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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

My Life with the Knife pt III: Rock Animals

There's been some confusion as to what time we're going on tonight--we're first, at 9:00, and I hope you can attend!

Here's my third and last little article about Shonen Knife and some of their overlooked records that I'm especially fond of.

If you listen to critical consensus--well, Allmusic (whose opinions I find suspect much of the time)--then apparently you'll find that SK's best work is from their earliest, pre-Saint-Cobain-Benediction phase, when they churned out a series of charming, extremely ramshackle cassettes and LP's on tiny independent labels that almost nobody heard at the time. On signing to Virgin they ended up recycling and re-recording some the best songs from these early records for Let's Knife, in some cases years after recording the original versions. I wasn't aware until fairly recently that Let's Knife contains almost no new songs--it's all stuff from their early records, but re-done with a bigger budget. Can you imagine a current indie band being asked to re-record old songs? I mean, I'D do it, but I'm easy.

Now of course we all know that the original versions are always the best, blah blah blah. And they are pretty cool, especially for people who equate muscial incompetence with authenticity. In fact I do like some of the songs off of these 1980's documents that didn't make their way onto Let's Knife--like "Spider," which splices a cover of Edith Piaf's "Milord" to a chorus that goes "I wanna wanna wanna be a spider man," and is, okay, pretty fantastic:

But, dated/booming 1990's rock drum production aside, I don't think that the re-recorded songs on Let's Knife suffer from tighter playing and "bigger" sound--you know why? Because they're really good songs! They're novelty songs, but they're very well-written novelty songs. Big strong hooks, extremely memorable, and unlike so many "lo-fi" bands, their charm does not solely lie in production or performance styles. So yes, although I do like the early records with their tinker-toy sound and fizzy guitars, really--give the later stuff a chance, there's some really good songs and ideas on there.

For instance! Let's take the generally panned follow-up to Let's Knife, Rock Animals. Let's look at the cover:

No candy colors or crayon drawings of kitty cats in rockets! Instead we have three serious-looking people. In Leathurrrr. I'm not sure what concept they were going for (this is their "edgy" album?), it was probably ill-advised and I'm sure lost them points with people craving more crayon drawings of kitty cats in rockets. But even so, this is a solid album from front to back and far better than the TWO STUPID STARS awarded by this gentleman. For example:

"Butterfly Boy" has a fabulous, noisy guitar/bass riff/hook, and also Thurston Moore! Really! It's the only record of his that I own! HA HA HA HA!

Catnip Dream is about...catnip, and cats, um...well, that's about it, but--it also has what I think is my favorite guitar solo of all time (at 02:26). It sounds like two people playing simultaneously, I guess it's overdubbed, so I don't know if they ever tried to reproduce it live, but still--I BOUGHT THIS ALBUM BECAUSE OF A GUITAR SOLO. I have never really done that before. Oh man it's so. Good.

There's other good songs, "Another Day" kinda reminds me of something off of Pet Sounds or something, and the "why did our beautiful summer have to end" part is really kind of haunting..."Cobra Versus Mongoose," well, I was a big Rikki Tikki Tavi fan when they used to show it in the public library when I was about 6 years old, so that's pretty special. And then there's the quiet closer, "Music Square," which is lovely and...um...yes, I'll say it, sincere in a way that most bands I know would be far too scared to even attempt:

So there you have it. Even with the creepy fused-naked-lady-twins artwork on the disc itself, that's an album right there. And, contrary to what the Allmusic review says, it DOES mark a pretty clear progression from Let's Knife. So says I, anyway. Worth more than two stars, Richie.


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