28 July 2011

Album Review: Shonen Knife

A concept possibly lost on most of our most ‘serious’ performers or, at best, greeted with hearty indifference by same self proclaimed shape shifters who, in reality, churn out vapid slabs of jaded wank rock awash with their own unearned triumphs - is the art of being oneself. It’s the only thing that matters yet usually the only thing glaringly overlooked. The milestones of their past achievements may glitter and span continents - but the shelf-life is so ludicrously short you’ll have binned it and moved onto something else before the ‘repeat chorus to fade’ option has even had the time to carry out the task it’s named after. All the aforementioned, and unmentioned, will never apply to cult lo-fi pop punk Japanese trio Shonen Knife - formed in 1981 they’ve been together (including changes in personnel) an incredible 30 years now and armed with little else but endearing honesty and catchy 3 chord sunnyness (which they’re very good at) they’ve notched up the greatest example of staying power I’ve ever known. Kurt Cobain was a huge fan and once claimed that after hearing them he was ‘transformed into a hysterical 9 yr old girl at a Beatles concert’, the band later toured with Nirvana and opened for them on their 1991 UK tour.  No strangers to a casual cover version ( their version of The Carpenters ‘Top Of The World’ is probably their most recognised song worldwide) they have performed as a Ramones tribute band - Osaka Ramones. Here then, is Shonen Knife, in that very guise as they celebrate their 30th anniversary with an album of Ramones cover songs. Both experts at the 3 minute pop/punk anthem (Ramones were, Shonen Knife are) this album is precisely scrupulous in its entirety except for a slightly more polished production than the originals and lead vocalist/guitarist Naoko Yamano’s buoyant accented voice replacing Joey’s grit edged delivery - but mastered in every other way note for note, chord for chord, style for style. The obvious tracks are here and their delivery is faultless - ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ ‘Beat On The Brat ‘ ‘Rock n Roll High School and ‘Sheenah Is A Punk Rocker’ but it’s a combination of other things that make this a worthy album as much as it is evidence of just how good a band Shonen Knife are - the great guitar work on ‘Chinese Rock’, the proper garage sound they bring to ‘She’s The One’ or the effective harmonised vocal on ‘ The KKK Took My Baby Away’. They also tackle the lyrically darker ‘Chinese Rocks’ and ‘Psychotherapy’ with no significant problems. If, like many in the UK, you’re unfamiliar with Shonen Knife then this album is as good a place to get acquainted as any. 

1 May 2011

Album Review: The Ray Summers

The Ray Summers
'Russian Tearoom'
(Keep Calm Recordings)

A hugely listenable album drenched in the retrospective coolness of a neo-60’s sound

Pop music with touches of soul and a cantering ska-esque beat embellished in a vintage dressing by a collective of musicians clearly skilled in their chosen art - The Ray Summers have been refurbishing drab corners of music’s most jaded places, with the chipper effervescence of their retro tinged uniqueness, since 2008. In a timescale which, in contextual music based statistics, counts for no time at all, they’ve toured the UK, released singles, shone among the festival crowds and sold out Glasgow’s King Tuts….three times. All of that, if you will, can be considered a great start for any band. But do they have the artillery to advance further? Can they step up to where releasing an album requires them to be? Of course they can, and they have….effortlessly…it would seem.

Russian Tearoom is an account of all that influences them…the different styles, tempos and genres is a gathered input crafted into something remarkably catchy and new, testament, surely, to clever, established musicians completely tuned in to making an album that must conceivably express their sound. Opening track ‘The Rush’ has an affecting psychedelic exuberance with hazy harmonies that stretch across the song’s diameters…a subtle effectiveness that works in a way they probably intended. The simpler, hook-filled  retro pop of ‘Follow Me Down’ is sharp edged, tightly bound and seamless. Atmospheric stand out ballad ‘Lord Forgive Me’ with a propelling lead vocal as tender as it is ferocious is a dichotonic change of direction and pace against the livelier ‘Travelling Man’ or the cinematic brilliance ‘The Ballad Of A Bitter Man’ bristles upon. The Ray Summers are incredibly coherent song-writers and Russian Tearoom is a nostalgically British sounding album - and one they should be hugely proud of. 

23 February 2011

Album Review: Right Said Fred

Right Said Fred
'Stop The World'

They unrolled their catchy, tongue-in-cheek, disco beat pop songs across the face of the early 90’s and secured a level of success you possibly didn’t envisage for them. Debut single ‘I’m Too Sexy’ reached No 1 in the American charts - the first time a debut record had done this since The Beatles. Three more hit singles quickly followed (Deeply Dippy, Don’t Talk Just Kiss and Those Simple Things) duly gifting the album that spawned them - debut ‘UP’ - platinum status. The quirky, good-time tunes rattled with humorous innuendo (and a funky bassline) earning the band - which consisted of brothers Richard and Fred - plus hirsute buddy Rob Manzoli - mega success worldwide.  Though further singles and albums followed they failed to follow in the footsteps of earlier releases and momentum was lost. Their popularity dropped like stones and dragged them below mainstreams radar ( though Germany still loved the bones of them and Japan politely snuggled up to them also) 

New album ‘Stop The World’, though maybe not as quick heeled as earlier stuff, still bristles with the chirpy, jingle-jangle moments they’re renowned for. Uncomplicated slabs of electro beats and obvious pop additives are the dominating parties crafting the direction and shape of the music. It shifts, momentarily, between electric and acoustic with subtle nods to ‘almost’ techno - as the title track and ‘Waiting For A Train’ are built upon with great effect. The lyrically serious, or more serious, ‘We Are All Criminals’ opens into the most light-hearted of choruses - the much craved ‘pop hooks’ find a place here - and within the acoustic guidance of possibly their strongest track ‘Two White Boys’. It’s Right Said Fred - fun packed jovialities and catchy tunes - with nothing ever likely to make a dent in the armour of ‘groundbreaking’ music - but they’re not losing sleep over that anyway. As he once did sing 'i'm too sexy for my car, too sexy for my car, too sexy by faaaaaaar’  Indeed!