SHONEN KNIFE - Rock Animals (1994)

Shonen Knife is one of those bands that make you an instant devotee or forever leave you totally bewildered. Part of the Japanese trio's appeal lies in its mutated regurgitation of American and British pop culture: The highlight of 1992's Let's Knife, the group's first widely available domestic release, was "Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubbing Cleaner's Theme," which appeared in two delightfully screwy versions. But you get the sense that even if Naoko, Michie, and Atsuko were singing in their native language, things would still be pretty weird. Choruses stagger by in 15/8 time, voices blend in uniquely twisted harmonies, and bursts of fuzz guitar suddenly invade innocent pop singalongs. Shonen Knife isn't just from a different country, it's from a different solar system.
Rock Animals, the band's second Virgin release, is mellower than its predecessor, with less Ramones drive and more Beach Boys lilt. In fact, the title could be a nod to Pet Sounds, but no one knows for sure; the Virgin press release paints it as an ecological concept album, but the lyrics to songs such as "Little Tree," "Concrete Animals," and "Cobra Vs. Mongoose" are as inscrutable as ever, revealing no obvious Don Henley crusade. The catchiest and most gonzo tunes are the irresistable "Catnip Dream," which speculates about kitties getting high on catnip, and the '50s-style "Johnny Johnny Johnny," which features the memorable lyric, "Hee Hee Ha Ha Ho Ho/He's the coolest boy." Who could argue with that? -- Jim DeRogatis

  1. Another Day
  2. Brown Mushrooms
  3. Butterfly Boy
  4. Catnip Dream
  5. Cobra Versus Mongoose
  6. Concrete Animals
  7. Johnny Johnny Johnny
  8. Little Tree
  9. Music Square
  10. Quavers
  11. Tomato Head
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