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Recent album review #1
A couple of years ´╗┐and a label change after their debut, the Red Rockers re-emerge as a totally different-sounding band. No longer even remotely resembling The Clash, what's offered on Good as Gold is a collection of smooth professionally-polished power/pop songs with a dark edge.

The opening "China" must've come as a shock to former fans when laying needle to disc back in '83 - what's this, a rousing, bright, sparkling popsong? It was a deserved hit, and far and away the best song on this 36 minute, 10 song platter.

The rest of the album shifts into less commercial waters - what I'd refer to as 'dark pop', with nearly every tune building its melody around a series of minor-chord progressions, giving this series of mostly anthemic rockers a slightly Gothic feel vaguely resembling October era U2, thanks to its glidingly echoey guitar tones, along with a vaguely political / existentialist anthemic quality.

So Good as Gold is mostly a solid and enjoyable early-80's rock album, except for the attempted dancefloor annoyance "'Til It All Falls Down", on which the band may've been aiming at Talking Heads but bullseyed The Fixx instead. Yuch.

And "Running Away from You" unsettlingly resembles "White Wedding", though such a resemblance to the Billy Idol song may just be coincidental (both came out the same year, and it's only the bassline intro where the similarity is noticable). But - aside from "China" - "Fanfare for Metropolis" is the only other song that rises above the level of merely good to exceptionally good, meaning a song I would actively want to seek out and hear again.

Other than those two tracks, there's little to get excited about here. But there again - aside from "Til It All Falls Down" - little reason to turn the album off either. So overall, Good as Gold is a fairly good early-80's rock album, such that rarely has a midpoint album-rating been more appropriate ...

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise

Posted: Wednesday 10th Feb 2016 4:37 PM

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Recent album review #2
I've a friend whose aim in life is to introduce me to weird new music ... he's got reams of English post-punk, 2-tone ska, novelty country, Goth revival, and other genres too recondite to even have names.

Every once in a while he gives me one of these discs for Christmas. And whilst I don't always quite get it, they mostly turn out to become favorites, such as Wreckless Eric or Shonen Knife.

Shonen Knife are three Japanese women who sing in English and play very cool rock and roll songs. They've been lumped into the punk category, but I don't really see why - their tunes are pop-based guitar rock of the finest variety (likewise, I never understood why The Ramones were considered punk - they're clearly surf/rock revivalists).

Shonen Knife's Happy Hour is the only album of theirs I've heard. Critics are saying it's not quite up to their usual standard, in which case their other albums must be incredible, because this is one fine album.

The songwriting and singing is split unevenly between guitarist Naoko Yamano and bassist Michie Nakatani. Sad to say, there seems to have been a lot more effort put into the production of Yamano's songs (which may account for Nakatani departing the group after this album). Whilst both writers are capable of some terrific melodies, it's Yamano's guitar riffs that really sell this album.

Check out the chorused lead line over three overdubbed ska-line rhythm guitars in "Cookie Day"; the overdriven grind of "Konnichiwa"; what is either a Leslie or an e-bow set at maximum rpm under a beautiful slide line in "People Traps"; or the insanely rapid strumming in the chorus of "Sushi Bar Song". All incredibly catchy and impeccably delivered.

In contrast, Nakatani's three songs don't have so much going for them in the guitar department - just the plain vanilla chord progressions bassists are prone to write, without a lot of lead work.

The vocal melodies throughout are terrific - out of 13 songs here, there are at least 10 that stick in my head all day after I've listened to this album ... "Konnichiwa" has a sudden swing upwards that's a surefire hook; "Cookie Day" has a beautiful interval repeated a step higher the second time around; "Hot Chocolate" has a bridge that slides smoothly down the scale; "Fish Eyes" has a dramatic pause in the upward thrust of the tune; "Jackalope" has a catchy melisma in the bridge, and so it goes - on and on.

Even the duller tunes don't get boring; they simply pale in contrast to the rest of this hook-filled collection.

The lyrics are real grabbers too. There's a tendency to fixate on food products ... "Cookie Day", "Sushi Bar Song", "Hot Chocolate", "Banana Chips", and even a dish which I've never heard of, but sounds great judging from the song, "Gyoza" (spiced minced pork, wrapped in a small pancake).

Some might say this is all a bit trivial, but they're not funny songs about food a la Weird Al - they're genuine appreciations of the pleasure food brings. I reckon it's about time someone starting devoting as much effort to singing the praises of food, as puppy love, or getting parties started.

Elsewhere, a certain fractured sensibility shines through - there's a Dadaist element to the Shonen Knife worldview. Take this verse from "Cookie Day" ... Sugar sugar candy in my mouth. Stay home watch TV - a cute boy singer is singing like a man. I have nothing to do. It's very very hot outside. I'm lazy in my room. I have to water the cactus on the porch 'cos it needs a drink. Thinking about these kinds of things I suddenly wanted to eat some cookies and dip them in milk.

"Fish Eyes" tells the story of a girl who grows fish eyes on her head overnight. And "Jackalope" is a tribute to the mythical postcard creature, which is kind of cute, kind of cool, kind of wild. Then "Konnichiwa" (Japanese for 'good evening') is the kind of barnburning set opener all good live bands need, and even includes crucial information for newcomers: 'Welcome to our show, we come from Osaka, Japan'.

Not everything succeeds however. "Shonen Knife Planet" is an attempt at hip-hop fusion that builds on none of the strengths of the group, and the cover of "Daydream Believer" just sounds odd coming from a female singer (just as "Natural Woman" sounded weird when performed by Rod Stewart).

I can't get enough of this album though, and my Christmas wish next year is for more Shonen Knife!

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by Reviewer: Steve Knowlton

Posted: Wednesday 10th Feb 2016 5:00 PM

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