Rebel of the Underground

Canadian brat girl's stürm cellar does Tom Scholz proud

Racking barely 60 days after one of the most mind-numbing, torturously dull femme hit album debuts of the century (from the Simpson who doesn't cover dopey '80s Berlin hits), Canuck Skye Sweetnam's Noise From the Basement debut is filled without pause with some of the tightest, deftest songwriting outside of a Brill Building comp or a K-Tel '70s Hard Rock Hits advert's highlights. Two minutes 45 seconds per tune, to be precise—unheard of outside of the punk/garage underground.

The cool thing is that all this hooky, concise (= pop-informed) tuneage is beefed up by simple, uncluttered distorto guitar and drum tracks straight out of classic rock done right, not a single "nü" or "produced by the Matrix" in sight. (Sonic variety is provided by cool keyboard/computer noises when appropriate and a full quota of vocal sounds/effects.)

There's a "hey, let's try this" looseness that stems from the recording's circumstances—Mutt/Shania-style, young producer-writer-musician James Robertson and singer-lyricist-co-producer Skye cut all but two of the 14 tunes in the producer's modest home basement studio, no clock running, preceding Capitol Canada's signing the act in December 2002. "Billy S" (from the How to Dealmovie soundtrack) became a middling Canadian radio/video hit in summer 2003, and one long Britney-tour support slot later, those demo sessions have finally turned up as a major-label album proper. And yes, original basement whiz-king Tom Scholz would be proud.

Hair-metal is so over now.
photo: Phil Poynter
Hair-metal is so over now.

The eternal rock/pop divide is adeptly bridged in a manner echoing the best virtues of early Pat Benatar hits—push-the-beat drumming, jagged/punchy rhythm-guitar chord changes, snappy vocal phrasing (uncannily Pat-similar at times) that attacks/ bites off the ends of lines when they arrive. (There actually used to be a genre name for this stuff: "melodic hard rock," before 1983 and Def Leppard signaled the Metal Decade radio changeover and eventual "hair metal" tag, melodies often no longer mandatory, at least in L.A.) And hookwise, "Shot to Pieces," "Sharada," and "It Sucks" all trump their pop-hit musical-cousin counterparts "Heartbreaker," "We Live for Love," and "Treat Me Right."

The two "now you gotta go to a big studio and write and record a radio single with a hit producer" tunes fronting the album work, too. The airplay-friendly hookathons "Number One" and (American Top 40/CHR lead single) "Tangled Up in Me" still adhere to the short-quick-tight format of the Robertson-Sweetnam basement repertoire. Which all adds up to one of the best teen-rock exports from Canada since the Guess Who's first single fired up Johnny Kidd riffs for the modern age. Or at the very least, since Bryan Adams sang about the summer while not referencing the year 1969!

 
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