At this point, I’m afraid, I’m pretty blasé when it comes to Japanese punk bands, of whatever stripe. It was a cool novelty the first time I heard Shonen Knife, sure, but after a few albums, I just lost interest and moved on to other things. And yes, it’s horribly unfair to paint all Japanese punk bands with that same brush, but that’s the pain in the ass part about that whole “taste” thing, right? Let’s say you hate this one particular actor, and then you go to the theater and see a movie that doesn’t feature him, but instead stars some guy who resembles the original guy in some way—are you still going to like the movie as much as you otherwise might have, regardless of the acting or the script? Maybe some people don’t have problems like that, but I definitely do; I guess I’m just shallow that way.
Now, let’s get past all that and talk about Thug Murder, a band of three mildly scary-looking Japanese ladies who rock out in oddly-constructed English—sound familiar yet? Well, this isn’t pop-punk, however, but instead rough street-punk that owes more to British Oi! and pub-punk than it does to Green Day . . . and you have no idea how thankful I am for that. Tracks like “Brand New, I Feel”, “Strike Out”, and “13th Round” wouldn’t sound out of place alongside old-school Social Distortion or the Dropkick Murphys (the latter which is a weak comparison on my part, since Thug Murder are apparently proteges/whatever of the Murphys, and the CD’s part-released by that band’s own Flat Records).
On the first listen, the lyrics don’t mean much—they’re in English, yes, but half the time it’s still very difficult to understand what singer/guitarist Ryoko Naitoh is yelling about. And hell, who cares? It’s punk, right, so why do the words really matter? The music’s loud, ragged, and great for chanting along with, even if you only catch a word or two between the power-chords. The second time around, though, I’m looking at the lyrics written on the CD sleeve, just out of curiosity, and they’re truly something else; take the first verse of “Mie Chan”, for example: “Bare ones, real ones / It’s more cooler than that / Bare ones, real ones / And then you left me.” What does it mean, you ask? Not a clue . . . at least, not at first.
The third listen, and things start to make more sense. Words begin to pop out, even if they still don’t always fit in the way American listeners are used to; in fact, that strangeness almost adds to the impact, transforming the songs from singalong punk songs to bizarre tone-poems about how tough it is to be a kid. I still can’t claim to know what the line above means for sure, but it sounds like heartbreak, one way or the other, and seems to refer to some kind of failed attempt to impress the object of the song, all of which adds up to a pretty evocative theme, at least to a romantic sucker like me.
Again, am I right? Don’t know, and I don’t care—it’s all about what you get out of the song, whether correct or not. And when it comes to Thug Murder, these three ladies paint an incredible picture of the life of a Japanese street-punk, where you fight for what you believe in, you don’t betray your friends, you don’t give up searching for something to believe in, and you try to be strong in spite of everything the world throws your way. How’s that for punk rock?