By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Listen to Chicks on Speed for maybe 40 seconds and you'll know they met at art school. The Munich-based trio of Kiki (German), Alex (Australian), and Melissa (American) is as trendy as can be, two parts New Thing (the European electro types like Gerhard Potuznik and Christopher Just who provide their beats) and one part Old Cool (the circa-'80 neu-wavers like Malaria and the B-52's that they like to cover and imitate). Which means they sound great right this second. They've been releasing limited-edition singles on their own labelof course, of coursefor the last couple of years, most of them collected with some other stuff on the import Will Save Us All!, which K will release domestically in a different, messier sequence/mix as The Unreleases this fall.
COSWSUA! is a total gizmo: shiny, impressive, complicated, and flimsy enough to stop working when it's been outmoded, which could be any minute now. The Chicks were visual artists before they were musicians (they've designed a bunch of album covers and Web sites, as well as their own use-once-and-destroy paper dresses), and they've got art-scenesters' tastes and reference points. Who else would claim they've "got more faces than Cindy Sherman"?
CoS treat covers like readymadesart objects that they can appropriate just by performing them. Their "Warm Leatherette" turns into a party anthem (everybody knows the words!) and a deadpan joke (their voices are less expressive than Daniel Miller's orGrace Jones's!). Best in show is a clinkety-clank version of Delta 5's indestructible early-'80s hipster-club anthem "Mind Your Own Business," which they honor by unsuccessfully attempting to destroy it with blank robobeats and even blanker delivery. (Over in San Diego, the jitter-punk band Le Shok just put "Mind Your Own Business" to a similar test on their We Are Electrocution; again, the song wins handily.)
Like a lot of visual artists, they've got one big idea and one signature gesture. The big idea is using the tools of the new PowerBook underground in the service of pop songs: there are software-crinkled electronic textures all over their records, and they even have a line about timbre-tweaking trio Fenn O'Berg, whose album cover they designed (it's followed by something about "sperm-stained jeans"). The signature move is ripping themselves to shreds: cutting up their own voices, word by word, and pasting them into their tracks so they sound like their record-cover collages look. "Glamour Girl" is a by-the-book house encomium, on the pattern of RuPaul's "Supermodel," but the lyrics aren't quite convinced ("her hair's so high! . . . she brushes her teeth five times a day!"), and the vocal, sped up, repitched, and manipulated so that "bra" has two syllables, undermines the meaning even more. Très arté.
Lolita Stormthree British chicks and their DJhave no time for art, and are even more deliberately disposable than their Munich counterparts. (It's hard to imagine them making a second album, and impossible to imagine a third.) Also, they luv speed even more, so much that they've made "I Luv Speed" one of the 15 songs (in 24 minutes) on G F S U, as it will be known when it comes out here shortly (European title: Girls Fucking Shit Up). They also luv Daddy, bad boys, bad boys who treat them badly, bad boys' faces under their microminis, and Sid Vicious. "He's So Bad I Luv Him" opens with an ensemble sneer of "Is she rea-lly go-ing out with him?" as in "New Rose," a song the Damned recorded before the Lolitas were born. The title of "(I Wanna) Meat Injection" rhymes with "someone sweet who can keep an erection." Rumors that Malcolm McLaren is ghostwriting their lyrics remain unconfirmed at press time.
They dohave a serious Bow Wow Wow thing going on, or rather (since Bow Wow Wow could play their Mohawks off) the we-have-cum-for-your-children thing that BWW was supposed to be. The singers are Spex, Nhung Napalm, and Romy Medina, who scream fetchingly in unison and have not developed their technique one smidge since their skip-rope days; the music is provided by one Jimmy Too Bad, generally in the form of the same distorted amen breaks that can be heard on every other goddamn Digital Hardcore record, though the tapes are apparently wearing out, which makes them sound better.
The album is dumb, shallow, transient, unrelenting, and thoroughly effective. No more caustic rock & roll fun can be found in this long, slow summer. Use it up, rip it up, and throw it away.