The first I heard of Shonen Knife was “Cycling Is Fun,” their contribution to 1989’s Flipside Vinyl Fanzine Vol. 3. The cutesy twee pop leanings of that song were … well, cute. But nothing about it made me think it was any more than just punkster kitsch for those who were so punk they could listen to something that sounded like it was the purview of 12 year-old girls. Sure, that same year I also bought Every Band Has a Shonen Knife Who Loves Them, but that was for the bands covering Shonen Knife, not for Shonen Knife itself. Maybe bunches of bands that I liked on a covers record should have been some kind of clue that I was missing something. But hey, the Minutemen thanks Steely Dan in the liner notes of Double Nickels and that has yet to prove convincing. Musicians, after all, are not always the best judge of music. That’s our job as listeners.
Over the years, I’ve listened to them on and off, but nothing really changed my mind that much. It still seemed like rock powered by cuteness with the sugary sweetness of a bowl of cereal in front of the tube for Saturday morning cartoons. So, 27 years after that first dose, here I am, with Shonen Knife’s latest, Adventure. What’s interesting is that, for the first time, I find a little muscle in the music. They have ranged over the years from pop to pop-punk, but never seemingly with this much rock. Adventure has its moments that sound like cartoon themes sung by anime characters, but it’s their edgier songs that range out of the norm. “Jump Into the New World” moves Shonen Knife’s punk love affair away from the Ramones and over to the New York Dolls. “Rock n Roll T-Shirt” channels the simple riffiness of an early Kiss record (much as we have seen from Shonen Knife kindred spirits Redd Kross at times). Whether it is the driving aggression of “ImI” (were they listening to Motorhead records when they wrote that?) or the throbbing hard rock riffs of “Wasabi,” Shonen Knife has produced a much grittier album. The songs are still filled with kitschy silliness that often has the quality of cartoons, but a few true pop numbers aside, this is Shonen Knife’s most rock-oriented album.