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
Fabulous Disaster must be the realJosie and the Pussycats, given that Jane Dark, in reviewing the Pussycatsflick, describes the P-cats' music as "excellently irrelevant." Fabulous Disaster's music is even more excellent and irrelevant, in that it rings forth fabulously with 1980 Go-Gos harmonies played to a hard punk beat, a combination that's irrelevant to any recent trend that I can think of except, oddly enough, the Josie and the Pussycatssoundtrack. And the Fabulous Disaster CD, Put Out Or Get Out (Pink & Black), is stronger in tunes, harmonies, and rhythm. Like Josie, the four Fabs use a pretty-song and pretty-girl sound, though more young-womanly (as opposed to teeny) than either Josie or the Go-Gos. And the promo sheet says that the band's "involvement in the San Francisco fetish scene and their biker lifestyles also show through on the record. Fabulous Disaster lyrically tackle a variety of topics . . . Everything from lesbian films to pill-poppin' to government conspiracies." In the publicity shot the guitar player is wearing an "Enjoy Cock" T-shirt, so there's something for everyone to identify with (especially if you're a lesbian cocksucking government agent addicted to pills). Singer Laura Litter looks more like a truckstop blond than a '60s discotheque cutie, but she's willing to sound Go-Go girly sweet. The Go-Gos in their early-'80s heyday had sung self-consciously '60s Hollies-type harmonies that they'd put to a new wave beat. Fabulous Disaster sing self-consciously early-'80s-sounding-mid-'60s-ish harmonies that they put to a late-'70s fast punk march beat and to fast Ramonesy power chords. This rhythm is the only real drawback: It's strong enough, but the guitar strum is so constant and the drum oom-WHOMP so nonstop that it loses impact. The one song"Red Blister"that does vary, by playing guitar lines against basslines rather than against a total roar, is by far my favorite.
I can't hear this music and notthink "early-'80s new wave girl-pop style," so I feel that the music is being applied rather than created, as if the sound were in place before anyone actually played it. Whether deliberate or not, there's a distanced effect. Maybe that's felt as some kind of strength, as if it says, "We're not what you see and hear; we're the puppet masters backstage, the ones pulling the strings." (Unexplained sentence fragment in my notebook: "rush of beauty on a whoosh of sound; this one the beauty lives deeper.")
For sure, all performers play with their identities. All human beingsplay with their identities, sometimes to find ones they like to inhabit, sometimes to find ones that are an interesting alternative to the ones that they normally inhabit. But why do Fabulous Disaster choose one so clearly and nonvirulently not now? Well, maybe for them it's what allows them to ride a whoosh into beauty. In fact, this is my favorite album so far this year. I perceive them at a distance, but I feel the high harmonies and the drum crash just fine. Anything that works.
Fabulous Disaster are just one of a slew of mostly female mostly good mostly retro punk bands I've been enjoying lately. Another is Detroit's Gore Gore Girls, who sound totally ripped and fried, not like go-go girlsat least not like go-gos onstage, though maybe like go-gos after stage, their minds fried and battered. Everything about the Gore Gores' Strange Girls (Get Hip Recordings) is fried. My eardrum got fried listening to them. Everyone seems to be playing Telecasters with the treble on superbright, the woofers and tweeters all torn up, the CD recorded in the girls' lavatory at Detroit's East Central Death and Atomic Warfare High School. The microphone has marbles in it. Occasionally, the girls grow weary of shredding their vocal cords, and come through with sweet, clear harmonies while the electric storm swirls around them. Since the sound is essentially slash-your-face-and-throw-rocks-at-the-window, it all registers as extreme punk; but the musical underpinnings come from several different sources: high-wailing girl group, early-Kinks freneticism, garage rock, rockabilly, girlabilly, rockagirly. And despite all the wind and sleet, there isform and beauty, amidst the gore. The ongoing storm has diminishing returns, howeverwith the needle always in red, a lot of the sound is muffled. But three songs stand out as incredible energy and great songwritingone might compare them to a certain great, long-defunct Detroit band that many groups are compared to but none reallysounds like, and indeed the Gore Gore Girls don't have the whole dance-around-and-toss-the-notes-back-and-forth motionof said mythical band; but nonetheless on these three songs guitar-player Amy Surdu proves she's mastered James Williamson's fast guitar vamps and lightning melodies. Damn exciting, for those three songs, and restlessly sweet on many of the others. I'm curious what they'd do with a recording budget.
The Candy AssOrgyEP is on Rock And Fucking Roll Records, though perhaps this is a Rock And Roll Fucking Record as well, given that the cover has the three Candy Ass women dolled up in fake furs and high heels in a police lineup. The promo page describes them as "tough sluts," which makes them a pleasant relief from all the gangsta bitches and street hoes I've been listening to recently. Like the Fab Disasters, these women have "style" as well as a stylethough with a discrepancy between the two, since the guitarist is playing a Pistols-Buzzcocks buzzsaw while the singer glides by in her limo, polishing her Debbie Harry sheen. It's a fun combination, energetic, spelling NASTY in capital letters, but it doesn't hit me with a lot of emotion. The stylization allows them to play at being shallow while also stepping aside and being . . . whatever you are when you're standing next to shallowness: shallow, maybe?