Artist: Shonen Knife
Album: Rock Animals
Label: Virgin Records US
Key Tracks: “Concrete Animals”, “Catnip Dream”, “Cobra Versus Mongoose”, “Brown Mushrooms”
Release Date: January 25, 1994
I didn’t know a lot about Shonen Knife the first time I heard them – and this makes sense for a couple of reasons.
a) I was about seven years old on vacation, and heard them on a cassette tape my father was playing in our family’s hotel room
b) It was 1999, and the Osaka trio’s peak commercial success had been about half a decade before, around the release of Rock Animals
Reasons aside, the songs stuck with me. And not because they were “cute” or because they were “quirky” but because the songs felt decidedly true. “Froot Loop Dreams” felt honest and real, even to a seven year old who would rather pick the marshmallows out of Count Chocola than chow down on the cereal harked by the song’s main character – Toucan Sam. These girls knew what they wanted to sing, and if that meant choco bars (and the deep desire to subsist solely on them), summertime laziness, or even the protagonist of the 1948 children’s book My Father’s Dragon.
Rock Animals is a unique creature for many reasons, and not even just because the album artwork is admittedly more commercial than anything else that graced the covers of the band’s previous releases. Everything about this album is more commercial – and for a reason – it was released on Virgin Records in the United States only a couple of years after Shonen Knife toured the UK with Nirvana.
As in Kurt Cobain on the tour right before the release of Nevermind, the album that would change everything for everyone in 1991. The music video for “Tomato Head” even face the critique of Beavis and Butthead in America, as well as regular rotation on MTV in the early nineties.
The legendary Thurston Moore even supplies guitar riffs on the album’s third track, “Butterfly Boy”. Sure, the English feels like it is pretty phonetic, and maybe not even in quite the same endearing way it was on earlier recordings, like 721 or Pretty Litte Baka Guy.
Rock Animals is a turning point in many ways for the group. This was their big break in America, and their following albums frankly did not reach the same kinds of audiences that this particular album did.
Regardless of the kind of complaining one could do about the album, gems like “Concrete Animals” stand out as some of the finest tunes in Shonen Knife’s discography.
Every park has them
Commonly they are at the sandbox
Occasionally they are vandalized by someone
They are painted many colors
Elephant, Raccoon, Tiger
What kind of lyrics are more punk rock than that? Yamano might as well have been David Byrne.
There is something so poignant and lonely about some of the snippets of Yamano’s words. Something lost. Something unique. Something that isn’t taken too seriously but is very much there.
They are too big to carry back home
They are too heavy for me to move
After the sun sets they have a secret party
Nobody knows, they dance together