Review by Jen Wang
Shonen Knife occasionally plays Ramones tribute shows, and their original music has drawn many comparisons to the iconic punk band. Therefore, it is no surprise that they would celebrate their 30th anniversary by paying homage to their idols. Osaka Ramones, which also happens to be the name of their cover band alter-ego, includes both mainstream favorites like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and more obscure titles like “Scattergun”.
The ladies deliver faithful renditions of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Rock and Roll High School,” though their sound is less raw and more kawaii. In contrast, “We Want the Airwaves” is darker and sexier with heavy guitar riffs that give it an extra punch. Kicking off with a fierce count to four that would make Dee Dee Ramone proud, they give “Rockaway Beach” a sunnier disposition with bright guitars and background vocals.
The mere switch to a female vocalist casts some of the tunes in a new light. For example, the squeaky clean “She’s the One” comes across as a song of an innocent girl crush while the assertive enthusiasm of “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” turns it into the perfect girl power anthem. Could it be that The Ramones had hidden a feminist layer in their song about a young woman who picks punk over disco?
Ritsuko Taneda gets to show off her skills on the bass with “Scattergun” before the band returns to another fast-paced guitar-driven number, “Psychotherapy”. Although Naoko Yamano mostly sounds cute, she manages to mix in a dose of creepy in her manic delivery of lines like “I am a teenage schizoid” and “Gonna kill someone”.
Occasionally the language barrier gets the best of Yamano. The vocals of “KKK Took My Baby Away”, which sounds more Shangri-Las than Ramones with Taneda and Emi Morimoto chiming in, are way too sweet, making one wonder if the band knows what the KKK is. “Chinese Rock” suffers from the same fate. There’s no connection to the lyrics about drug abuse, hence no bite. On the other hand, Yamano seems to understand the irony behind “We’re a Happy Family”, as she dials back the pep in order to sound almost robotic. It’s as if she’s trying to convince herself that this is a happy family by chanting it over and over. The added snippets of Japanese are a nice personalization to accompany the untouched lyrics.
The drums stand out a little more on “Beat on the Brat”, and Morimoto definitely takes advantage of that to add some flourishes. Shonen Knife’s version is richer and flows a lot more seamlessly. As The Ramones would end their sets with “Pinhead”, Osaka Ramones concludes with its own rendition. It’s one of the more aggressive numbers, but Shonen Knife still manages to add their trademark exuberance in their shouts of “Gabba Gabba Hey!”
Osaka Ramones isn’t perfect, but neither was The Ramones. Likewise, Shonen Knife embodies a do-it-yourself simplicity that is perhaps the key to their longevity. It’s what makes this album both a great commemorative piece and an introduction for Ramones fans to the world of Shonen Knife. Here’s to another decade of infectious, unadulterated pop punk rock!