from Osaka now in her mature years has once again managed to capture the essence of Western songwriting of the 60s and 70s and still makes it sound new and exciting; Naoko really does have an excellent understanding of the formula for writing songs likened to those from bygone days when music was, arguably, at its best, or at least its most creative.

It may be obvious where SK’s inspiration comes from, but that’s all part of their charm and appeal, and is perhaps deliberate.  It’s as if the band is saying, “We appreciate and listen to the same kind of music as you” and thus are making a personal connection with their fans.

If you’re new to the sound of SK, then Free Time is a good an album as any to get acquainted with them.  So many musical acts today take themselves far too seriously.  This isn’t the case with SK; they maintain a fun, upbeat attitude that shines through on every track.

The album was originally released in Japan in 2010 and is now available in the UK and the rest of Europe on the Damnably label and for download here.

Track Listing:

  1. Perfect Freedom
  2. Rock ‘n’ Roll Cake
  3. Economic Crisis
  4. Do You Happen to Know
  5. Capybara
  6. An Old Stationary Shop
  7. Monster Jellyfish
  8. P.Y.O.
  9. Love Song
  10. Star
  11. Rock ‘n’ Roll Cake (Punk version)
  12. Capybara (Techno version)

Shonen Knife kick-off their European 30th Anniversary Tour in August 2011.  So make sure you don’t miss out on a chance to experience their electrifying stage performance in a town near you and order your ticket NOW!

"Free Time" UK & European album sleeve

"Free Time" US album sleeve

Related posts:

Music Review: Shonen Knife Double A-Side Single “Perfect Freedom/P.Y.O”

Congratulations Shonen Knife! Latest Single “Perfect Freedon” Wins All-Week Airplay On BBC Radio

Categories: J-Pop, Music, Reviews

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