To celebrate their 30th anniversary as a band last year, J-punk pioneers Shonen Knife finally released a full album of Ramones covers, Osaka Ramones. The anticipation came not just from the fact that their Ramones covers that had been floating around for years (“I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Suzy Is A Headbanger,” etc.) were some of the best ever, but also because since day one, Naoko Yamano and crew had patterned their music after the NYC superpunks. It was the album that Shonen Knife was destined to make.
It delivered, but there were some surprises, too—they picked not only the catchiest and most exuberant tunes from the Ramones catalog (since that’s the side Shonen Knife has emulated the most), but also some of their tougher, darker songs: “We Want The Airwaves,” “We’re A Happy Family,” “Chinese Rock.”
After that moment of harmonic convergence, they’re back to their own original songs—always sure to include something about parties, animals and food—with their new album, Pop Tunes.
Here in the U.S., it was the 1989 tribute album Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them that introduced many to their weird and wonderful worldview. Contributors included Sonic Youth, who covered “Burning Farm,” one of the band’s strangest songs. Kurt Cobain was a huge fan who took Yamano and company on a U.K. tour in 1991.
Like the Ramones, Shonen Knife hold tight to their aesthetic even as their style evolves. By 1997’s Brand New Knife, songs like “Explosion!” could and should have been on alt-rock radio, and their Carpenters’ cover “Top of the World” has probably been as widely heard as their fan favorites like “Redd Kross” (about the L.A. indie band Redd Kross) and “I Wanna Eat Choco Bars” (about wanting to eat choco bars). Also like the Ramones, the mainstream has never been able to really wrap their minds around them, which has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of their cult following every time they come around.
Shonen Knife plays the Blank Club in San Jose on Saturday, Aug. 11, 9pm; $12.