Short Cuts

Naoko Yamano (guitar, vocals), Michie Nakatani (bass, vocals), and Atsuko Yamano (drums, vocals) play with the pace of the Ramones and the joyful, beach-party surrealism of the B-52's. Such comparisons end, however, with the lyrics. Imagine, for instance, Joey Ramone singing these words: "Banana chips for me!/Banana chips for you!/I can never get enough/Banana chips, it's true."

Now imagine those words enmeshed with totally kick-ass, Ramones-type music. One thing you can say about Happy Hour, the group's fourth major release in the United States, is that it shows development. To wit: more songs than before about food, fewer about toys, more about animals. Shonen Knife sings about its favorite foods in "Banana Chips," "Sushi Bar Song," "Hot Chocolate," "Gyoza" ("Spiced meat pork, wrapped in a small pancake/Steamed or fried, tastes so good") and the bubble-gum pop masterpiece "Cookie Day." With regard to animals, we have "His Pet," "Jackalope," and "Dolly."

It's also worth noting that the album ends with a version of the Monkees' "Daydream Believer."

Given all this the biggest surprise on Happy Hour is "People Traps," a song that, however obscurely, actually hits on something substantial, even dark: "Don't walk into people traps/A sly old man has set a trap/Any number of people traps in society.../You better keep your eyes wide open all the time/You've stepped into a danger zone/It's a very dirty trick."

This little bit of weight helps to keep the album from floating away altogether. It also suggests that, on some level, the lyrics are as cunning as the music. Then again, maybe these women simply like hot chocolate and, damn it, that's all they're trying to say.

-- Barry Lank

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