Shonen Knife

Super Group

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Just how long can someone in rock & roll go on being naïve? Naoko Yamano has been the guitarist, lead vocalist, and principle songwriter with Shonen Knife since 1981, and more than 25 years after recording the band's debut album, she's still writing the same kind of songs she did when she was 21, reveling in the joys of food, feeding animals at the park, playing music, and various goofy sci-fi scenarios. Shonen Knife sound like they've learned more than a few tricks over the years on 2009's Super Group -- Yamano's guitar work is much more confident and technically precise than it was back in the day, and the rhythm section of Ritsuko Taneda on bass and Etsuko Nakanishi on drums (who respectively joined the group in 2006 and 2005) is simple but right on the money. Put the three together and Shonen Knife sound like a sweetly enthusiastic pop-punk combo, not unlike the Ramones as interpreted by a bunch of hipper-than-average Girl Scouts, which is just what the world has come to expect of this band. But it seems curious that Yamano doesn't sing with much more expertise than she does after fronting a band for so long, and while only a fool would expect her to suddenly write lyrics like Leonard Cohen, the style that seemed charmingly childlike in the early '80s appears curiously willful and a bit stunted as Yamano's fiftieth birthday looms on the horizon. On the surface, Super Group sounds just as good (though not notably better) than the albums that won Shonen Knife a cult following back in the '80s. But the energy and goofball charm that were so much a part of what made them memorable aren't what they used to be, and what once was heartfelt now plays like the work of a writer following a format instead of a gal sharing her candy-colored dreams to the world.

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