Three decades into their recording career, no one should expect any radical shifts in Shonen Knife's musical approach, but 2014's Overdrive is about as close to a major change of pace as they're ever likely to give us. Shonen Knife leader Naoko Yamano has long insisted she likes vintage hard rock and metal as much as the Ramones-styled pop-punk that has been the group's sonic trademark since the beginning, and on Overdrive she sets out to prove it: she plugs her guitar into a bigger amp, tosses in some chord changes that suggest vintage hard rock and glam tunes, and has the rhythm section (bassist Ritsuko Taneda and drummer Emi Morimoto) hit harder and with more swagger than usual. By Shonen Knife's standards, Overdrive does sound like some sort of hard rock album, and the attempts to make like Kiss, Thin Lizzy, or Deep Purple come off better than one might expect, though Yamano's guitar skills are less impressive than those of the average metal axe slinger. The tunes have a genuine charm in their stripped-down evocation of a sound and an era, and charm has long been a big part of Shonen Knife's formula, but even though Yamano has written melodies and guitar figures that sound like classic hard rock, her lyrics are the same sort of sunny, naive observations that she's been writing since 1983 as she marvels in the pleasures of shopping, noodles, green tea ice cream, dancing, and fortune cookies, which makes Overdrive seem more like a run-of-the-mill Shonen Knife set than was probably intended. If Yamano was going to head outside of her usual comfort zone, it might have been interesting if she threw in a power ballad about some guy she met on the road, or an uptempo number about carousing after the show with something more potent than ramen. Hey, Naoko, would Lita Ford or Joan Jett sing about ice cream and kitties? Think about that next time you crank up a Marshall stack.
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