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“Super Group” Ist Super!

In case you’ve missed me endlessly talking about it on my Twitter account recently, Super Group — the most recent record by Shonen Knife — was released in America last week on Good Charamel Records.

'Super Group' Japan cover

Super Group Japan cover

However you look at it, though, this review is late. Either because I’ve waited a whole week to write this review, or because I’ve waited nearly an entire year — after all, I’ve had Super Group in my possession since late last year, when it was released in Japan. Why didn’t I review it back then? Laziness, most likely — though you may note that I took a bit of a break from blogging last year: after posting on March 27th of 2008, I didn’t write anything for this site until this past May — and that post was written because I was a moron who tried to destroy my computer and many of my drawings by spilling a glass of root beer on them, and decided to blog about it.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I’m reviewing the record now.

Super Group heralds a return to a three-piece Shonen Knife lineup — after founding drummer (and later bassist) Atsuko Yamano retired from performing back in 2006, guitarist/songwriter/band leader Naoko Yamano and new drummer Etsuko Nakanishi were reduced to a duo officially, utilizing a rotation of “support bassists” on tour. The first (and longest-lasting) of those bassists was Ritsuko Taneda, who also fronted her own band (Denki Candy) with her cousin. As Denki Candy grew in popularity, however, Ritsuko had to give up the role of Shonen Knife support bassist to focus on her own career, and she left the Shonen Knife fold for about two years. But then, in October of last year, it was announced that Ritsuko was offered — and accepted — membership into Shonen Knife as its full-time bass player (which also had the side-effect of putting Denki Candy on hold indefinitely). The news was met with elation by Shonen Knife fans, as the band was now complete again.

Yeah, yeah, I know — so what of the album already?! Isn’t this supposed to be a review?

In short, it’s wonderful. It starts off with the title track, a great rock number Naoko wrote about — no kidding — Damn Yankees. It’s backed by some great drumming from Etsuko (her work on this album is nothing short of amazing) and fine backing vocals from Ritsuko and Etsuko; all in all, a classic Shonen Knife track that should be a concert favorite for years to come (see the music video for “Super Group” here).

The rest of the record is packed full of Naoko’s quirky and charming songs, including “Slug” (about Naoko finding a slug in her lettuce one day), “Muddy Bubbles Hell” (about a hot spring Naoko visited), “Deer Biscuits” (about feeding deer at the park), “BBQ Party” (about a BBQ Party), “Pyramid Power” (about, well, pyramid power), and others that deliver the patented Shonen Knife pop-punk punch. “Time Warp” — the only song recorded without Ritsuko on bass (support bassist Hatsue — who had worked with Etsuko in a previous band — handles the instrument) — is probably my second favorite song on the disc; something about the rhythm and Etsuko’s drum pattern just sucks me in. But really, there are no weak songs on the disc — even the cover of “Jet” by Paul McCartney & Wings is awesome: it doesn’t deviate from the original at all, but it still rocks out plenty (the only track that isn’t all-out hard rock is “Deer Biscuits,” which has a sort-of harmonized country-rock feel to it).

'Super Group' U.S. cover

Super Group U.S. cover

That’s the Japanese version. The U.S. version has one additional track — “Evil Birds,” which I believe was released on a separate (non-Shonen Knife) compilation album in Japan. The song has a definite ’60s-throwback sound to it — in addition to the Canned Heat-esque flute popping up at times, the mixing of the song itself is pure retro: like many stereo Beatles mixes from the 1960s, the song features Naoko’s lead vocals in the right channel, and most of the backing track in the left channel. The song itself is another great foot-tapping number; so, even if you have the Japanese version of Super Group (as I do), you should still pick up the U.S. release for this song.

Shonen Knife pin

Shonen Knife pin

Additionally, I also decided to pre-order the disc through Good Charamel’s website, and got a pretty cool bonus gift — a Shonen Knife pin! If I still wore the stinky red-camouflage hat I used to adorn with buttons, this one would go right on it. As it stands, maybe I’ll stick it on a coat or something when the weather cools off — such as when Shonen Knife comes to town this October! That’s right: in addition to getting a CD release, SK is coming back to the U.S. in October and November, and I sure hope that I am able to go — tickets are only about $17, but there are logistics beyond that which may prevent me from seeing Shonen Knife again. God knows I loved them the last time I saw them and would do almost anything to see them again.

But anyway — Super Group is a fabulous record. If you love Shonen Knife, then be sure to support them by buying their new record, and see them on tour if you can. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Oddball Verdict: Buy This Album Right Now.